Earth Tilts

Earth tilts. She leans 23.4 degrees on her axis. In his book, My Story as Told by Water, David James Duncan describes Planet Earth in these words: “…like a long-ago-injured woman who’s learned to walk gracefully with a cane, Earth leans ever so slightly on her axis, inclining now toward the sun, now away from it as she orbits, thereby causing the angle at which sunlight strikes her to change constantly.”

Why does the Earth tilt? Scientists say, during its formation, the Earth suffered ten giant collisions. In one of them, a rock the size of Mars smashed into the Earth resulting not only in the tilt, but also our Moon! We tend to think of collisions and tilts as “bad,” or, at least, “imperfections.” Yet Earth’s “painful” collisions gave us our beautiful Moon. And her tilt blesses us with the four seasons.

In places like northeastern Ohio where I live, it’s impossible to forget Earth’s tilt, for it results in four dramatically different seasons. We go from hot, humid days in summer with temperatures in the 90s to cold, snowy days in winter with temperatures in the teens. Earth’s tilt is thus responsible for the annual cycle of growth, fruition, death, dormancy, and resurrection of new life. Earth’s tilt has also produced a greater variety of animal and plant life than we would have had if the Earth did not tilt.

The tilt also causes the migration of countless species of wildlife. As the change to winter makes their summer homes inhospitable, the animals must discover and trace a path to more life-sustaining environs. Thus, the monarch butterfly flies all the way from Canada to the forests of Mexico each year, while the Arctic tern flies from pole to pole. The wildebeest and caribou trek thousands of miles over vast plains, while the seal and humpback whale swim a lengthy marathon in the ocean. A host of human beings also join this vast migration, as they seek out warmer climes during the winter months.

In one sense, though, the life forms that migrate do not move at all. As Duncan notes, “it is the so-called ‘migratory’ mammals and birds that travel thousands of miles north and south who maintain their true solar place.” It is those of us who stay put all year long who are the real travelers, as each year the Earth whisks us into a new relationship with the Sun.

For me, Fall is the time of year I am most aware that my place in the sun is changing dramatically. As the days shorten, as the Sun moves farther south on the horizon, as frost appears on the pumpkins, and as the leaves turn vivid colors and begin to fall, I sense I am indeed moving. I feel I am being carried away into winter—often against my will. I am being helplessly swept into a place of cold, darkness, and death. This dramatic shift makes me a little sad and melancholic.

(All photos from Pexels)

Yet, I love fall. Maybe it’s because I believe that the cold and darkness come bearing blessings too. Every season has the power to brings us gifts—if we but take the time to slow down, look, feel, ponder, and pray… Creative God, thank you for our Moon and our tilting Earth—both the result of trauma endured millions of years ago. Thank you for the amazing variety of animal and plant life on Earth—including human beings, and even me. Loving Creator, I believe you are the author of all seasons. Be with me through the many changing seasons of my life. Give me the eyes to see and embrace the blessings each season desires to bestow upon me. Amen.

PS: I ask your prayers for a virtual retreat I am leading on Oct. 2-3. It is entitled “Holding onto Hope” and is sponsored by Mount Saint Joseph Retreat Center in Maple Mount, KY. On Friday there’s an opening conference at 6:30 pm (Central time). Saturday goes from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm and includes prayer, my conferences, ample breaks, and sharing. Call 270-229-0206 or email [email protected] for details and registration. Or click the link below. Thank you!

For reflection:

Did any of the words or pictures in is this reflection strike you today? How or why?

Have you ever thought of something as “bad” or as an “imperfection” only to discover it resulted in a blessing for you?

What blessings or gifts do you see in each of the seasons of the year and the seasons of your life?

Our song for today is “All of My Days” by the group called Casting Crowns. It reminds us that God’s love is with us all our days and through all the seasons of our lives.


I invite you to respond below to this reflection, pictures, song, or other readers’ comments! One of the best aspects of this blog are all the reader responses! Don’t hesitate to contribute your thoughts…

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  1. John Hopkins on September 28, 2020 at 5:13 am

    Good morning, Sr. Melannie…
    Good morning, all…

    First of all, you read the best books! Second, I know what you mean about the feeling of melancholy. I have a sugar maple that drops its leaves early (the poor thing might be sick), and so before mowing the lawn, I rake up its leaves. But by the next day more leaves will have fallen.

    When my children were little, we would gather the fallen leaves into piles and have “leaf wars,” and I count the smell of burning leaves to be one of the five great sensory pleasures of fall, one of the others, of course, being the colorful brilliance of leaves, a tourist attraction here in New England (but maybe not this year).

    But for all its beauty, a fallen leaf is a fallen leaf. The shade of summer has let go to die. And, yes, the days grow shorter, the afternoon shadows lengthen, and there’s something in the air – a certain smell – but I’m not sure what it is. Summer’s green saying goodbye?

    Soon the cold slate of winter, but then the odds begin to “tilt” in our favor, and we know our friends will be back!

    • Jean Canatsey on September 28, 2020 at 11:47 am

      Thanks, John, for bringing back my midwestern autumn memories! I couldn’t have said it better. The only thing I would add is the smell of walnuts.❤️

    • Michelle Bookmeier on September 29, 2020 at 2:16 pm

      My brother, Adam, would say the smell is “football.” At some point in early September he would ask, “Can you smell it?” He’s right there is a smell that reminds me of Friday night high school football games and evening practices and even playing catch in the yard. He’s now 48 and I am 50. My son is beginning his high school career although on the cross country course and not the field or volleyball court. Adam’s daughter is in 6th grade and is dragging him and my sister-in-law into the world of theatre. I think I shall text him and ask, “Can you smell it?”

  2. Rebecca Johansen on September 28, 2020 at 6:13 am

    I believe that the stroke I had in 2002 was my dysfunction turned blessing. I was extremely OCD and desperate for control at all times. Thankfully, God’s plan overtook mine and He required me to ask for help and be calmer regarding my life. I also developed my prayer life because of the stroke. Thank you for your Sunflower Seeds. I’ll pray for you during the Retreat.

  3. Ed Johnson on September 28, 2020 at 8:13 am

    Our oldest daughter, Beth (Elizabeth), was born in 1974, with Down’s Syndrome, commonly called mongolism in those days. As young, first time parents, we were confused, scared, lost, and felt many other emotions; and honestly, thankfulness was not among them. Nancy and I could spend an entire day describing the many blessings Beth has been to our family, friends, acquaintances, and everyone she meets. Just now, she hugged me and said “Hi, Dad, how’d you sleep?” Imperfect? Yes, in some ways. But are we all not made so?………My favorite time of the year is upon us; such beauty to behold in autumn! Alas, autumn is certainly a different experience in Florida than my native Ohio. Nonetheless! Thank you, Sister, for your uplifting words each week.

  4. Susan Guss on September 28, 2020 at 8:36 am

    I, too, used to live in Florida, and the passage of the seasons did not mean a lot (paper snowflakes on my classroom bulletin board were the best I could do in the winter). The move to Taos, New Mexico at 7,000 ft. taught me the beauty of the four seasons demonstrating God’s loving care through all the seasons of a life. Now in Georgia the changes are not as dramatic but they are there. Thank you, Sister Melannie, for all of your wisdom. And Ed, I think that Beth sounds absolutely perfect.

    • Sharon Jill on September 28, 2020 at 1:02 pm

      Thanks Sister Melanie, you have painted a wonderful mental picture for those of us who live in Florida. As you know, we do see God’s amazing sunsets at our beaches and in the joyful sun that brightens our days and warms our hearts. I would like to share a special word of love to a fellow teacher and friend that responded from Georgia, “Susan, what a blessing to see your message today.” You are often in my thoughts and prayers. So many happy and grateful memories came back as I read your message.

    • Fran on September 28, 2020 at 1:10 pm

      I always look forward to Sister Melannie’s blog on Monday. As always there is so much food for thought. I was thrilled to see this morning A name of an old friend by the name of Susan. I have such fond memories of you when you were living in Florida and a fellow teacher. Although various seasons have passed ,I will remember the joy you brought not only to the classroom but also to me. Blessings

  5. Kathleen Magiera on September 28, 2020 at 8:41 am

    What a beautiful reflection Sr. Melannie!

    I like the phrase ” Be with me through the many changing seasons of my life.” The seasons just remind me that God provides for us no matter which way we are tilting.

  6. Imelda Kedge on September 28, 2020 at 8:50 am

    I so look forward to Sunflower Seeds on a Monday morning! Thank you. A friend and I were saying on our walk the other day that fall is our favourite season. . I think I love fall partly because I am basically a lazy person and I know that we are entering into a season of rest from garden labours and long busy days. I love the colours, the frosty smell in the air and long walks on cooler sunny days. Then winter days and sparkling snow. And then spring comes and that is also our favourite as new life springs into being, bulbs that we had forgotten about bloom and those gorgeous spring greens appear. I can’t imagine not having the changing seasons and feel so blessed that earth tilts.

  7. Rose on September 28, 2020 at 8:51 am

    Autumn is my favorite as well. I am always reminded in this season of the poignant, melancholy poem by Hopkins, “Spring and Fall.” I also lost my parents and sister in autumn, so it is a deeply moving season for me. Nature is so beautiful at this time, yet it clearly reflects the cycle of life. God is good!

    • Linda on September 29, 2020 at 12:26 pm

      Oh, I love this poem too..especially the last 2 lines :
      “It is the blight man was born for,
      It is Margaret you mourn for.”

  8. Tom on September 28, 2020 at 9:30 am

    Anyone who acknowledges their powerlessness over some character defect is blessed with a multitude of companions on life’s journey that would otherwise have remained strangers.

  9. Elaine Snyder on September 28, 2020 at 10:42 am

    I eagerly await your retreat this weekend! I am so excited to meet you virtually and to hear you speak. And, so very grateful that the Internet allows me to participate from California while you are in your retreat center!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on September 28, 2020 at 11:26 am

      Elaine, I look forward to meeting you too! I’ll be giving the retreat not from the retreat center in KY, but from my office in Chardon, OH. The wonders of technology! … See you in a few days! Sr. Melannie

  10. Jean Canatsey on September 28, 2020 at 12:04 pm

    I loved your blog today, Sr. Melanie, especially the pictures. Living in Florida, I really miss the dramatically changing seasons of Indiana. I miss walking in the woods, hearing the crunching of the leaves under my feet, smelling the walnuts and even catching the first snowflakes of winter on my tongue. Every October, we try to spend a little time “back home in Indiana”. This year Covid and age are modifying our plans but we can still close our eyes and dream…

  11. Thomas DeFreitas on September 28, 2020 at 3:16 pm

    Thanks, Sr Melannie, for your rich reflection (fascinating about the “migratory” birds keeping their solar place!); thanks, everyone, for the insights of your comments. Just “claiming my seat” today, and wishing everyone well. Peace and light to all.

    And O yes, autumn. Hurrahing in harvest! Thrilled to be chilled.

  12. Marguerite on September 28, 2020 at 8:54 pm

    Your reflection on the birds’ migration cycles put me to thinking that a good read, conversation, work of art, or gift of nature can be like the tilting sun (actually the changing angle of Planet Earth) can which can “warm my soul.” They all call to mind God’s ever loving Presence. They are triggers to help me see God everywhere. How grateful I am, especially when that gift of nature is a dog! Blessings with your ongoing settling in to your new quarters. Blessings, love, S. Marguerite E. Donovan, C

  13. Linda Marie on September 29, 2020 at 5:09 am

    Good morning, I too look forward to your blog each week and this morning my thoughts are about the beautiful community of people that I am a part of and at the same time have no idea who they are. Reading all the comments brings all of you into my day and enriches my life. Thank you Sr Melanie and all….

  14. Marilyn on September 29, 2020 at 11:17 am

    Melannie… great reflection !

  15. Pete on September 30, 2020 at 7:40 am

    I enjoyed reading all the comments above, I love this blog community. We just came back from a week in the Georgia mountains, it was a welcome change from Florida. I actually had to wear a sweatshirt most of the time!.
    The “tilt” definition was well done. Thanks Sr. Melanie

  16. Georgia on September 30, 2020 at 9:25 am

    I too “feel I am being carried away into winter against my will” every Fall! I have trouble changing with the seasons for awhile and am a little sad too, then begin to adjust. You stated that so well Sister Melanie.

  17. Noreen Horwedel on October 2, 2020 at 12:49 pm

    Sister Melanie,
    I grew up in Northeastern Ohio and remember the beautiful colors of Fall. It is a time of joy and sadness. By the end of summer I anxiously await the joy of the Fall colors, not nearly as vibrant as the colors in around the Cleveland suburb where I grew up but after living in the Chicagoland area for 35 years I have finally found beauty in the prairie.

    The sadness is that both my patents died in October and the memories of their passing bring sadness but also joy because they are with our loving God.

    I thank you for your Monday reflections, they begin my week with peaceful blessings. You share such lovely songs and videos. You are amazing.

    I also enjoy everyone’s comments, they often give me beautiful insights that touch my heart.

    This is my first comment and it wasn’t as hard as I thought.

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