The birds and squirrels are stashing nuts, squirreling away food. The days are still bright and the sun will warm the kettle afternoon so we are deceived that winter is far over the horizon. But it is coming and the creatures know this even if we won’t admit it.
I have met one famous, at least, one very well-regarded poet in my life and it was only because I got the lovely task of reviewing an anthology of his for The Columbus Dispatch back around 1991. The anthology was not poems but essays written by magnificent writers entitled, Incarnation: Contemporary Writers On The New Testament. Alfred Corn was poet in residence at the Thurber House that was right around the corner from my first full-time pastorate. I wrote a review. He called me up. He was generous and brilliant and I stupidly insulted him (I’m sure) with an off-hand comment about the South, dealing as I was in stereotype and, well, stupidity. He didn’t act insulted. He was generous and forgiving and overlooked my short stature.
Why did I bring him up? Oh, because I was talking about winter and seasons of sorrow (though I have not brought that topic up, but it is hidden beneath the snow that has not appeared as yet). When I went to Columbus, Ohio, fresh out of seminary, I left behind my supervising professor for the PHD, John Jonsson, a man who was learned and brilliant and deeply caring about the world and me. So I found myself in Columbus with a deep sadness that I could not name. I didn’t have the foresight of a squirrel. Seamus Heaney, the great Irish poet, now deceased as is my dear professor Jonsson, crafted a line in his book of poems, Human Chain, “I know the pain of loss/before I know the term.” This is an example of what Jonsson would call the “pre textual” aspect of scripture. Before there was holy writ, there was holy and unholy (profane) experience. The luminous poet, Mary Oliver, reflected in her book of poems, Thirst, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness/It took me years to understand/that this too was a gift.”
Autumn is glinting silver around us in blue sky the color of cerulean pottery glowing fresh out of the kiln. What a beautiful season. It is not unusual that we become reflective and even sad at times in Autumn. The little creatures of God are preparing for loss. We should as well. Take a poem or a psalm or some words of Jesus and bury them near your heart. Then on one cold, dark, winter day, uncover them so you can remember what Shakespeare wrote (in Macbeth): “Come what come may, Time and the hour runs through the roughest day. ” For poets, for stars at night, for scripture like lanterns and for the love of God that is enduring, give thanks. Sorrow, like the night, will give way. It must. And by all rights, it will.
~See you Sunday