Thursday, October 06, 2011


Autumn shouldered summer aside and blustered into Oxford, spitting rain sideways, as the remnants of Ophelia shredded themselves over the British Isles. This past weekend the temperature made 85 degrees F.; today we will be lucky if it makes 60 degrees F., and there is a scattering of snow across the high Scottish mountains. Wind gusts to 40 mph and higher have a winter's edge as they chuff great piles of cumulus down the length of Britain from the NW, white and grey in the slanting yellow light against a washed out blue.

Cosmos, marigolds, nasturtiums and runner beans have valiantly held on in the very small garden, but pumpkins were brought in weeks ago to cure, and the tomato plants have given up. There remain a few courgettes in big pots sporting futile flowers. On Tuesday, tubers from the dahlias started from seed last spring were put to sleep for the winter in a box in the north room—the nick of time, it felt. Another two weeks and bulbs go in, followed by the aquilegias and lupines, also grown from seed, that have been nurtured all summer. Or what we were pleased to call summer! Virginia creeper, an import beloved of the English, cascades scarlet and burgundy down the back wall, and the mellow stone walls of many of the colleges.

But for all this beauty and bounty, and in spite of my deep gratitude for being here, always in autumn I am drawn in memory to the American West:

" This past week [October, 1985] as I drove across southern Utah and Wyoming, the high peaks were already coated with white. The plateaus lay empty but for the skeletal snow fences, waiting for the storms to bury their bones, and the howling blizzard to sing their Dies Irae. They seemed vast and lifeless. Their cattle had been shipped in long lines of hurrying trucks and railroad cars; the few head kept for breeding had been brought down from the high country to shelter near barns stacked to the ridgepoles with hay. Stubble lay harsh and bleached under the angled autumn sun, and all the land lay quiet as it waited for the snow that soon would blanket its every feature, freeze its fertility until another spring.

"As the miles passed I couldn’t help thinking of our selves as that stripped prairie: our selves searched out and known by God, a sense of exposure and potential futility; sometimes, even, a sense that all that was once familiar and sweet is frozen, as we near despair that another spring will come when our service will take more tangible, visibly fruitful forms.

"But it is within this very winter of our lives that we learn to know Christ our Sun rising on each day of our willingness to use our tears to light the divine fire upon the earth, our tears which fall drop by drop upon our hearts like sparks in the stubble; tears that melt our hearts and thus enable the Spirit’s pouring out through us, anointing the earth.

"Often it doesn’t feel that way. Often we see our debility, our illnesses, our powerlessness to avert tragedy, our ageing as useless when in fact these are the times when we are offered an opportunity to render the most service by our willing powerlessness, our willingness to allow God to empty us of the self-consciousness that remains, now that the noise and distraction of activity is stilled. . . .

"Thus when we think of service, let us first think of this service of willingness, not willingness to do but willingness to be done to, to be handed over, to not know, to let go control, to be emptied so that we may be fulfilled and become the healing power of God on earth and in time.

"We need not be in a state of physical incapacity: it is vital that we understand that we enter this willingness each time we hush the noise without and within us, and are still before God in wordless prayer, in the silence that wells up from our hearts and from which we learn to speak and to do."

From a sermon given at Holy Apostles Church, Albuquerque, New Mexico


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Maggie
This speaks to me so profoundly.
The need to be laid bare and the letting go..............
and the possibilities that brings.

1:07 pm, October 07, 2011  

Post a Comment

<< Home