It always sneaks up on me, this subtle shift in season. One day it's high late summer, with the insistent yammer of cicidas and the sun beating down, heavy as honey, while I put laundry out on the line in the early afternoon. A day later, it seems, the evening's closing in what seems like an hour earlier and I'd best get the heavy stuff, jeans and towels, out by mid-morning if I want them to be dry by the end of the afternoon, because the sun's abruptly lost a whole lot of its strength. And there's a stillness to the air, at this time, a sense of waiting. We're almost done with summer; we haven't quite started fall.

It's at this time, though, that the landscape brightens up abruptly with all sorts of late wildflowers: Queen Anne's lace, black-eyed susans, butter-and-eggs, goldenrod and ragweed (which drives people nuts around here) and my faves, the asters. Was out for a walk the other day, out through the patch of fields that lie (somewhat mysteriously) between my street and the mall. I have no idea who owns this land or why it hasn't been developed yet; I only hope we get to hang onto it for a while. It's clearly a kids' place, crisscrossed with small paths marked by the print of bicycle wheels, running through the long grass and the baby pine trees. The fields were awash in last-minute flowers. I marvelled, as always, at the way the delicate white umbrils of Queen Anne's lace fold themselves up, when they're ready to set seed, into tight clusters that remind me of a baby's closed fist. And then there were the ripe grasses in all their grace.

It occurred to me then, as it often does, how much I'd miss this landscape if I had to live in a city. Maybe life out here seems eventless; certainly it's a low-drama sort of place, at least to the casual eye. But these fields are, in fact, seething with a life that few of us pay much attention to, just as the nearby houses have their joys and tragedies, some of them small, some of them not. Friends meet for tea and suffering around here; I know, I've been there. I've been here long enough to see one generation age and start to die off; babies born when I moved here are now heading into Grade 8. Couples fall in love and, at least for a while, live in that particular glory. People bloom in growth and accomplishment. And, on the other hand, people (the same people!) go through periods of the blahs, of depression or boredom or irritability, anomie, accidie.

At least for me, faith has its similar seasons: moments of joy as intense and thick as late-summer sun; times of obvious growth or equally obvious stasis; periods of intense and happy quietness; mysteries like the electric blue of snow at dusk--and just plain blah times, when I go on through sheer force of habit, even though none of it really means anything, so far as I can tell. I have finally figured out (DUH!) that the latter state occurs most frequently when I am centered on my own self instead of God, but I have also figured out that I'm human and that this is going to happen sometimes. (And also, it needs to happen sometimes, if I am involved in cleaning out my own personal closets. )

And when that happens, when God seems altogether elsewhere, then going out for a walk and looking at asters (or whatever else is available) helps a little, because it is so clear that there is a world outside my own narrow self-based band of blah or fatigue or anxiety. Perhaps that's why God, in confronting Job, took the astonishing tack of saying "okay, bucky, get your nose out of your navel and look around at Creation." The asters are real; they are indeed unobtrusively beautiful; and they'd be blooming whether or not I noticed them. Creation continues throughout our griefs or glories or periods of complete indifference. We can, and do, wound it continually (every time I take my car out, for example), but creation simply sits there, *being*, acting, begetting, evolving, struggling, surviving, dying And that helps to remind me that God too simply *is*, even when I can't feel or perceive anything of him. God continues to be, just as the asters continue to be, even when it feels that I've moved so far away from God that I don't even know which direction to turn in any more. Because that does happen sometimes.

I do have faith, though, that there is more than the asters: that there is a creator as well as Creation, and that my ultimate fetch-up will be closer to God than I now am, or feel I could ever hope to be. I do have beliefs to hang on to, even when faith itself seems faded and insufficient. I have accustomed ways of thought and action that are so automatic now that I don't have to work at them, any more than I have to work at following the liturgy in church. And these will carry me through.

I have something else as well, a certain amount of hard-won common sense. I've learned over time that what seems like a spiritual collapse may simply be the result of fatigue, or a change in medication, or some other silly, perfectly reasonable thing; I've learned not to take these fadings-out too seriously. I doubt if God takes them seriously either. They're like the periods of boredom or vacancy in a good marriage, something that you just get through without declaring any sort of state of emergency. And for reminding me of that, asters, too, are good.

This time, I thought of picking some asters and bringing them home with me; but no, they wouldn't last. They're meant to be enjoyed just as they are, out in this field in the late-summer sun, with the cicidas' whirling racket and the faint shush of the grass. I can look at them, and at the fists of Queen Anne's lace and the heavy grain-heads of the grass, and pop a quick thank-you or two in God's direction: for making them, for sustaining me, for being there.

Copyright © 2000 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 09 Sep 2000
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