Starting Point
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Issue Date:  October 13, 2006

Starting Point


Paging through my Bible awhile ago, I came across a leaf with the words “Camp Little Flower, October 1975” written on it. I put that leaf in my Bible at the end of a weekend retreat. I was in the seminary then and every month we had a weekend retreat or a day of recollection. This particular retreat in the fall was held at a youth camp operated at the time by the diocese of Kansas City, Mo.

The trees that weekend were at their peak of change. And so was I. That leaf symbolized for me some of the changes that were happening in my life when I was 20 years old. Now, more than 30 years later, I’ve changed more than I can remember or care to admit. Finding that leaf became a ritual reminder of autumn’s truth: Change is a necessary part of life, of growth.

One of my favorite autumn rituals is to take a long walk and pick up a fallen leaf or two. Sometimes I write a word or two that reflects some change I need to make or some decision I’m facing. Sometimes I’ll write the name of a friend or family member who is experiencing an autumn change in his or her life. Then whisper a prayer and place the leaf on my prayer table or in a good book. This simple ritual is a way of remembering why a walk in the woods on an autumn day is a spiritual exercise: for a change.

Another autumn ritual I enjoy is the smell of burning leaves. There is something sacred about the aroma -- like grace after the fall. Or the scent of redemption as the holy smoke rises like so much incense into a crystal blue autumn sky.

When the leaves are consumed, only ashes remain. Let them cool. Then, put your thumb in the ashes and etch a sign of the cross on your forehead with this residue of our redemption.

Fr. Joseph Nassal is a Missionary of the Precious Blood involved in retreat, renewal and reconciliation ministry.

National Catholic Reporter, October 13, 2006

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