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Rev. Joey N. Welsh: Autumn

This essay also appeared in the Munfordville, KY, Hart County Herald, on 24 September 2006; reprinted with author permission
ANOTHER ANGLE, the occasional musings of a Kentucky pastor"
Autumn: Endings, beginnings, and transitions

The next previous essay, Making it on the Broken Pieces

By The Rev. Joey N. Welsh

The coming of autumn reminds us again of the transitional quality of existence. No season, no status, no condition is forever. Whether we talk about the calendar or the weather or our own lives, some things are always coming to an end while other things are being born or renewed. In our part of the northern hemisphere fall is the time when the growing season comes to an end and the world seems to die away as winter approaches.



These autumn days of cool, crystal-clear air and colorful trees are my favorites of the year. They don't last long. Like the few days of summer when real tomatoes are at their peak, the days of fall should be appreciated with thanksgiving. Winter (my least favorite season) is around the corner, but even that prospect isn't too terrible when I remember that winter and its weather is no more permanent than any other season.

I have read that some people find fall a depressing time of year. A little dose of biblical insight is in order for them, because many of the Bible's writers saw autumn as a season of hope and renewal. In some of the hot and arid plains of the middle east, the coming of fall meant cooler weather and rain

For areas not located near rivers, the rains of autumn provided the moisture needed for crops to germinate, take root then lie dormant through the moist, cold winter in order to be harvested before the scorching late summer heat and dryness. U.S. farmers who grow "winter wheat" are familiar with this agricultural pattern: that wheat is planted in the fall, goes through a winter dormancy, and then an early harvest before the peak of hot weather the next summer.

For the biblical writers autumn meant not so much a season of dying back as a time of promise and new life. (All passages below are from the NIV.)Deuteronomy 11:13-14 views autumnal rains as a blessing and reward from a loving God.
"So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today -
to love the LORD your God
and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul -
then I will send rain on your land in its season,
both autumn and spring rains,
so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil."
Jeremiah, in 5:23-24, rails against people who turn away from God:
"But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts;
they have turned aside and gone away.
They do not say to themselves,
'Let us fear the LORD our God,
who gives autumn and spring rains in season
who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.'"
James 5:7 speaks of patience in time of trial, using the rains of autumn as an illustration.
"Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming.
See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop
and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains."
For those who can see the transitions in our lives and in the world around us, any season can be a hopeful time and an occasion of beauty.

The American writer Peter De Vries (1910-1993) was a famed editor, poet, and novelist who was most famous for his gifts of satire and wit which he used to skewer the social mores of his day. I encountered him first through his novel The Blood of the Lamb (published in 1961 and reprinted in 2005 by the University of Chicago Press). In that story the main character, product of a gloomy Calvinist upbringing, must endure the loss of his brother, his wife, and his daughter as well as his faith.

While this sounds depressing, Peter De Vries was quite familiar with the transitional quality of life -- as well as death -- and his skill with words allowed him to write passages that are filled with touching sensitivity, startling insight, and even sparkling humor in the face of tragedy. De Vries could see beyond the pain of loss. Some of the book's immediacy came from De Vries' own life; his daughter Emily died of leukemia at age 10.

De Vries was editor of Poetry magazine from 1938 to 1944. In 1944, at the urging of James Thurber, he joined the staff of The New Yorker. He remained a writer there for 43 years, contributing short stories, punching up captions for the magazine's famous cartoons, and writing a lot of wonderful poetry. I recently received a gift, a DVD set containing every page of every issue of The New Yorker over its first 70 years, beginning in 1925. I'll never be able to read it all, but I already know that Peter De Vries is one of my favorites among the many, many great writers whose words have graced the pages of the magazine.

In the issue of November 12, 1949, Peter De Vries described the coming of fall and the arrival of winter. The images these words of poetry bring to mind are as vivid as any painter, photographer, or cinematographer could ever capture. Such lines of poetry are a fitting way to welcome autumn and look toward winter; keep them handy, and watch while the transitions they describe come to pass in the changing landscape around us.
Transitional
by Peter De Vries

Autumn dies from the ground up.
Seedling and sumac flare in the breeze,
Their flame runs up the wicks of creepers
Twined around the trunks of trees
Catches the leaves of elms and maples
which,
Burning and billowing on the hill,
Burn out, leaving the bones of these.

Winter blooms from the sky down.
The first flakes, tumbling from a warm,
Premonitory heaven, bud the top boughs;
Wind blows such foliage as this; till trees
Stand muffled in the shuttled wool of
storm,
And woods voluminous and pale
Content me with the ghost of form.
E-mail: joey_n_welsh@hotmail.com


This story was posted on 2010-10-17 09:18:05
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