Sunday, March 29, 2009

Autumn in Brisbane

It's autumn here in the southern hemisphere and with all the election drama a week ago the autumnal equinox slipped by unnoticed. Brisbane is a sub-tropical city so our autumn is a little different to the classic Fall seen in the northern hemisphere. Australia as a whole doesn't have a Fall as such, I believe. Melbourne, however, and some other cities in the southern part of the continent where there has been a lot of planting of European trees do experience a Fall, at least in the older inner areas. But here in Brisbane autumn is more subtle.

For a start, this year everything is so green because we've had good summer rain and traditionally summer is our wet season. So we have green lush foliage. The weather is warm too. Over the last few years with the drought, March and even April could be almost indistinguishable from summer. But this year over the last month, there has been an ebbing of the humid heat of February. I'm still getting around in shorts and a singlet but I'm comfortable, unlike the hot humid weather of earlier. By day if you're in the sun it can still be intense and the temperatures are still up in the high 20s, even 30-31 at times. However the magic of this time of year is that beneath the warmth, especially in morning and evening, there is an oddly re-assuring touch of chill. Not icy, but a sharpness that just tingles the skin.

But what I love most is the light, in the evening especially. Just as there is a chill tinge to the warm air so the light has a quality or depth of shadow that you wont find in summer's glare. By mid-afternoon this depth of shadow gives an almost sweet melancholy tinge to everything around. Ever since I was a child I've felt as if the whole earth is in the grip of a deep yearning of memory and I feel in myself the awakening of memory. Not specific memories on my own part but instead a sharing of the cosmos' yearning for things past. By sunset this yearning can be strong like the glissando of an Eric Satie piano piece. It feels like it's pressing at you through your skin and from deep down inside simultaneously. And we've had some stunning sunsets, the clouded western horizons suffused with a panoply of reds ablaze and straining against the deepening blue of onrushing night.

It always seemed appropriate to me as a child that this was the season of Lent. It's a natural time for reflection in a way that Spring can't be. Spring is newborn, naive, bursting with sap and bud and teeenage hormones. Spring is funfilled joy but Autumn's joy is more subdued, more appreciative.

Today is the 5th Sunday in Lent. When I was a child it was known as Passion Sunday, starting the 2 weeks of Passiontide that included Holy Week and culminated in Easter. This for me was a most magic time of year, moreso than any other and once more fitted Autumn's dynamics than any other season. Part of the magic of Passion Sunday was going to church and seeing all the statues and crosses covered over with purple cloth - 'Jesus was in hiding now' I was told - and those coverings would stay until midnight in the Easter Vigil liturgy when they would be removed to the chanting of the Gloria to herald the start of Easter and signify the Resurrection. As a child I loved the drama and symbolism of all these rituals which only ever occured at this time of year.

In 1969, Pope Paul VI removed the label of Passion Sunday for this day, transferring it to Palm Sunday. I'm not quite clear why it was done but it appears from this account here that perhaps it was a misguided attempt to return to some perceived simpler and 'more authentic' usage of the earlier church. An attempt at peeling away medieval 'accretions' and 'elaborations' for percieved simplicity. Personally I hope one day there comes a re-evaluation of mediaeval Christendom and its ways and subsequent reclaiming of much that was good. This was, after all, the time of Hildegard, Mechtild, Francis, Clare, Marguerite Porete and many others so there was something good in the period.

So this morning I went to Mass at the Liberal Catholic church up in Wickham Tce. They still observe today as Passion Sunday and, while there are no statues in their church, the crosses were draped in purple gauze and will remain that way until Easter day. It's what I like about the LCC, this strange mixture of an older time with the present, so perfectly in keeping with Lent and Autumn.

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