Early Sunday morning the fog nestled in the valley below our house, its fingers creeping up the canyons. But the early morning sun shone through the moist October air, promising.
I see this view from my kitchen window and am always stunned. I say my morning prayers gazing upon this valley, and all the changes of seasons that it holds through the year. I watch the red tails and the black hawks soar and dive, following the wind currents. Swallows nest in an ancient oak nearby and their young fly from the leafy branches in spring and summer. Bobcats visit from Mount Diablo and we’ve seen a fox and a mountain lion intently cross our driveway. Turkeys run rampant over our garden and the deer grace us with their beauty, nibbling with abandon. We are situated on a low crest, just high enough to be above, and yet below the vast dome of the heavens.
These days mid-October teases us with winter, a cold night followed by a warm day, low temperatures suddenly vanquished by warmer ones. The harvest is over (I think) here in California, but we celebrate its bounty as we head toward pumpkins and Halloween.
Just so, I found myself in an October celebration, Oktoberfest, on Sunday, after Mass. We filled our plates with sausage, kraut, potatoes, applesauce, strudel with cream, and of course beer. We danced the chicken dance, stepping in a circle, hands clasped, making curious gestures with our hands and arms to quick-stepping music, imitating, I believe, chickens soon to be dinner. Some of us wore costumes – Bavarian hats, shorts, suspenders. Long graceful country dresses. As we circled, it seemed to me a moment of silliness, of gathering together, of fun. We spanned one year to ninety-three, and those closer to ninety-three enjoyed the chance to be closer to one, the chance to dance.
Our parish is a colorful one. We have Scottish, Hispanics, Irish, Bahamans, Germans, English, Norwegians, Swedes. We have folks from Belize, China, Japan. And many other countries. It is a parish of every age and skin color and we celebrate our differences. We all contribute to the wonderful American melting pot here in our parish hall. We celebrate our differences because we have our common faith in God.
I Googled Oktoberfest, and was interested to learn that it began with a royal wedding on a Munich field on October 12, 1810. The townspeople celebrated the following anniversaries as well, and soon fair booths showcasing beer and other local items were added. The booths became halls.
As we danced on Sunday it seemed we danced through fall and into winter, traveling into new times, new hours, days, weeks. The crisp tease of autumn will soon leave us, and the real cold will chill us to the bone, a real rain will sodden our lands, and we shall wait long dark nights for the sun to bring us day.
So too we Americans will dance together in the coming weeks. We will take one another’s hands in this highly charged world of wars and rumors of wars, of demagogues and saints. We will pause and try to read the signs. We will enter our voting booths; we will mail in our ballots; we will choose our new leader for the next four years. We will pray that our freedoms, especially our freedom to practice our faith, will be protected.
As I stepped in time in our Oktoberfest circle on Sunday, I was grateful for the warm hands that held mine. I was thankful that we were joined together in this moment of song. We knew the fog enshrouded our church, but we also knew it would burn off by afternoon. We knew winter was coming, but we were safe in our church, loved by God, a love that wove through us.
Earlier we had worshiped God in the nave above. We had prayed side-by-side on our knees. We had received him in the Holy Eucharist, palms raised at the altar. We had taught our children in the Sunday School about Solomon and his great temple built to the glory of God – just like our temple – and the children had rehearsed a Bach tune to sing for next Sunday’s baptism.
The tease of October filled us with joy, and we danced God’s seasons, hands clasped, in his Church.