Nature As A Holy Teacher: The Call Of The King In A Pile of Leaves

November 20, 2022

November has had a lot to say to me this year.  Light is changing and temperatures are dropping here in Northern Vermont.  The iridescent colored leaves of October have surrendered their grip on their branch homes and have fallen to rest together on the forest floor.  Now they crunch under foot and offer piles for children and pets to play in.  When whispering wind gusts move them they speak a soft, melancholy message of endings, of lasts.  The birds have flown south and the woods are still.  Lush trees are sticks now.  Their sap has circled inward to fortify them for the coming cold.  Our firewood is cut and stacked in the woodshed, gardens are put to bed, their fruits are frozen or canned, deck furniture is moved under cover. I am surrounded by Nature’s lasts.  They are endings before beginnings.  November is an in-between month.  

With these changes surrounding me,  I notice the liturgical year is going through the same process. We begin with All Saints Day and are reminded that they are us…regular people who lived their lives doing their best.  With God’s grace that best was very good.  Thomas Merton wrote that, “For me to be a Saint is to be myself.”  No comparing, no judging of myself.  To be a Saint is to grow in grace to be able to live the Great Commandment right down to that powerful ending of loving myself.  Why is it so much easier to love other people?

After the celebration of All Saints, All Souls Day follows. It is a reminder that before the celebration in Heaven, we are on a life journey of endings, lasts, goodbyes and finally surrender.  Church colors move from white to black and purple…mourning colors.  If we are grieving the death of someone we love, we remember the space in our hearts which is empty and no missing can fill. The weather certainly adds to the melancholy and sense of loss.  We are held by the constraints of time. But when I think of them and Purgatory, I consider how lucky they are.  Outside of time, they have all the help they need to see their lives through God’s eyes.  God’s mercy and compassion offers healing and forgiveness as they are gently brought into the Light of Heaven. 

This year, I am noticing something that changes this focus for me.  The leaves that have fallen have created openness and I can see through the trees to the other side of the valley. The sun is lower now, it can offer light and warm us because the leaves have fallen.  The blanket of  leaves creates a cover; the seeds and bulbs and roots and little critters shelter under them.  Pope Francis said on All Saints Day, “The life of Jesus and the saints tell us that the seeds of peace, if they are to grow and bear fruit, must first die. Peace is not achieved by conquering and defeating someone, it is never violent, it is never armed.” If All Saints Day is encouraging me to be myself for God, All Souls Day is encouraging me to see that my plain, flawed, “doing the best I can” life is all and everything God asks of me.  The pains I feel as I grow, as I shed false images of myself, as I offer myself in service to others are not violent.  They are building me, enriching the soil like the leaves.  Metaphorical Mary Ann, living with skinned knees while happily holding up her fist full of crumpled dandelions is who I am called to be.  Like Merton, I find peace in being a soul hoping to be a saint now and someday.  

The liturgical year ends with the feast of Christ the King, and He calls to us. He has work for us to do if we say yes. We are encouraged to hear our hearts’ longings as ways to grow in holiness.  Those whispers are a gentle call to let go like the leaves and fall into the grace-full plan God has for us.  I always think of plans for the future and can miss what is happening right now.  What is Christ asking of me right now?  Now is all I have and most of my “nows” really do resemble crumpled dandelions and dried up leaves. They are the best I have.  If Christ wants them, needs me to offer them, then they are His. Who does He want me to share my time and talents with?  

St. Ignatius leads us to our Lord in the Spiritual Exercises, and we ask to be permitted to serve Him.  There are no endings in His kingdom, there is only life.  Jesus showed us that in His life, His surrender to death and His return in Love.  He is past, present, and future all at once.  Christ the King is our constant, our center, our freedom.  We are living our lives in His Kingdom right now and in all our now moments throughout eternity.  Our church year ends and begins in November.  We can all rest under Christ’s consoling graces, under the deep, protective blanket of Love our Lord gives us and asks us to share.  We will keep bravely changing as we need to because we trust that we will have the time and receive the grace we need.  We can only ask to grow in that loved understanding, in our devotion to this Love and to serve Christ now and always.

Going Deeper

Read Soul of Christ by David Fleming, SJ, Hearts on Fire, Praying with the Jesuits

Watch this brief video with Fr. Kevin O’Brien, SJ on the Call of Christ the King

Read My Both/And Call by Becky

All of our falling leaves can be a habitat for butterflies, bees, moths and more. Learn more here: Leave the leaves.


Photo by Martin Murphy on

Mary Ann Gessner has worked with all generations as an art teacher, in Nursing Homes as Recreation Director, a Social Services and Admissions Director and Administrator. She was the Director of Admission with a focus on international student recruitment for St. Johnsbury Academy in Vermont and holds a BA in Studio Art and Art Education from the University of Bridgeport, CT and a M.S.A. from St. Michael’s College in VT. Since retiring in 2015, Mary Ann enjoyed the gift of time to nest, quilt, and cook. This gift of time led to Ignatian Spirituality in the Inner Chapel and Becky’s Overwhelmed No More retreat and the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises. Mary Ann is currently an intern in the Clinical Pastoral Education Program at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, NH and is rediscovering her love of storytelling. Her two sons have moved gracefully into their adult lives with their families. Mary Ann and her husband still live in the log home they built 45 years ago in the woods of Sheffield, Vermont.

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