“… we passed / into the dark last week the even mark of day and night / and what we hoped would stay we yield to change.” (from “Equinox” by A.R. Ammons)
Welcome autumn! What a glorious season: brisk mornings, blazing leafs, and the sunlight has a new quality to it, mellower, a softer gold. It has always been my favorite time of year. However, as I grow older it has become harder to ignore the more somber aspects of the season. It is the mirror image of spring, the season that progressed from cold to warm and from sleeping seed to growing plant. Now the process is reversed. I have noticed brown dying tomato plants with unpicked tomatoes of fading red now visible. The plants have not yet experienced frost, but they have simply come to the end of their natural life cycle. The fruit will fall, the seeds will sleep in the ground until spring and the plants will return to the earth. The poet Mary Oliver calls this “unmattering,” the way life moves from “the particular island of this summer” to the NOW which is underfoot, “that subterranean castle of unobservable mysteries.” Beneath the joy of hayrides and apple cider there is a serious stream flowing to what is to be.
Well that can seem a downer, but I have passed this way 68 times before and I know the answer to Carl Sandberg’s questions, “Is there something finished? And some new beginning on the way?” The answer is, “Yes!” This season like all seasons is the boundary marker of some sort of change, an ending and a beginning. We crossed similar boundaries in March and again in June. We are now just three months away from the next one, the winter solstice. Our lives are a series of border crossings. Each time we leave something behind and risk the unknown ahead. We move forward with expectations born of past experiences, but never knowing what this new season has in store. Will it bring bitter cold or unexpected warmth? Will it bring seasonal rains, floods, or drought? Will it be lived in health or in illness? As we grow older no doubt there will be some degree of “unmattering” which we will experience. And yet I like the idea that we exist in the NOW. We cross borders but we live in the NOW, that is, we live in eternity, outside of time, while simultaneously in the temporal world of seasons. We live in a NOW that includes birth, growth, “unmattering”, death, and rebirth; the promise of resurrection.
Jesus spent a great deal of his teaching advising us to live in the NOW. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount he gives an extended teaching on the folly of worrying. He concludes that discourse with: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34) He honestly told us that there will be challenges today and in seasons to come. We cannot know what a new season will bring, but elsewhere in the lesson he assured us that we are held within the Father’s love in the midst of current and future troubles. So let us live in the moment without worry. Let us glory in the fall fully aware of “unmattering” and the coming winter. As Mary Oliver writes: let us remember “how everything lives, shifting // from one bright vision to another, forever / in these momentary pastures.”