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I have been absolutely wowed by the autumn colors this year. I know other years have been good, too, but for some reason, this year has struck me as particularly spectacular. It feels like everywhere I look, there’s another brilliant red showing off.

All that beauty got me thinking about a song by the wonderful singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer. Carrie’s music has been a significant part of the soundtrack of my life for over thirty years now. Coming out of the Quaker tradition, she has a finely tuned (in all senses) sensitivity to all that’s going on around her. She’s like Mary Oliver set to music–with her own gorgeous contributions, too. (Check out her substack and the podcast she does with Parker Palmer, if you get a chance)

The song, “Leaves Don’t Drop They Just Let Go,” considers what we can learn from fall, with the chorus asserting:

'Cause leaves don't drop they just let go
And make a space for seeds to grow
And every season brings a change
A tree is what a seed contains
To die and live is life's refrain

It's a song that I find deeply comforting--the beauty of it, the ease of it. The need for change to bring new life, the interconnectedness of spring and fall (Gerard Manley Hopkins has a similar thought in his famous poem of that same title). 

And yet, Newcomer observes in the bridge of the song, what it also does is make one aware of the enigmatic nature of it all, the wonder of God’s cycling the world. Part of our awe comes from the way it is all quite beyond us–leading us to mystery, indeed.

I've traveled through my history
From certainty to mystery
God speaks in rhyme in paradox
This I know is true.

Anyway, paraphrase does justice to neither nature or song, so I commend Carrie Newcomer's work to you as a mediation on all that autumn brings!

Jennifer L. Holberg

I am professor and chair of the Calvin University English department, where I have taught a range of courses in literature and composition since 1998. An Army brat, I have come to love my adopted hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m also the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture. My book, Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith, was published in July 2023 by Intervarsity Press.

5 Comments

  • Mark S. Hiskes says:

    Jennifer,
    I am so grateful for this reflection this morning. Yes, the colors have been stunning this year, and by connecting Hopkins and Newcomer for us you deepen both the color and the mystery. Thank you!

  • Gloria McCanna says:

    Looking out at the beauty of the day and giving thanks for this wonderful essay and for the gift of hearing Carrie Newcomer for the first time.

  • Henry Baron says:

    Thanks for including that wonderful vimeo!

  • Pam Adams says:

    I only have one Carrie Newcomer CD and I played it. I did not remember it which is odd because I can usually sing all of the songs from memory, but your words made me appreciate it in a new way. Thank you.

  • What a wonderful essay and such a beautiful and honest meditation within the song. Thank you so much for sharing this and awakening me to a new way to look at the generosity of Fall. And – I agree, the colors are spectacular this year!

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