On 23rd September, the sun crosses the equator and the northern hemisphere starts to tip away from the sun. It’s the autumnal equinox (meaning ‘equal night’ – when day is the same length as the night) and for us global northerners it marks the movement away from summer and towards winter.
This time of year is a time of transition for many of us personally, as well as for nature. Summer is over, holidays and long, pleasant, sunlit evenings are behind us. September may mark the start of a new term for some and, for others, four months of unrelenting work until the next holiday at Christmas. We may have mixed feelings: loss, thankfulness, anticipation, dread.
For nature it’s a time of mixed blessings too. Fledgling birds have, um, fledged and young small mammals have become adults. For many animals, it’s a time of preparing to survive winter. There’s plenty of fruit around – hopefully – some for fattening up and some for storing. Trees and other plants also prepare for winter, shedding leaves and dying back or, in the case of annuals, dying altogether as they place all their faith in the seeds they’ve produced.
One of the roles of religion has been to give us shared rituals to mark transitions in life. At Open Sky, we’re not particularly religious in terms of what we do when we meet, but we are keen to pay attention to nature and to God and connect ourselves into that greater Life around us. On 9th September, we met in our familiar clearing in the woods near Stanmer Park. We spent some time listening to our own spirits and what this time of transition means to us, and we also listened to what it means to this particular woodland. Then we talked about what might be an authentic ritual that expresses this movement from summer to autumn for us in this place at this time. A major theme that emerged for us was the cyclical nature of life, and a belief that through all the transitions, God is keeping the overview and holding the universe in loving hands. Our ritual was very simple. We each picked up a leaf from the ground and cradled it in our hands while we listened to those words of wisdom from the bible: Ecclesiastes 3.1-8 – “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die…” – words that were read at the very first meeting of Open Sky nearly two years ago. Life is cyclical indeed…