Everywhere I’ve gone in the last few days I find myself kicking around leaves or cycling through the late Autumn leaves. On the avenue where I live the trees are gradually being laid bare. This also coincides in the northern hemisphere (I live in Ireland) with darkness arriving earlier each evening. We are beginning that rapid descent into Winter. As we say in these parts, “The evenings are drawing in!”. We all know what it means. Time to hunker down, make the tea and watch the telly.
It is natural to be somewhat melancholy at this time of the year. The song by Nat King Cole, Autumn Leaves comes to mind.
The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sun-burned hands I used to hold
Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall
It’s a song full of nostalgia, melancholy and longing. These are profound feelings. They come unbidden at those times when we miss people, either because they have gone away or, often, because they have passed away. Since you went away … I am missing you. Missing people is good. It tells us that our hearts are alive and well, even there is a hole there as big as a Dublin bus.
Often, such feelings coincide with us asking deeper questions about life. Maybe, we feel life is ‘passing us by’. Maybe we are unhappy in our present life choice. We feel it is time to ‘move on’. But to where?
Saint Augustine, that wise saint from the fourth century knew these feelings only too well. Augustine is regarded as one of the first great psychologists. He wrote with great insight into the human condition. He is also believed to be the first person in Western literature to have written his own life story in a book called simply, Confessions.
Right there on the first page of that book, Augustine insightfully says:
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
Of course, a modern psychiatrist would tell us immediately that these feelings of longing and restlessness have nothing to do with God. Albert Camus, the French writer from North Africa, wrote about these feelings but expressed them in terms of existential angst. His solution for this was not entirely helpful. But we won’t go there.
For the person of faith, though, these feelings and thoughts often prompt the question whether God, the divine Spirit, is taking a personal hand in things. Perhaps we are experiencing the soul speak to us, as Carl Jung would have it. It’s all good. It’s all normal. But just maybe that still small voice is trying to get a word in amid the noise of everyday life.