Regarding my pilgrim's progress through the years, I’ve long lifted up the Hindu spiritual scheme of the four stages of a fulfilled life—the fourth beginning with gradual retirement from the world of affairs easing into a final stage of freedom from mundane concerns, dedicated to non-attachment and wisdom.
Whether I’ve fit myself to this scheme or whether the natural processes take me there (and I think it's the latter), more and more I look back over years of varied experiences, of formal and informal study, and a long practice of being a UU minister. I discern a unifying principle, a great and inescapable truth, personally poignant, yet not unique to me. (It’s true for everyone: you and me.) Call it Mutability. It is A Great Arbiter, a rhythm of being to which Religion resonates and each of us yields--inevitably
I thank English professor and President of Yale university, and for less than half a year before his untimely death, Commissioner of Major League Baseball, A. Bartlet Giamatti for bringing the word mutability to me in his celebrated essay about baseball: "The Greenfields of the Mind.” It is one of our era's great teaching texts.
I adore the essay’s beginning: “It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.” (Of course Giamatti used a baseball season from spring though autumn as a metaphor for one's own personal life and even our embracing Life.)
And so by talking of baseball, Bart Giamatti cunningly illuminated the notion of Mutability, as the old poet spoke of it. (The poet Giamatti invoked was Edmund Spenser of the 16th century, who wrote a poem called “Mutability." Giamatti's speciality was Renaissance English poetry.)
Giamatti went on to declare, “Dame Mutability never loses.”
I often think about about her, Dame Mutability, as things in my life have been breaking down with considerable frequency. Let me count the ways: my ecologically sound electric mulching mower finally succumbed from jamming its blade on a rubber doll’s head a neighbor kid tossed over the fence, the cylindrical fan went eccentric on our home’s gas furnace, the clothes dryer stays on only intermittently--a minute or two at a time, Ellie’s Volvo was pronounced pre-terminal (get rid of it as soon as possible, the mechanic said), the muffler on my Cabrio rumbles and I recently replaced leaking cooling and oil hoses in it, clapboards on my little barn (c. 1880) that’s now a garage are falling off, and of course the the four computers I use at different places for different things are suffering from electronic hardening and clogging of their arteries, to begin my list of Dame Mutability’s workings.
I’ve become philosophical regarding the gradual deterioration of things in my life, including my body, as well as the deaths of so many persons I have known and loved. So, all in all, this is an age/era when Mutability becomes manifest in more melancholic ways than previously, but this by no means results in inevitable pessimism, because I still hold to an optimistic outlook regarding change that I first realized via the Unitarian tradition of Transcendentalism. Actually, a few lines from an Emerson poem summarizes a general outlook: “All the forms are fugitive/but the substances survive./Ever fresh the broad creation,/a Divine improvisation.” In short, Self and world are ever reforming. This is essential UUism.
Long ago I wrote a meditation I continue to affirm:
Always there is a beginning
a new day,
a new month,
a new season,
a new year,
Forever the old passes away
and newness emerges
from the richness that was.
Nothing is ever lost
in the many transformations time works.
in some way,
though changed in form.
Rejoice in beginnings
in the heritage from which they emerge,
in the freshness which they bring,
in the hope which they offer,
in the promise which they hold.
This moment is a beginning,
And our lives,
individually and together,
Are full of richness, of freshness, of hope, and
And so Mutability is the means to return and renewal—of cycling spring and of a succession of generations. I see the dual nature of Mutability—an ending that turns into a beginning—as Natural and Real, part and parcel with all that tangibilitates. I speak of the religious way I follow as Natural Religion and a Religion of Realities, that accepts, even though it breaks the heart, the ways and means of Mutability.
Where I am in the course of my own life parallels where we are in the course of the seasons. I see deeply and clearly. My range of understanding expands. I call this meditation, which I also wrote long ago, “Revelation.”
After the leaves have fallen,
When trees are laid bare;
Before the first snowfall
Blankets the Earth,
There are a few rare weeks
of clear skies
bounces, reflects, illuminates
As it could not
in the turning of the Seasons,
Our vision becomes—
suddenly, exceptionaly— lucid, deep, and penetrating.
what was hidden.
to the horizon.
a Revelation too poignant for words
These are rare days
to see and know.
Use these days well and wisely.
To us all, Just now:
The opportunity and wisdom
To discover Nature's Revelation
Between the falling of the leaves
and the falling of the snow.
To us all,
A time to see and know
As it was not possible
In the end I agree with Bart Giamatti, and I’m not talking about baseball but Life: “It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.”
I add, that’s why we love it and hold onto it so, mourning the passings and celebrating the renewals, because it’s so beautiful, so damned beautiful,--Dame Mutability notwithstanding. Or should I say, Dame Mutability withstanding?