Monday, August 09, 2004

I rose today in the early morning and seemed to sense something new. Indeed, in a single night the back of the summer had been broken. The air was filled with the cool aroma of autumn, the smell of decaying leaves, a longing for distances. -- Pavel Florensky, The Pillar and Ground of Truth

Somehow it's gotten to be late summer. I'm not sure how that happened since it seems like just a few weeks ago we were talking about things that were going to happen, "when summer gets here," and now it's dying. There is a marked change in the air, the wind blows cool although the sun, as if aware of it's defeat, shines all the more fiercely (like of one Melville's harpooned leviathans -- I'm reading Moby Dick). The battle has been won, however, for all intents and purposes, the cold will return, now it's just a matter of time. A corresponding change comes in the spring, when you know the winter has been defeated, no matter how many more cold days are in store. The change first came a few weeks ago, before the end of July even, but now has become more pronounced. The apples have started to fall and the peaches won't be far behind.

The restless rustling of the leaves, especially at night, the mellow richness of the light, even the richer character of the heat all testify to the change. While out walking today I noticed some of the leaves were beginning to show a hint of yellow around the edges. Every year I think this time has come much too soon, that there should be weeks, if not months left of summer, and although that may be true in central Texas it's certainly not the case here in northern New Mexico (in Texas the autumn change doesn't come until late September or October).

This time of the year is always bittersweet. The days are lovely and the nights cool but the air carries the awareness of time passing, life changing, and the memories of things past. Soon the nostalgia will be overshadowed by the excitement of the coming fall and winter, the spirit of adventure stirs and it's time to be off somewhere to climb the mountains that tempt with golden leaves. But now, it's just a gentle sweet sadness, the ending of things.

It appears that the soul finds itself in seeing this death, that it has a foretaste of resurrection in this fluttering. -- same as above

The time corresponds well with the Orthodox (Christian) feast of the Falling Asleep (Dormition)of the Mother of God, the 15th of August. Although it's one of the major feasts of the year, it's not one of the easier ones to explain to people:

"So what is it you're celebrating?"
"The Falling Asleep of the Mother of God."
"The death of Mary, the mother of Jesus."
"You celebrate her death?"
"Well, yeah, but it's not just that. . ."

Even after several years of celebrating this feast I can't explain it very well, except to say it does make sense with the bittersweet ending of the summer and the ecclesiastical year (the church New Year is September 1). In the feast, as in the passing of summer, the soul, as Florensky says, has a foretaste of resurrection. Life is joined with death and death becomes life-giving and triumphant, even when seen through tears and sorrow. I'd like to explain more but I become bogged down in historical traditions, lengthy explanations and the like. Perhaps another time. One of the particular characteristics of Orthodoxy is that it doesn't fit well into soundbites; there are no short answers. Everything builds on everything else to form one integrated world-view and it's difficult to take out one piece and try to explain it without going into everything else. I love the connectedness of it all, but it does make it difficult to explain much of anything to anyone without being faced with a blank, bored, glazed over stare. Perhaps Orthodoxy is a bit like Entish in that way, you don't take the time to say anything unless it's worth taking a long time to say.

Oh ye apostles from afar,
being now gathered together
here in the town of Gethsemene,
Give burial to my body.
And Thou my Son and my God,
receive now my spirit.
Thou art a gold entwined tower
and twelve wall encircled city,
a throne besprinkled with sunbeams,
a royal chair for the King.
Oh inexplicable wonder
that thou dost milk-feed the Master!

-- Hymns from the Dormition Fast