It has felt more like winter these past weeks but by the calendar we’re only mid-way through fall.
The word “fall” lately has been showing up regularly in my life. It’s our informal word for “autumn.” But its most common use describes moving from “upright” to “face-plant.” I’ve had some painful, first-hand experience with this use of the word. Two months ago I slipped on a large boulder while walking along a river. I hit the rock full force on my back. More recently, I fell off a ladder. Not far, but the memory of falling remains. It’s sobering!
Those two incidents are nothing compared to an experience four years ago. Alone on a hike, I slipped on a rock, fell on my back and began to slide toward a cliff. I spontaneously shouted, “Save me!” My backpack grabbed the rock and I was indeed saved—barely–from a seventy-five foot fall that would have resulted in serious injury, if not death.
These experiences of “fall” are humbling. I think of older folks, for whom a simple fall can lead to a broken hip, which can signal the beginning of a slide toward death.
Years ago I went skydiving, which was a thrill! That was an example of a controlled freefall. Unlike the above examples this type of fall involves choice. Nevertheless, it, too, suggests the risk of death.
“Fall” also suggests something about the human relationship to God. The earliest story from Genesis describes the human “fall” from God’s grace. All uses of the word “fall” that I can think of suggest something negative, including at the extreme a transition from life to death.
The good news of our faith tradition affirms what we observe in the natural world. Where there is a fall, no matter how complete and final it seems, within death exists the possibility for new life. This, I hope, might be a source of hope and assurance, especially this time of year for people grieving loss or moving toward death.
The season is fall, which will soon give way to winter. In the cold and dark of late November we will begin a new church year at Advent. A new calendar year follows—and we are reminded again that death yields to possibilities—often unseen and unexpected—for new life.