As someone who loves to hike, no matter the season, the American Beech tree is a welcome site among the brown and grey winter woods. The American Beech trees leaves die like all deciduous trees, but they do not drop their leaves, instead the leaves turn a off-white paper color and stay usually until new buds and leaves emerge in spring. This process is called marcescence, and we really don’t know why it happens.
However, I think it’s an interesting image to think about in terms of rural life. Rural life is neither coniferous/evergreen, nor does it die back each season, instead, we are somewhere in the middle. I think in periods of seasonal transition, while some of our traditions, values, events, and practices, may no longer serve their life giving purpose, they persist. I don’t think they persist out of stubbornness. Instead, I think this persistence is a simply a waiting. These traditions wait for a new season and for new life, then they will drop to let the life emerge.
Maybe the reality is, the tradition, value, or even leadership is holding on because the Spirit continues to tell them, it’s not time to drop yet. The new season isn’t here yet. I think we should pay attention to this as people who care about the rural church and rural community.
Look for the traditions that we still have that aren’t dropping yet. They may not be haunting us (that’s a whole other thing), but instead, are simply waiting for a new season to emerge. A new season we haven’t fully wandered into. Our churches and communities often forget that going through winter is not a bad thing, and that life still happens, changes, and grows in those times, even if it doesn’t look like it from a particular productive mindset. But, as we go through this winter, the leaves of past seasons, the traditions, practices, and viewpoints may persist, but will not last forever.
In the end, the leaves will drop when it is time, and the rural tradition or practice will fade away when the changing seasons give way to new realities. Therefore, instead of looking at traditions that don’t make sense as harmful, look at them as a sign of the season of the church or the community, and learn what your role is in this season.
You can’t control when spring arrives, but you can prepare for it.