Friday, November 18, 2011

What Autumn Can Do

The light is dying and with it life itself, so it seems. The sounds of the night are ruling longer. No one is about on the streets or in courtyards where, with the hint of sunrise, groups of crookedly agile—the aging—would normally gather for Tai Chi or some form of exercise. We all huddle longer underneath the covers, our bodies dying a little too it seems, slaked with a need for slumber that is almost imaginary, a psychotic phenomenon, or a chemical one that occurs as a result of less sunshine on the skin, that source of life-giving energy, filtering much needed vitamins to the bloodstream. Yes, the light is necessary for life itself. So as it goes, we seem ready to go too.

In the northern hemisphere, we all prepare for the days that are fast approaching, where light flees and the days grow darker. It is the autumn- where the earth turns into itself and huddles against the coming cold- the season of death.

I have always loved autumn. As a northern girl my body naturally seems to be more accustomed to cool air and the comfort of wool rather than stripped and bare against raging temperatures. In a funny way, my personality seems better suited to it as well: contemplative, melancholy, tending to retreat into the inner sanctums and the struggle against hard questioning rather than light hearted, fast paced, whimsical freshness of summer. When the breeze of autumn hustles drying leaves to the ground, perfumed by the smell of woodsmoke drifting in the air, a sense of sadness inevitably creeps in along with the welcome need for warmth and comfort. It is a paradoxical feeling of joy and pain- a reminiscent grief- that creeps into the bones, the psyche, and it strikes me as being some measure of a true reflection of our life in its fullness, our life as experienced in reality while on this earth. Joy and Pain. Suffering and Longing. The pursuit of happiness and the presence of disappointment. Tinges of both, sometimes steeped fully in one only to be thrust in the next moment to the other.

Is this where the sense of melancholy comes, as the earth starts to retreat, the world dying its yearly death? Is it the reminder of loss, or some great joy, filling us alternately or all at once? Is it some sense of the coming death that blankets us… like a memorial service that readies for burial, we are marched through memories of past years and days. Does autumn always conjure up memory for you, as it does for me? But it is often memory with a sense of longing attached. Perhaps those days are long gone, or the people are, or the dreams that you held then.

The reminder is there whether we want to dwell on it or not: life is marked by death. Perhaps we do well to retreat into that nature inspired reminder as its yearly benediction swells in our wake. . But, why? Last year, as the first buds of spring began to force their way through seemingly lifeless branches, my friend lost her ten year old boy to sudden, unexpected death. Dying entered our world again, just as the season for new life was forcing its way upon us. It almost seemed cruel- a reminder we couldn’t quite grasp at that point on Resurrection Sunday a few short weeks later- that life would reign over death, that death was not the final story. It was difficult then and perhaps will be every year at that time for my friend. So why would entering into the death reflection of autumn be any help to those of us who experience deaths reality over and over again in our daily lives? Yes, why should a season of dying in God’s created world be of any good for us?

As dwellers in the dying season- we enter in, and fight against. We do it naturally in many ways already. We rake up leaves, clean out the garden, stock our shelves, pull out the woolens. We light candles to fend off the dark, and we prepare for the Advent. We accept the dying of the Light of the World, and yet we look ahead- we prepare to walk through it- knowing the same Hope of overcoming, resurrecting, saving Light is on the other side. We accept the scourges of death as a rite of passage that drives reality deep into our existence- but we do not see it as hopeless. Death with all its companions rage against from every side and we cannot escape no matter how we may try. Yet by facing it squarely, looking into its face, we are all the more ready to receive and acknowledge our need to be bought out of it, for a battle to be victorious against its forces. On all planes, physical, emotional, spiritual, we fight through the dark days, like seeds planted deep in the dark and smothering, but life forming loam of the earth.

Each day I set my alarm early. Darkness pervades and the hope of light is still hours away. I push back against feelings of sleepiness, of depression, of discouragement, willing myself to work and thrive and worship in the midst of a lightless world. This is my hope, my vocation as a Child of the One who brings light- who banishes darkness, who entered into it for a time so that in time, my time right now, it holds no power over me or the death scourged and aching earth.

And as I battle by means of early morning rising, warming my home with beauty in the onslaught of dark, cold days, worshiping in the midst of a suffering world, waiting with eyes ever upward, there comes that faithful companion of Longing. Autumn brings it to us, though we may feel it all the year round… that longing for something that stirs with the whirling colors fluttering with their last dance to the ground, piercing us with a cool breeze that wraps us tighter in our memories, in our need for warmth remembered or longed for. Our autumnal compass sends us into reverie, nostalgia, and a part of our soul that reaches out with grasping hands.

We sit there for awhile, preparing for the oncoming dark days of winter, when the landscape huddles and we press our noses against its cold panes of glass, gazing and holding out for the return of the warmth on our skin again, all the while with eager but meager hearts and hands bringing all the light into the world we can from the warmth of the One who dwells within.

~Advent is coming! Looking forward to thinking on things great and small during that time and posting about it here. Join me if you will.

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