A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble, comes up like a flower and withers, flees like a shadow and does not last. Do you fix your eyes on such a one? Do you bring me into judgment with you? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one can. Since their days are determined, and the number of their months is known to you, and you have appointed the bounds that they cannot pass, look away from them, and desist, that they may enjoy, like laborers, their days.
We are in the time of year in Northeast Missouri where the days are winding down faster and faster, and I am waking up in the dark (at least until the time change, and then I'll be waking up in the dark again for "the duration" until the winter.)
Something that happens this time of year, when I walk along the dirt road past my house, is there is this last ditch explosion of color before the landscape fades into the browns and grays of late fall and early winter. Just a walk down my road reveals brilliant gold from at least four different varieties of sunflower, vivid red from the turning of the sumac leaves, and little hints of purple from three or four flowers.
The one i enjoy the most is ironweed. Ironweed is an interesting plant. It gets its name because it's nigh onto impossible to tear out of the ground. Yet in early fall it sprouts these delicate but complicated little flowers like you see in the picture. It's a weed close to my heart because of its paradoxical combination of toughness and delicate-ness. When my grandmother died, and I had to order the spray of flowers for her casket, I had cultivated ironweed as the background flower in the spray. I thought for a woman who had lived through the depression and WWII, lost a son to a hunting accident, outlived a husband seven years her junior, and looked forward to the millennium simply "to see if the world really was going to hell in a handbasket at midnight" (she was secretly disappointed it hadn't)...well, I thought it was a fitting flower.
Well, and there's no doubt I take a bit after her, myself.
As I take these walks, I find an interesting combination of exhilaration and sadness accompanies them. I am exhilarated because these days are, in some ways, the most perfect days of the year--blue skies, green trees just barely starting to turn, hinting to salmons and yellow, a palette of colorful weeds, gently warm temperatures with a cool breeze. The last warmth of summer combined with the cooling down of fall. They are wonderful evenings for sitting by my chiminea and making a fire, watching the sun ebb at an angle that produces gorgeous purples, pinks, and orange. I can hear crickets and coyotes, birds and bugs. These are great sleeping nights, as well. There's no need for the heat or the A/C, as long as one doesn't mind a cozy blanket on the bed. It's an exhilaration of a brief, but very palpable perfection.
This exhilaration, however, coexists with twinges of sadness.
In that cool breeze, the smell of winter wafts up. The world will be colder and darker. Night will come too soon for a spell. The green things will die. The colors I am enjoying so much will be gone. My pasture world will sport dullness instead of a rainbow of hues and smells and sounds. The silence I hear in the air at the end of fall is perhaps the heaviest silence of the year--even the "dead of winter" doesn't sound as dead as the late fall silence. Not to mention the months of September through November have not historically been the easiest months of my life. It seems that my life carries a lifelong pattern of stuffing the most tragic events into those three months for some reason in a way that in more than one year of my life, I got to December 1 without a major death, crisis, loss, or change befalling, and went, "Whew! Dodged the bullet THIS year!" There's a pervasive apprehension that I have to navigate each year at this time, and some years I have not been terribly successful at it.
As a near-lifelong resident of Northeast/north central Missouri, I am attuned to the changes and the seasons here in an almost innate way. It's almost like I feel them day by day. I think it's why I love the liturgical calendar so much. I think there is a cluster of cells in my pineal gland that create a peace inside of me simply by being outside and aligned with the seasons. The liturgical calendar does this same kind of thing to my prayer and worship life. I've said many times, the tail end of the "long green season" (Ordinary Time after Pentecost) creates a restlessness in me.
But the last few years, I have learned to look forward to Advent in a new way. What once was a season for me filled with secular holiday baggage is now a season of expectation and surprise.
The Scripture I posted out of Job is a very real reminder to me that, for all things to be made new, it requires something rather difficult--to watch the old things pass away. As much as I love the colors in these weeks, I am reminded that their brilliance is de facto evidence that these things are simultaneously living and passing away.
One of the things we are told in the Rule of St. Benedict is to always "keep death before our eyes daily." This, frankly, is one of the times of year I do that best. But Benedictine spirituality is also all about "balance" and "stability." What I am also called to remember is that the Kingdom of Heaven is now. The Kingdom of Heaven is among us. Right here. Right now. I have written many times about how I don't really understand "the Resurrection," but one thing I do understand about what the Resurrection means is this: Death never wins. So in my edginess, my apprehension, my sadness about the death of 2011, and the thoughts that 2011 passing away is just another year closer to my death, whenever it is, I am reminded that the Resurrection transcends every loss, every tragedy, every death we've ever experienced. I have seen many things die in my lifetime only to be made new in some way, and it all more or less work out in the end. In nature, the death that comes with fall is simply a reminder that it is a state we must pass through to get to next spring--and in the Kingdom of God, "next spring" is always at hand.