November, which kicks off the holiday season, is the beginning of a new cycle. To me it is a symbolic cycle period in which the land goes to rest after aging another year. The Creator shows us so much about ourselves through nature.
We learn that nothing is constant. Everything appears in cycles. We are an entity, a consciousness beyond our own body. Our real self, the thing that animates us, some call it spirit, is simply clothed by the body. We go through cycles just like nature. We first are babies in infant bodies, we become children, from childhood we become young adults and then mature as we head into old age. In each phase, we are the same "self", just passing through many forms. Although I have passed through many phases, I write to you now in the November of my life. I have been blessed over the years and I am still strong and vibrant but my hair is grey and my leaves are turning color. It is the cycle of my body but not my spirit.
I have always thought about the second law of thermal dynamics. Now that sounds like a fancy term but in reality it is just a set of laws about what we know of matter or the things that make up this material world. The second law states: matter can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed.
As most of you know, my whole life has been graced by death: First as the son of a funeral director, then as a criminal investigator, a funeral director and for the past twenty-five years, as coroner. I am a thanatologist, one who studies death from all angles. I often have to help people face the finality of death and notify families that their loved one has died.
During this intimate moment in discussing death I often refer to this second law of matter. I tell them that I see death as the changing of clothes. The body is the coat that allows us to experience our stay in this material world but there comes this time when the threads of that coat wear thin and it is of little use to us, we have to change coats. I also refer to the Christian tradition in which St. Paul calls our bodies “tents.” I really like Paul’s concept of a tent. It is a temporary shelter that we use when traveling on a journey through different places.
Some very early Christians like Origen Adamantius (185 AD – 254 AD) contemplated a more Eastern concept of the soul and death. He thought the soul never lost its individual nature. He saw the soul on a journey of perfection through the enlightenment of God. Once a soul is perfected, that soul can stay with God beyond the cycles and restraints of the material world. He was open to the possibility of reincarnation, which was later dismissed by the Christian church. Many Eastern religions use a metaphor of the sea being the creative force of the universe. We as individuals are but waves in the sea. We form, reach our height, lose our power and then return to our Source.
I guess I have taken you deep into the autumn woods. I hope you can take a moment this holiday, among your family and friends, and look at how the cycles in your life have evolved.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving...and remember the words of the German theologian Meister Eckhart, "If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough."