November is a borderland month. My sister phoned in mid-October to let me know she was in a snowstorm, as she headed towards Thunder Bay, Ont., on her way west to B.C. Here in Creston and Kaslo, my two dear homes, I watch, first to see the patterns made by stands of golden larch, next the sprinkling of snow on the mountaintops, then the winter gradually creeping down the slopes day by day. A dramatic storm change to winter or the steady march of winter down the mountains are two different borderland experiences of a season that require response and preparation, as well as interior and exterior shift. Both beg two questions: Our question to nature and the spirit may be, “What do I have the energy for?” and “What lies ahead?”
In the borderlands, the question of how another winter will be becomes a point of decision. The evaluation of where we are and how we are, the movement to adjust or bolster ourselves for changes and then to be open to transformation are all essential parts of the preparation.
A surprise in the slow advance of winter, before it blasts cruelly upon us, is that there can be a sweetness. The warning chill brings the incredible vivid red, orange and yellow of the deciduous, patterns of gold larch over the mountains, and the sweet smell of rotted leaves as you kick up the piles along pathways. Borderlands have this sweetness; they hold a call toward a transformation that may cause either excitement or anxiety but also a sweet pull to hunker down. If we know transformation is the end result, can we enter this borderland with curiosity? Without trepidation? We know that from the darkest hours have come our greatest clarity and a brightness. This is the beginning of shift.
Borderlands have a sweet call to retreat. To cocoon is to enter the unknown, participate in an edge of life that is mystery. Transformation through death or a shift into a new stage of life, if we allow it, can take us into a borderland of deeper awareness. The sweetness of this time reminds us to hold life gently, not so much a giving up as a merging into something greater than ourselves.
Some of the ancient wisdom Christians have recovered from Celtic Christianity is the clarity of seeing the word of God written in nature. A natural borderland is a transition place, from one landscape to another, and in the heart it is also a place of transition, a place of “unknowing”, of “not yet”, or “of reliance upon Spirit or God”. Borderland is a place where you are aware that each step is into the unknown.
As you walk through times of transition, take these ancient words to heart and repeat to yourself, “Way will open.” The words AA groups use are “one step at a time.” Places of unknowing deep inside us are places where something new is being shifted and formed; literally, co-creation is happening within us. We participate with the Creator when we open to the mystery of life. We serve the wellness of creation when we enter borderland places with curiosity and courage rather than fear. However, if we are snapping and snarling, it should alert others that we are facing some great fear of the unknown. Rather than see the dark moments of life as a black hole to nowhere, what if we reminded each other that everyone steps out on the borderlands and, so, into new life?
A dear friend, mentor and neighbour, Rev. Dirk Pidcock, just died this past October. I will miss him. In this mourning time, I wonder how it will be for his dear wife, the churches that will miss his counsel, all the places that have known his step. I hope they rest, reflect and open to renewal.
I do believe that, like autumn, we leave behind a fragrance, a sweetness, a scent of hope, out of the mystery of even our final change. When we scuff up the leaves along the sidewalks, what does the sweet fragrance that rises conjure in our hearts? We might ask, “What retreat place are we called to within ourselves?” and be curious about what commitment might be renewed within us in this borderland of autumn into winter.
For some borderland activities to participate in, the Trinity United Church’s ad in last week’s Advance included Death over Dinner, a refugee fundraiser and hospice workshops on advance planning. Also in November were All Hallows’ Eve, Day of the Dead and All Saints Day, and Remembrance Day is next week.
Rev. Shelley Stickel-Miles is an ordained minister working alongside all the delightful ministers at Trinity United Church in Creston.