It’s peak fall-color season around here, and the trees are really showing off their reds, oranges and yellows. In the early-morning or late-afternoon light, they are particularly stunning.
Stunning, but dying.
Have you ever thought about that? Leaves are at their most beautiful when they are dying? The whole reason they become so colorful is because they are breaking down.
There’s something poetic about that, and even spiritual. Maybe that’s because Jesus had something to say about this kind of beauty.
The day after I took this photo in Purcell Park, in my Bible-reading plan, I was in Mark 8. In that chapter, there’s a miraculous feeding of 4,000; a healing of a blind man; and Peter declares Jesus to be the messiah, the savior worth following.
In other words, some really incredible moments.
And then Jesus says this to the people who want to follow Him: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Deny ourselves? Now, that’s a difficult truth, especially perhaps in the context of our culture, which promotes self-expression as life’s highest aim.
If I’m honest, I don’t so much like this talk of deny myself and taking up my cross.
Because denying myself looks like turning the other cheek when I’m offended. Praying for people who wrong me. Loving those who are hard to love. Not letting my bad temper be my first response to disappointment. Forsaking all kinds of desires that Jesus says are not healthy. Taking risks to tell others about Jesus.
And on and on. You probably have your own list.
Jesus’ talk of self-denial really sounds foreign, doesn’t it? That’s the point, because Jesus’ ways are upside down (or rather, they are right-side up and everything else is upside down).
In the way of Jesus, it is these dying-to-self moments – not our self-expressive moments when we do what feels right in the moment – that make us beautiful. They are beautiful moments because on the other side of these moments is life. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” he says in another place.
So we see another of Jesus’ paradoxes: In dying to ourselves, we actually live.
So do the trees. They are brilliantly beautiful right now, as they die and return their leaves to the ground. But their bare branches aren’t the end. Come spring, there will be fresh blooms, buds of promise.
There will be life.