Saturday, November 24, 2012
The Edges of Things, in Thanksgiving
I have long loved looking at edges of things. I first became aware of this in looking back over my photography, when years ago I became fascinated with the dawn-lit and sunset-glowing edges of the agave plants that grew abundantly at Mt. Calvary, my spiritual home. More recently, I have found myself pondering other edges: endings and beginnings, life and death, color and not-color, dour and joyous, church and not-church, patriarchy and a new way of being. All those places where the subtle but clear transitions both draw me in and confound me, mostly at the same time.
My newest favorite photographer Michael Frye is an artist about my age who has lived at or near Yosemite for the last thirty years. He talks about the edges of seasons, the times, at least photography-wise, when we tend to overlook the richness in front of us because it is a little hard to locate. The autumn, and in particular November, when the earth makes the subtle transition from full-on fall, through a grey, brown, musty kind of time, to full-on winter. Californians for the most part do not know too much about the intensity of seasons, but we natives will also always argue for four seasons, just perhaps more subtle than what most others are used to!
And so this Thanksgiving, I headed up to Yosemite looking for signs of this transition all around me, hoping to find, as Michael encouraged, some still small signs of the brilliance of the yellow-orange-fiery deathly autumn, on the verge of giving way to winter.
The edge is such a curious place, since it does, as the old saw goes, cut both ways, the knife-edge, the double-edged sword. As I drove up into the California foothills through Merced, Mariposa, El Portal, I saw the brown and grey that Michael had mentioned, the edge of the season between fall and winter. I also saw every so often, the remains of a brilliant tree, or the mixed-up composition of death and life and dying all wrapped up in green and brown and bright yellow and fading red.
And it occurred to me, as I wound my way up, up to the entrance to Yosemite, that the hope that we attribute to spring, the anticipation of the green bud, the green blade rising from the buried grain as the old hymn says, that hope meets us not only in the spring, but also in the fall as we glimpse that last vivid bit of color before we plunge into the darkness.
The hope in the fall is a hope that I have not pondered much before. As I drove and watched for the colorful signs as I puttered along, it occurred to me that perhaps this hope is where we arrive at our death: the last glimpse of the brilliance in the dullness and pain of suffering, the hope of seeing the holy ‘face to face’, instead of dimly, as the apostle Paul says, as the lights go out and the mystery of the next journey begins. I have watched people die with this hope radiating throughout their being and showing on their faces; it is my hope for my own death and my hope for a good death for all of us.
The full spectrum of color manifests itself to us now – this is part of how we know that holy union and the capacity to know the fullness of God happens on this earth – right now – not only when we exhale our final breath and go to that mystical heaven in the clouds of our childhoods. The autumn hope, the little glimpse in between the grey and brown, is just as miraculous as the hope of the small green shoot resolutely pushing it way up through the wet, dark, soil. A little foretaste of the heavenly banquet that is the hope of paradise.
And so I spent one glorious day and night in Yosemite this Thanksgiving, from twilight to before dawn until sunset, pondering these things with my camera at the ready. I offer these photographs as Thanksgiving to my friends and family (click on this link!) , who have shown me these full colors of hope – the very face of God - amidst despair and suffering and some little death, and to the Holy One, who has given me a passion to show at least a small glimpse of these colors - this hope - to others along the way.
Thanksgiving for you!