I am totally engulfed in the red inferno. Flames of red and ribbons of yellow lick at my skin, yet I remain cool and indifferent to its intense heat of color. As I strain to look up, up, up, my eyes wide with delight, I can’t help but smile like a Cheshire cat at my good fortune. My neighbor’s tree is responding to the call of autumn with such passion and intensity that I stop my early morning walk to stand and allow its splendor to thoroughly saturate my senses. I can’t move. I breathe deeply. My eyes veer back and forth, up and down, trying to absorb every nuance of the celebration of color that is partying around me. I gently draw my lids closed and desperately try to remember every color and how it feels to know my heart is so inflamed with love for God’s creation. For a few heartbeats of my life, I know no anxiety, stress, anger or impatience. “Thy kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven.” I was experiencing what I believe to be God’s reign right here, right now. Yes! It can happen if I am willing to participate with God in creation and to realize that God is just waiting for me to jump in.
This moment takes me back to a small island country. I see the urban sprawl of its capital, its dusty and dirty roads, ramshackle houses and sad countenance. Yet I remember in that distant memory the little window box hanging on one of the houses. In it is planted a few festive flowers, making the house a home, the city a tad more hospitable and palatable for its neighbors. I am grateful for whoever took the time to participate in God’s glorious creation, breathing God’s sacred presence into a place that some might say God forgot.
At the same time, I am whisked back into another memory. I am driving through Romania in the midst of the years of the reign of terror. The bus is full of our high school concert choir. From my window I see many a field of joyful sunflowers, lifting their bright faces to God in praise of sun and water and earth. St. Francis would have been pleased. I know I surely am. God hasn’t forgotten God’s precious creatures, even in the middle of desperation and darkness brought about by human minds and hands.
Coming back to reality, I immediately think of those engulfed in the flames of war and lives disrupted by falling gunfire, not rays of sunlight or the fanfare of changing leaves. While I believe in the mysterious power of prayer, in this moment lifting up a prayer for them seems too easy, too much like Pollyanna. What to do? Only one thing – I must take this God moment with me and use it to infuse my day with awareness of God’s presence. I need to make myself available so that I might be that flaming and brilliant red leaf to someone who needs passion or joy or just a word of kindness. It still smacks of excessive optimism, but then I pause. Isn’t that what I pray each day, for God’s will to be done and for me to have a part in it?
I can’t stop the violence, the sadness, the hatred, or the anger of the world, but if I have faith at all in a loving God, then I must acknowledge God’s own broken heart and tears that water the sunflowers and the red maple tree I stand under. No, all is not right with this world. But I pray that God will help someone who has their eyes shuttered with the burdens of this world to look up and around, to see that a loving God is working in and through us to bring beauty into the lives of others. Maybe the pleasure that God just brought into my morning is the smile I share with someone who seems to have nothing to smile about. There is no easy answer. I take my smile with me and offer a prayer to be God’s bright red leaf today.