September has always been one of my favorite times. Instead of going in big for New Year’s resolutions, something in me cries out for renewal in autumn.
Is it the lifelong habit of getting ready to go back to school? Is there anything that makes you feel as ready for growth and change as a new pair of sneakers and a new backpack? All those clean and new notebooks with empty white pages beckon you to fill them.
Autumn offers a chance to reorganize our lives, and I love organization. I love getting back in a routine — not a boring routine filled with obligation, but a routine that helps energize me and sparks my creativity.
I love fall weather with that crisp, just-a-tinge-of-chill feel in the air. When you turn your face to the warmth of the afternoon sun, it seems almost like a prayer. “Every face turned to him grows brighter,” wrote the psalmist, probably on a fall afternoon.
So, it’s not surprising that in the autumn, parishes seem to rev up their engines. Committees and clubs that had closed down for the summer start planning their first meetings. Directors of religious education are busy planning speakers and courses. Prayer groups are forming.
Years ago, when I still had kids in grade school, a moms’ group at my parish decided to do a 34-week Ignatian program, a daily prayer commitment based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius that involved meeting weekly to discuss what was happening in our lives of prayer.
The program started in the fall, of course. Deciding to make that autumn commitment was among the very best decisions I ever made.
As fall progressed, I grew into the rhythm of a prayer life. For the first time, I was able to maintain a morning prayer commitment. I do like routine, and I had often scolded myself because my prayer life was catch-as-catch-can. When I would “make” time for prayer, I would often find myself feeling guilty rather than simply yielding quietly to God’s invitation.
By placing prayer into the morning, I came to find that there was always time for prayer.
In one of my former pastor’s favorite homilies, he talked about trying to fit golf balls into a jar filled with rice. He couldn’t get them all in. He poured the rice out, put the balls in the jar first, and then poured the rice into the jar. The rice conformed itself around each ball. Voila! Both fit in the jar perfectly.
The moral of the story: When you put prayer first, the rest of life fits around it quite beautifully.
The truth of that was just one of the lovely gifts that autumn brought me. In November, my family experienced a serious health emergency. My moms’ group rallied, with prayer and food and help and tons of support. I learned the value of prayer but especially of prayer within community.
The emergency subsided. The lessons from that fall did not.
Who knows what wonderful experience might await this fall? All kinds of agencies and organizations are searching for volunteers right now. Parishes are eager for people who want to serve the poor through parish projects. Classes and prayer groups are launching.
“I make all things new,” Scripture assures us, and, for me, the autumn is a beautiful place to learn that lesson once again.