The Oak Time Teacher

The billowing cloud of orangish red leaves fill my picture window on this perfectly crisp autumn morning. It is the season between seasons when the heat of summer begins to give way to the frost of winter. On the cool mornings I sit in awe of the majestic oaks standing guard on my little street and the chill reminds me that winter is on the imminent horizon. Then, in the afternoon when the bursts of sun beams pierce between the dancing limbs and I feel the warmth of noontime, I remember the long days of summer just past. Here in this middle season, I sit in the present and think of what has been and dream of what might be.

We are creatures made to inhabit time. In the remembering, living, and hoping of each day we vacillate between the dread of winter, the settledness of autumn and the joy of spring and then summer.  Today the oak tree is my teacher and I her student as I consider the glory and difficulties of an existence in the rolling stretches of days, months and years. The journey through time is a strange one, nuanced with trajectories in lines and circles. The tree grows a little bigger each year, her limbs reaching out to kiss the sky with a little more grandeur as time moves steadily forward. In this way I see that time has a beginning and an end. Each life bursts forth into the world with the first fluttering of the heart, grows and lives and then one day fades into eternity with a last breath. The days are numbered and you can only move ahead in a line careening through days, weeks, months, and years. The tree that began as a sprout in the dirt will one day be cut down and burned up. Today I feel the weight of this aspect of my sojourning. Life feels rushed without sufficient space to do or become everything I imagine. I feel a rush of sadness as I think of life cut short, things left undone, and that what was cannot be again. 

These ruminations are decidedly colored with shades of darkness, centered on the dimensions of past and present. But as I stare through the glass at my teacher in autumn, I also think of the way that linear time is laden with a resolute hope in what will be. For the tree will grow in stature, her branches one day towering ever higher with the passing years. She will be grander still. In this her message is hope. She whispers, “the best may be yet to come” and I too consider that my best days may be yet ahead. Though the shadow of winter, death and darkness looms, there is a lingering promise of new things, new relationships, new circumstances, new opportunities yet to be discovered. Then I feel the welling up of a new joy peeking out through the limbs of my despair. Time holds its own remedy, the past and present darkness pulled forward by the future light.

And in the pulling forward, the circular nature of time spins us toward an even closer hope to steady us in the pilgrimage through wilderness. For we are not left to dwell in the present without a sure method to keep moving ahead to something better. In the waiting for the future to burst forth into the present, we have the rhythmic paces of days, weeks, hours, and seasons. These revolutions invite us to march through our years with the ever-present gift of hope renewed in the repeating cadence of each day, each week, and each season. For hope isn’t merely offered as a distant prize to be gained in the end. Instead each morning becomes a sacred space to rejoice, that is to rediscover, reimagine, and re-choose joy because “the night has passed and the day lies open before us.”

Of course this kind of daily hope and the longer linear hope are only possible if there is a benevolent prime mover who is orchestrating things in the smallness of each life and in the bigness of the grander story. The one who made the oak tree, who orders the seasons, who numbers my days also invites us to journey with him. For he is writing a good story today in my little world and in the eras of history. And in the end when the leaves of time have fallen, the limbs of the earth laid bare, he will burst forth like the radiance of midday sun and make all things new. Until then I look ahead, re-choose joy and revel in the turning of this day moving into night and ahead into tomorrow.

One thought on “The Oak Time Teacher

  1. Pat Barclay says:

    So, so beautiful, Gabe. Just to read this is inspirational. Thank you. Cousin Pat

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