There’s a sadness to autumn as the leaves begin to fall. I used to look forward to what we called “Indian summer,” that precious period of bright sunny days and cool crisp nights, a brief oasis of pleasure before the world skids into winter.
But I have reached an age where falling leaves make me think of mentors who have also fallen to the cycle of seasons.
I was fortunate. Or blessed. Or something. I had some exceptional mentors over the years.
Most of these names will mean nothing to any generation younger than mine. Or, indeed, to anyone outside the United Church of Canada. I think particularly of Cliff Elliot, Clarke MacDonald, George Tuttle, Patricia Clarke, Al Forrest, Lois Wilson …
I could easily fill the rest of this column with people’s names.
But not just with mentors from the United Church. From the Anglican Church, Ted Scott, Doug Hodgkinson, Herb O’Driscoll. From the Catholics, Bede Hubbard, Henri Nouwen, Eric McLuhan…
And from non-church contexts: jazz pianist Al McNab, professors Walter Gage and Malcolm McGregor, forester Bert Reid, geologist Harry Warren, broadcaster Will Hankinson…
A few mentors are still alive: Bruce McLeod, Don Johns, Alan Reynolds, my almost-brother Ralph Milton.
But alas, many have gone. By this time next year, a few more will have gone. I feel increasingly bereft.
Those mentors – including many I haven’t mentioned – saw something in me. They invited me to try something new – a responsibility, an understanding, a role – for which I had no previous experience, no training, no qualifications. Because I respected their wisdom, I accepted their invitation.
How well I succeeded is not up to me to decide. If I failed them, they didn’t hold it against me.
Perhaps I failed me – who knows?
My wife Joan commented, the other day, “You tended to take on jobs just because someone thought you could do it. You didn’t respond to the job, you responded to their faith in you.”
That thought warms my heart -- they “had faith in me.” Even as I slowly learn to say “No” to jobs for which I am truly unsuited. I organize ideas, for example; I don’t organize people. Because I resent unsolicited phone calls, I don’t like making unsolicited phone calls to others. Not even for a good cause.
I don’t know if learning to say “No” is a sign of wisdom, or simply an awareness that I may not live long enough to see the results of my efforts.
I wish I could tell those mentors how much they mattered to me. Not that it would make any difference to them. They didn’t do whatever they did so to seek praise. They did it because that’s who they were.
And so as the leaves sift down off the catalpa, the oak, and the maples in my yard, I shall think of the leaves I rake up as symbols of the countless people who have nurtured me through my life.
Later this fall, I’ll deliver those leaves to a young man who will lovingly work them into his market garden to enrich the soil and grow vegetables.
And maybe, next summer, my mentors will continue to nourish me.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Thank you, all of you, for the messages you wrote of prayers and support this week. I won’t even begin to list them. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Joan is back out of hospital. The problem, I gather from a helpful doctor’s explanation, is that her spleen is overworked trying to process blood overloaded with white cells from her leukemia. So it went on strike. Extremely painful, Joan says – worse than anything she experienced in childbirth. (I take back everything I might have said about the makers of synthetic morphine substitutes.)
I did have to leave out your letters about the previous week’s column, which was about the Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza. So here’s a selection from them.
Tom Watson wondered “why the kings and princes insisted on having eunuchs in charge of their harems when all they had to do was use old guys instead. Same lack of danger.”
Doug Martindale wrote, “I've never heard this passage preached on or reflected on before, so good on you and it is excellent material for making the point about radical inclusion.
I dream of the day when someone tries to make multiple spouses legal in Canada, either through a supreme court case or parliament. I imagine it with delight, not because it is a priority for me (I'm still learning to live with and love one person!) but because the fundamentalists will have to tie their minds in knots and contort the scriptures and still won't prove that it is against God's will because there will be no scripture passages they can quote.”
Isabel Gibson concurred: “Thanks for unpacking that story.”
Patricia Brush added some enlightenment: “The etymology of the word eunuch shows an older understanding of the word going back to the 5th century BC. It meant a man with no testicles through surgery, war, or accident, but it also meant a man who, for whatever reason, could not perform sexually with women. The latter could be for medical reasons, but it would also include men who are asexual or homosexual. This has given hope to the homosexual community.”
Nan Erbaugh wrote, “Thanks for this interpretation. As the pastor of a racially integrated, open and affirming church in Dayton, OH, it adds another story to point out how inclusive the message of Jesus was/is.”
John Shaffer shared some of his own history: “Years ago I prepared and preached a sermon on eunuchs. However, I was subtle. Subtle does not work with many persons: ‘In front of the children, no less...’
“Living in Trump's America isn't suitable for children.”
The Revised Common Lectionary was not written with Canadian Thanksgiving in mind. I’m sorry I didn’t have this paraphrase of Psalm 65 pulled out for Oct. 11.
2 We come crawling to you, God, because we have all fallen short of your expectations.
3 We have all missed the mark.
But you have not held our failures against us.
5 We stumbled, and you helped us get up;
we were sinking, and you taught us to swim.
4 You treat us with honour and respect.
You make us welcome.
It is more than we dare ask, more than we could ever expect.
6 We have no right to such kindness.
You push mountains into mighty ranges;
you calm the raging oceans;
7 you spin the earth on its axis.
Before you, we are as insignificant as ants, parading our puny armies.
8 If you stamp your feet, we will be squashed.
9 We boast of our science and technology,
but by ourselves we cannot make even a single seed sprout;
we cannot shape a single raindrop.
10 We destroy, but only you bring life.
11 Through the cycle of the seasons, with reckless generosity, you share the wealth of the earth.
12 As tiny drops of dew gather into rushing streams,
so our small thoughts gather into a torrent of gratitude.
13 The whole world celebrates your goodness.
Like dolphins dancing through the waves,
like antelope leaping through long grass,
and all the earth jumps with a shout of joy.
For paraphrases of most of the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of some of the web links.
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)