This month, we’ll witness the change of seasons. These liminal times, these times between the times, always put me in a mood of reflection. The approaching season is my favorite. It’s appropriate that it, unlike the other seasons, should be honored with two names—Fall and Autumn. And what about that?
Autumn is a noun, meaning cold. The word is anything but. It’s a beautiful word to look at, beautifully spelled. It’s a nice word to say. Think about how your mouth moves when you articulate it. Isn’t it like offering a kiss to something, someone? And didn’t Saint Paul say to greet the brethren with a holy kiss? That’s how I plan to greet the coming season.
And what of that other word?
Fall happens to be a verbal noun, the latter aspect pertaining to the season as season, the former to the perennial action, the falling of deciduous leaves. As if that’s not interesting enough, the connotations of this word, as it is connected to this season, are myriad—even if it now happens that many of the connotations are clichés. The associations are typically melancholy, with the crumbling leaves becoming a sacrament of decay, even death.
Maybe the most ready, biblical association is the one that goes by the same name. The Fall of our first parents into sin is also a verbal noun. Biblically, this event is the source of decay. The approaching season can do much in the way of memento mori, that is, it is a great reminder of our human frailty. But I won’t be ending this reflection on a macabre note.
The melancholy is there, to be sure, but maybe our season of honor is like an old friend. Robert Frost was of this opinion in his poem “My November Guest,” where he “Thinks these dark days of autumn rain/Are beautiful as days can be.” He sits with his “Sorrow” as with an old friend, and he’s happy with her, however ironically. And Frost loves irony.
Speaking of irony, there are those who point out that it is impossible to see without shadows, without a little grey. This was a point that the 19th century art critic, John Ruskin, made. Too much light blinds and distorts. Saint Paul is emphatic that God dwells in unapproachable light. We are feeble creatures, like the grass. We are burned in too much sunlight. But like God hid Moses in the dark cave, protecting him as the fire of his glory passed by, God gives us a bit of grey. And we are safe.
If only for a time.
We do well to remember that Autumn is a time between the times. Our lives in general can be cast in this way. We live between birth and death. We live in a time where Christ has already defeated the Enemy, yet the full victory is not yet realized. It is, of course, Saint Paul who has taught us that as well.
In an interesting twist, Medieval theologians used to speak of a time called aeviternity. It is a time between our earthly time and God’s eternal realm. Thomas Aquinas, that most famous of Medieval theologians, used it to explain how angels were messengers between God and people. Aeviternity is the realm of the angels. It works differently than our time.
This could inspire the imagination deeply. C. S. Lewis probably used this idea for the creation of that world between the worlds in The Magician’s Nephew and the fact that Narnia exists in a different time than Earth does. But for all the poetry, philosophy, and imaginative prose that could come of thinking about this, there is really one main thing to take away. Aeviternity is the realm of angels and of the Risen Christ.
Autumn, then, becomes a kind reminder of these deep truths, even especially with its overcast skies.