At the conclusion of our wilderness camps, we have a tradition of lighting our last campfire by an ancient method known as the hand drill. The whole community is involved in the process, as folks take turns spinning a dry stalk in their hands until they tire, and then the next person steps in to spin and maintain the friction needed to generate a coal. Everyone gets a chance to contribute to the process of giving life to a coal and then lighting the fire.
When the hazy smoke begins billowing around the stalk, our singing picks up its cadence and volume. And then it happens. The smoke continues to billow even without someone spinning the stalk, and at that point we know we’ve got a coal. Then the whole camp community comes together and helps to blow the coal to life. When that coal bursts into flame, a celebratory song is sung with deep gratitude to our Creator for the gift of fire and community.
As the shadows of the autumnal equinox begin to deepen, it is a reminder that the long, hot days of summer are giving way to the cool, crisp air where night and darkness are lengthening. Like its springtime cousin, the autumnal equinox is a time when both night and day are equally balanced. Only now, it’s not about tilting towards dynamic energy; rather it is about slowing into contemplative aspects of life. If spring is about holding on to the things that give us life, then autumn is about learning to let go of those things.
Each season is encrypted with its own meanings and lessons. And if we are not aware of how autumn is a season of finding balance and letting go, then we’ll be stuck in a threshold space between light and dark. And thresholds are just that, not suited for living permanently.
Autumn is a season of fire. Not only is it found as we gather around bonfires with hot cider, but also in the reds, oranges, and yellows of the changing leaves. It is found in the auburn colors of the sunset. It is a time when we may have to turn on the heat in our homes. It is a season for returning to school to rediscover or reclaim that which ignites our passions.
We recognize that creation is beginning the process of returning to the soil as leaves drop, and plants wither and rot. It is a season of grief over what we had and have lost. Plants and trees are bearing the last fruits and food for creation to store for the long nights of winter. So we, too, bear the fruits of our summer labors in the hopes they will sustain us through the dark winter nights of the soul.
If we are attentive to God’s Holy Spirit, then we recognize autumn’s invitation as God’s people to harvest, celebrate, and share in the abundance of our lives. Just like creation, we are called to bear fruit and share with others. It is a time for us to come back to the village and be in community. It is a time for mentoring and teaching. It is a time to come together and worship, to celebrate and express gratitude for the good things that we have harvested together. It is a season of thanksgiving for all that God has given us, and for the unknown blessings already on their way.
You see, fire awakens something in us: first, in our bodies (passion), then in our hearts (gratitude), and finally in our souls (faith). Autumn is a season meant to evoke the same things in our lives. And even more importantly, not to do it alone . . . but together.
Randall Westfall has been mentoring youth and adults in creation connection awareness and practices for more than a decade. He is director at Camp Brethren Heights (Rodney, Mich.) and served as the 2021 moderator for the Michigan District.