The Trouble with August

I was thinking about this idea of “seasons” as I was comforting a struggling friend. Seasons are important to the grieving because Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes that everything has its own season, and that God makes everything beautiful in His time. In trying times, sometimes Peace flows from these, sometimes not.

Annie Dillard wonders in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek “Assuming you hadn’t noticed any orderly progression of heavenly bodies, how long would you have to live on earth before you could feel with any assurance that any one particular long period of cold would, in fact, end?” That the cold might not end poses two horrors: the death and dormancy a “permanent cold” would bring, and what Dillard calls “the horror of the fixed…which assails us with the tremendous force of its mindlessness.” Those of us in any kind of transition long for something fixed and stable, but Dillard compares the fixed not to a firm foundation, but to a Mason jar in which the class-project moth dies because it can’t beat the glass open with its wings.

So it’s not in the movement from cold to warmth in which redemption is found–it’s in the movement itself. And natural order is one of constant movement. God promises in Genesis to the early people that neither the seasons nor day and night shall cease. But the rhythm of seasonal change, no matter how comfortable, would become another Mason jar. That’s why we were given unreliable weather.

Dillard points out, “What we think of weather and behavior of life on the planet at any given moment is really all a matter of statistical probabilities; at any given point, anything might happen. There’s a bit of every season in each season. The calendar, the weather, and the behavior of wild creatures overlap smoothly for only a few weeks and then it all tangles up again.”

In Minnesota, there is special appreciation for summer because everyone knows winter is right around the corner. For the last couple of years, I’ve been reckoning with this practical agnosticism that believes God can but doesn’t think he would. Florida poses a problem for me because I generally live without this extreme, natural reminder that the order of the universe is one of constant change. How long will I have to live here before I can feel, with any assurance, that this one, particular, long period of heat will, in fact, end? In Isaiah, God tells his people He is “doing a new thing” and asks “Can you not feel it? Can you not perceive it?”

No. I cannot. The subtleties of holy change–the green bud poking through the snow, the first yellowing of August leaves–are washed out by the fixed heat and glare of the Florida sunshine.

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