The seasons changed this weekend, from a long hot summer to suddenly fall and this morning a steely sky blanketed this town in the eastern foothills of the Rockies.
From a corner room in the historic Boulderado Hotel we look out on the corner of Pine and 13th Street, an intersection of stalwart churches dating to the late nineteenth century surrounded by tall shade trees, still in full leaf. Our red-brick hotel with its tall narrow windows, towers, gables, and bracketed cornices, opened in 1907 and was named by uniting the names Boulder and Colorado. Today it retains its old world charm with cherry woods and sweeping staircases and the famous glass ceiling overlooking the lobby and balcony that runs along the sides of the fifth floor.
But we came to this university town to visit our son and grandchildren, and our step into the past was a short one but just as dramatic. Children grow just as seasons change and buildings mature, and we re-entered our family life, having missed some of it. We forged new bonds and discovered new details about the time passed in separate places, time which molded our grandson, turning eight, and our granddaughter, well into five, into slightly different creatures than when we saw them last. Time also has weathered our son and his wife, and this family they formed. They have grown together, meeting the challenges and sufferings of life, and have acquired a patina and depth.
Within those delicately graded changes that the months worked on each of us we could still see the same son and daughter, the same grandchildren, the unique personalities that God had given them. They had simply ripened.
I noticed these shades in the last few days, marveling at my grandson on the wide field of green grass, chasing the soccer ball, maneuvering it away from others, sliding his body gracefully through the wind like the wind. Blessed with agility, concentration, and incredible energy, he throws himself into the game so that his features at times reflect a much older person. And off the field, his manner has matured. He speaks to me rationally and inquisitively, having left some of his younger ways behind.
Our granddaughter, who I am firmly convinced was sprinkled with faerie dust at some point, has moved from baby to child, that amazing change from four to five, when language and thought become channeled into productive activity. Her longer attention span allows her greater satisfaction as she plunges into crafts, games, coloring. She too ran on that field of green on Saturday, a child running for the sheer joy of running, dancing through the grass, clapping her hands.
We worshipped together this morning in the Presbyterian Church, my son next to me. His grandfather, my father, was a Presbyterian pastor, and while he left the faith eventually, I believe my son’s faith is firm. It was good to be there, sitting in the shiny wooden pew together, listening to the choir and hearing the sermon. We were a family, and I gave thanks for this simple pleasure, of being together in church, a place that weaves threads through generations and binds our culture together. For today, indeed, marriage, family, and church are threatened by a multitude of forces, pulled at, divided. It is in these moments, in these places, like this morning in this sanctuary where we worshipped God together, that we come home. And while the service was not my accustomed Anglo-Catholic one, and the Divine Liturgy was replaced by a more casual program of readings and songs and a good deal of talk, it was my familiar childhood church, the church in which I grew up. Was my father watching from somewhere in eternity? I wondered. And here was my son, returning.
I considered why I had left the Presbyterians as I often do in these moments of reflection and reminded myself again of the same list: my loss of faith in my teens; my re-conversion by the writings of the Anglican C.S. Lewis; my falling in love with the ancient liturgy of the Church, how it washed over and through my senses and drew me in; my eventual conviction that Christ was mystically present in the bread and the wine; the journey of forty years of weekly Eucharists and the glorious submission to these life-giving moments in the Mass; my eventual desire and need for them, as one needs food and water to live, air to breathe, and as one desires to be with one’s beloved.
We joined together this weekend, pulling time into our circle and vanquishing it. We dined and played and read together. This afternoon we drove into the mountains through the charred fire-ravaged hillsides, where black skeleton trees stood drearily against the cold sky with its peeked sun. Weeks ago the flames had leapt through these majestic forests of the Rocky Mountains, swallowing homes and possessions, memories gone in a burst of heat. Thankfully no lives were lost, but past lives were, at least the mementos that feed memory, and I wondered what it was like to lose the material of our past, the photos, the letters, the gifts from those we love, the rooms where we lived our dreams, our fears, our minutes strung together. All lost in an instant.
And now as I look out on the intersection of Pine and 13th and the churches on the corners, a blazing sun has burst suddenly through dark skies. I realized that nothing is ever lost, that God weaves himself among us, pulling us together with his love, and all of time past, present, and future forms his time. We may forget, but he will remind us of what is important, especially if we make the effort to sit side by side on the shiny oak pew. In this way we move through time, together.