Finally plowed fields,
Bluffs and copses of leafless trees —
Windswept streams feeding chilly lakes
The sun, dear friend of the North,
Casts long and shadowed tendrils across the brittle grass,
The grainery is full and hay bales are stacked high.
Jackets, coats, and hats find their way out of closets,
Children excitedly try boots from last year —
As the oven brims forth a joyful heat
Gently floating up to kiss frosted window panes.
And, Oh! the bouquet of sweet bread in the air.
The lingering, yet bitterly expectant breath,
This, the concluding harvest —
The long moment of quiet rest
Allowing a tender offering of thanksgiving.
This time of year is special if you sit still — if you take the time to watch and see. It is a precious few weeks of ‘between-ness’, this climax of autumn. Contemporary society has unfortunately cartooned the experience by what we now call Thanksgiving, which is relegated to an hour or two of over-eating with football games blaring on the television in the background. It is difficult to get a real handle of this season, but for me, Gerald Finzi’s Op. 10 “Eclogue” (shown in the video above) has been a way to emotionally walk towards a knowing of what is important about these quiet days. Perhaps as much as any composer throughout history, Finzi can uniquely corner and capture this feeling powerfully. Please listen.
It’s easy to get distracted these days from the simple, the plain, the good, the warmhearted, the wholesome, and the kind. Yes, these things are growing increasingly rare, but I remain convinced it is possible to become a trader in them. To seek them out with patience, to wait and listen, and then to act upon them for others…. Merely being nostalgic doesn’t quite contain what I am speaking to here, and certainly not being maudlin. It is so much more, yet paradoxically it remains simple and basic.
It is the smell of dirt and hay and pumpkins and sugar beets, rosy cheeks and noses, the crack of trees and crunch of grass and leaves, baking breads and pies, mittens and hats, hot cider, the gathering of friends and family, just to name a few tender things (though there is a myriad). It is this Shaker line:
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.
I think it is a shame most people may read this today and think: “how silly,” “how naive”, or “how quaint.” Perhaps this image hasn’t been helped by Joseph Brackett’s tune (and I myself am not really a fan of it either), but in reading Elder Joseph’s lyric penned so long ago in Maine, it is a painful affront to our lives right now, is it not? So much striving… Simplicity seems to be only found in the Self Help section of the local Barnes and Noble.
Oh, to listen instead of needing to be heard.
Oh, to be kind instead of putting ourselves above anyone.
Oh, to be okay being simple, though the world wants complexity.
Oh, to to be vulnerable of heart, bowing and bending without shame.
Lord on High,
Please help us be still,
Please help us remember with joy in our hearts,
Please help us Give Thanks for Good things.
Please help us to Love others.
Please help me.