June 24, 2018 — Rev. Paula Norbert
In our reading from the Song of Solomon today, we hear that “the winter is past, flowers appear on the earth and the time of singing has come.” Just a few days ago on the Summer Solstice, people around the earth celebrated the day when the hours of light and darkness are equal. They say goodbye to the darkest time of the year and welcome in the joys of daylight for planting and joy and rest. Here in Maine, many of us look forward each year to the coming of summer. We carry a certain nostalgia for the days of summer from our youth, days when we had a long break from school and probably had as much free time as we could possibly imagine. We yearn for the freedom and enjoyment of those days and we look forward each year to what the months ahead may offer to us in terms of being out of doors for longer stretches of time, of welcoming guests and walking the beach or hiking a mountain path. It is surely a time of being present to the Presence of our creator all around us. Let us pray, Creator of all, we thank You for summer! Thank You for the warmth of the sun and the increased daylight. Thank You for the beauty we see all around us and for the opportunity to be outside and enjoy Your creation. Thank You for the increased time we have to be with friends and family, and for the more casual pace of the summer season.
Draw us closer to You this summer. Teach us how we can pray no matter where we are or what we are doing. Warm our souls with the awareness of Your presence, and light our path with Your Word and Counsel. As we enjoy Your creation, create in us a pure heart and a hunger and a thirst for You. Amen.
How does this season of summer touch our hearts, our spiritual lives in a special way? What do we allow of ourselves at this time of year? Do we feel we have the freedom to be in the moments? What may this season bring to each of us as we move through these precious days of sun and rain, of warmth and leisure, of reading and gardening…however you like to spend summer, we are invited to do more of what brings us joy, of what brings peace to our hearts, and what brings contentment to our very souls. I do believe that God invites us to be present to this time.
I have some wonderful and really happy memories of summers from when I was young. I remember spending countless days at Goose Rocks Beach, walking that beach, thinking about my future, swimming after dinner, running races on the beach with my brothers and sisters…Later, in high school, I remember beach trips with my friends, once on a moonlit night with a group of friends, running into that cold water and being scared we might get bitten by a shark, because alas, Jaws came out when I was in high school….or getting up early one summer morning to go watch the sunrise at the beach. It seemed like summer lasted forever when I was young, and now, it is Never long enough for me. Give me a 75 degree day, a fine book, all my work completed, and endless hours ahead to sit in the shade and just enjoy it with all of my senses, aware of the loveliness surrounding me.
Sarah Semmier Smith offers some wonderful reflections on the heart in summer as she writes, “A summer of the heart—is beautiful, but also can come with baggage: Nostalgia. It’s a part of summer—‘part of its lure and magic, a strange tint of melancholy.’ The mountain top periods of faith by their nature affect us and stick with us. It’s like we taste heaven, then go rummaging in a storage closet, among the clutter of keepsakes and pictures, hoping to get back to that place.” And yet, writes Mark Buchanan, “Summer doesn’t so much evoke a ‘back there’ experience. But it jolts an ‘up there’ one. Calling us not back to a garden we once enjoyed and then lost but to a city we’ve yet to visit and barely imagined.”
A foretaste of the feast to come, a kingdom that is now but not yet. That’s summer. What are we to do, when we are blessed to find ourselves in it?
- Enjoy. Play. Rest. Let us enjoy the presence of our God and others, without worry and without apology. Many of us carry a piece of that old New England work ethic, that makes us feel guilty when we relax. We remember the story of Jesus’ first miracle when his mother asked him to turn the water into wine, essentially for no better reason than everyone could enjoy that wonderful wedding reception together. And Paul once wrote, “Finally my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord!…Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Someday, the memories of these days may be like snapshots in time when the residual joy will rise up, perhaps when we need it most, in the midst of winter. So let us enjoy Summer.
- Let’s try to slow down. Do you sometimes feel when summer arrives that you should rush to fit in all the wonderful summertime activities while the weather is nice? There are so many social gatherings…family reunions and weddings, the 4th of July and planned vacations. As we listen to our hearts, our spirits in summer-when we may be more attuned to our connection to God and the Spirit—that can be a temptation too. To fit it all in. To say yes to everything we are invited to, whether we want to or not. In those moments, God’s invitation is to rest on the Sabbath, to ‘be still and know’. In the summer of your heart, we are invited to let ourselves slow down, put less on the calendar, and enjoy deep peace, in when the presence of God is so real that worry and upset are hopefully far away. As Buchanan writes, ‘That peace is summer’s birthright and winters lifeblood.’ Slow down. Soak in a summer of the heart. (Mark Buchanan)
- Let us enjoy the abundance: in the summertime of the heart, God’s blessings are everywhere we look and bring us joy. We find ourselves surrounded with colorful experiences, blue green waves and beach roses and beautiful local strawberries and delicious watermelon and it seems there is enough for everyone. And there is; we just don’t want to take that for granted. We want to store these sights and tastes in our hearts and minds and accept the gift that they are and not worry about the months ahead, at least for the moment. We have enough; we don’t need more. There is enough sunshine and stretch of beach to allow us to enjoy and if we can be truly in the present, we can let go of what is lacking and enjoy what is. In summer, the invitation is to avoid the worries of what we feel we don’t have and be grateful for what it is we do…right outside our windows, right outside our doors. So may we delight in these wondrous days and give thanks in summer.
- And finally, we want to replenish ourselves. Even in the midst of wonderful days, we need to take time out for the essentials…for self-care in all manner of ways, care of the body, the mind and the spirit. Whatever that means for you, take time to follow through with it…stop and think about what brings you joy and do that. Take time out for prayer and for reflection, for meaningful conversations and light reading….whatever it is that replenishes your soul. We can begin to take for granted the peace that often comes with summer, but it is still important to nourish our spiritual lives so that we have those wonderful habits in place once the cold and darker days return once more. Years ago, there was a book titled The Habits of the Heart. This is the time to make time for those kinds of habits so that they are part of your daily routine when you most need them again.
Mary Oliver speaks to the idea of being in the moments and paying attention in her lovely poem, The Summer Day. She begins with the wonderful question of Who made the world…and then goes from the broad to the particular as she examines a grasshopper in close detail and finds herself pondering the big questions of creation as she watches that grasshopper eat sugar from her hand, and she says, “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is, but, …
“I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.”
She evokes this wonderful sense of a perfect day where she is entirely present to her surroundings as she allows her mind to think about some of the ultimate questions of creation and prayer and feeling blessed…all of which prompts her to ask her wonderful and singular question, “Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Summer is truly a taste of the best that is yet to come. The kingdom of God comes near for a season. And the beauty of it is that we see it, we participate in it, and we live all that it has to offer. When summer comes to you, I hope you may recognize it, enjoy it, slow down, soak it up, delight in the abundance, continue to nurture your spiritual life, pause, reflect, appreciate all of it. As Sarah Smith wrote, “When you are in summer, you shine. Others will be drawn to that light—some in winter might need the warmth.” Be fully present to this wonderful season. Bless others by it. Be grateful to God for all that it means to you. Amen.