Fall reflections on life, liberty and love

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It actually feels like fall! I realize that by any number of different metrics, summer ended weeks ago, but it is finally starting to feel like fall and in many ways my favorite time of year.

Surprisingly, fall has always seemed to me to be the most freeing season. When the fall schedules would kick in as and adult or even with new classes when I was in school, it is always a bit of a freeing feeling as a familiar rhythm comes back into play. The cooler weather and shorter days seem to give permission to take things a little slower with a little more time for contemplation.

Fall, for me, is always the trough between the crests of waves of activity that fill summer with all sorts of outdoor fun and activities and winter’s call of the stress of holiday and family time. Spring has its own ramp-up kind of energy that is filled with Easter’s call to new life and cranking up after winter’s cabin fever to get ready for summer’s roar. But I find fall to be a rather contemplative time.

Fall still has a call to be outside; but that crisp, cool air and burgeoning smell of falling leaves instills a desire for slower-paced walks with less talking and more reflection on life’s pathways and purpose. It’s less a time for that “go, go, go” to get those fixit projects done around the house and more of a time to reflect on the “home” that is housed in that physical structure. It’s a time to take a breath and, as I tend to do, reflect on those bigger issues that are lifted up in favorite poems like Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” Rudyard Kipling’s “If,” Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” or almost anything by Poe, but especially, “Ulalume,” which takes place one “night in the lonesome October, of my most immemorial year.” (Well, that’s what English majors do. You film majors probably just watch “Citizen Kane,” “Casablanca” and “The Princess Bride.”)

In like fashion, fall is the time of year when I play the game of “How did I get here?”

The “here” can be a geographic destination, a vocational one or a relational one, and can actually have as its subject the most trivial of aspects of life. Like Frost’s poem, what forks in the road pushed me down paths as yet untrodden which led me the “here” of current contemplation? Or, as is the case many a time, what grand mistake forced me to go down a journey I would never in my right mind have willfully chosen which now I would not trade for anything in the world!?

Within all those meanderings is great gratitude for what I call the “Circus Family” life I’ve led (like the kids in that cartoon who in trying to simply go from A to B have followed a long and winding path, wandering from distraction to distraction), the freedom I’ve had in finding such a strange pathway and the true love I could have found through no other pathway!

I was reminded of one such seeming diversion this past Sunday. Archbishop Oscar Romero was canonized this past Sunday and therefore is now officially a saint. Ironically, I have owned an icon of Romero as a saint since the early ’90s that was created by a Franciscan friar, Robert Lentz (who also made MLK, Gandhi and a whole host of others into icons). The image of the icon was on the cover of a book I own, “Archbishop Oscar Romero: A Disciple Who Revealed the Glory of God” by Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit catholic priest whom I met in January of 1993.

I and several other Lutherans from North Carolina were part of a mission trip to El Salvador for Witness for Peace. I was working on another academic graduate degree tying Martin Luther’s Reformation to the (then) current liberation theology in Central America largely influenced by the witness of this martyred Archbishop Romero. Jon Sobrino was not only one of the primary theologians in this area of theology, but also the only survivor of the martyred Jesuit priests who had been killed at the University of Central America in San Salvador in 1989. He is alive only because by chance he was away when soldiers attacked.

At the time, I did not realize what a distinction it was to actually interview someone so intimately related to the man and movement I was studying. Nor could I have known how transforming that short time 25 years ago would be toward my ministry and its emphasis on the oppressed and disenfranchised by society as evidenced by my work with various Martin Luther King groups and emphases on Jesus’ preferential treatment of the poor as evidenced again and again in scripture.

The general freedom that I feel during fall intersected with the liberation that Romero fought for 40 years ago this past Sunday both in the sermon that I preached as well as email from some of that brave band of North Carolina Lutherans who traveled together 25 years ago.

In addition, as I stood behind our altar during the sacrament of Holy Communion, I could not help but remember that it was during these very same words that Oscar Romero was shot and killed behind another altar half a world away, martyred in the telling of Jesus’ sacrifice for the world. He had spoken words of truth, words of freedom for the oppressed and words of love and unity for all.

Soldiers silenced him for that moment. But now the world hears. And his witness cries to be carried on.

Who will now speak words of truth, freedom, love and unity? I guess it’s up to us. And you know what, fall is a great time to feel free.

Maybe it’s a good time to share a word of freedom against oppression too in all the ways we can to everyone who will listen. It may not make you a saint, but it just might make you feel free.

Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 27 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson. His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” will appear regularly in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.