Where did the summer go? Is it really the beginning of fall? Fall will feel much different this year. It brings all kinds of concerns. Will there be yet another wave of COVID and its variants? What about parish activities and the changes that happen in our churches?
What does school look like? Is it safe for our students? What about the workplace and restaurants? What will the theatre look like? What about that concert series? There are many questions.
I spend a lot of my time offering spiritual direction and retreats to people. I felt privileged on our Jesuit grounds in Pickering this summer. It was usually possible to sit in the shade of a tree, a safe physical distance from someone. Fall means that it won’t usually be possible to do that outside, unless we surround ourselves with a tent and wear Canada Goose parkas.
I’ve started to scout out indoor spaces at our places, looking for the ones that provide enough distance. I have to admit that I kind of enjoyed sitting in the shade of a tree and having a spiritual conversation. I wonder how I can replicate that on the inside of a building!
Despite all the new concerns, fall has its usual beauty and melancholy. It’s likely the favourite season for most of us. I absolutely loved fall when I worked at our Jesuit place in Guelph, Ontario. I was so happy to be back, directing an eight-day retreat a couple of years ago. God seemed to arrange for me to have eight perfect fall days. I visited some of my favourite spots on our land and reminded myself of what makes it so sacred.
Chestnuts dropping from their trees. Crisp leaves swirling around. A panoramic scene of colourful leaves, especially in a rural setting. The Vee formation and honking sounds of migrating geese. Farmers and gardeners bringing in the final fruits of their efforts. Farmers markets.
I love the first half of fall – flowers such as asters, crunchy trees displaying the breadth of their colours, the treat of what we used to call Indian summer (is that phrase still legitimate to use?), cool evenings. By the second half of the season, I’m starting to realize what is around the corner. The bare trees and the occasional snow flurry make it impossible to ignore the imminence of winter.
Fall includes the possibility of new beginnings, the chance to start over. But this season has often been associated with melancholia. The endless opportunities of summer are gone and winter is on the horizon. Many people turn inward and become more reflective. That melancholic nature is evident in much poetry, music and beautiful paintings.
A favourite poem of mine is by our 19th century Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins – Hurrahing in Harvest.
Hurrahing in Harvest Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks arise Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies? I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes, Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour; And, éyes, heárt, what looks, what lips yet gave you a Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies? And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder Majestic—as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet!— These things, these things were here and but the beholder Wanting; which two when they once meet, The heart rears wings bold and bolder And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet. ----------------------- May we be granted that grace of beholding.