parkdale united church

429 Parkdale Avenue, OTTAWA, Ontario K1Y 1H3

October 2018

Autumnal Transformation


By Anthony Bailey


It was John Updike the novelist who claimed that “our brains are no longer conditioned for reverence and awe”. Also, the eminent philosopher Charles Taylor has argued in his tome A Secular Age (2007) that we live today in a time that is defined by what he calls “the immanent frame.” He mounts a very persuasive argument describing what this is and what it means. Simply put, he contends that at this moment in our world, we are living as if this world is all there is. This world is reality; any notion of a world beyond this one is a matter of personal opinion or speculation. Contrast this with times past when the world beyond this—the supernatural, the spiritual, the transcendent—was simply assumed and was clearly believed to be the most real.


There is some truth to the conclusions of Updike and Taylor, but while many subscribe to these positions, there are other chapters in this story about the human community. In her book Grounded: Finding God in the World,researcher Diana Butler Bass reveals an interesting movement. She found that many people are finding new spiritual ground through a God who is grounded in this world we share. In other words, it is not so much that this world is all there is, but that God is so connected to this world that this God may be experienced in the soil, the water, the sky, in our homes and neighbourhoods, and in what she calls the ‘global commons’. For some, it is the encounter with all in which we are daily immersed that propels them to seek a deeper understanding and connection with God. Some come to express this in various Christian traditions, and others in other religious traditions.


Theologically, this is not foreign to Christian faith. Jesus Emmanuel (meaning God with us) took on flesh and reveals the power and identity of God not only in his words, but in the way he used gifts of Creation (mud, water, wine, bread) to bless and heal people. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)


For those of us who are seeking to understand and express our connection with this world and with the God whom we confess created it, I believe we too would do well to recognize the handprints, and footprints and ‘love’-prints of God which are all over Creation.


Madeleine L’Engle writes:

          Each tree and leaf and star show how the universe is part of this one cry, that every life is noted and is cherished, and that nothing loved is ever lost or perished.


As “noted, cherished and loved” ones, God summons us – as each changeable leaf is summoned -  to give up all that is necessary in order to make room for the beauty and change that is yet to come forth from us. The invitation is self-involving and perhaps scary for most of us. However, by trusting the hospitality and grace of God, it can become as ‘natural’ as the change in autumn leaves. We are not meant to only behold the beauty of creation, we are ourselves purposed by God to experience the gifts of whole-life transformation.


Allow these autumn days and evenings and nights to be a canvas to which God draws our attention. May we pause to notice and revel in the transformations taking place in the leaves, and trees, and sky, and air...but also in ourselves. Like an attentive gardener and an expert potter, God longs to get God’s hands into the soil of our lives, and into the clay of our doubts and insecurities, and into the humus of our struggling faith and anxiety, in order to aerate, shape and curate Christ-like life in individuals, communities and this world that God so loves.

As followers of Jesus here at Parkdale United, when we gather in worship and prayer and thanksgiving and celebration and study and social gatherings, may we help each other welcome and allow what God desires for us.