The rhythms of the family farm structured my Grandpa Fuhrman’s boyhood days like the timbers that framed up the old wooden barn just behind his country home. By the time I came around, it had been more than four decades since my Grandpa Fuhrman had stepped away from the hard-scrabble life of scratching a living out of the soil. Like his brothers before him, my grandpa found out that he could make more money working behind a desk than behind a horse-drawn plow.
But even forty years after he left the farm, there were telltale signs that the farm had never quite left Grandpa. He was still a man, who like every farmer I’ve ever met, marked and divided his days according to predictable rhythms and rituals. Grandma and Grandpa’s days unfolded according to patterns set long ago and furrowed deeply into place by year-after-year of repetition.
Work, chores, meals, rest, and prayer all had their allotted times and places. Living life in this way lent an air of serene, monastic simplicity to Grandma and Grandpa’s lives. Just stepping through the door of their well-ordered home was enough to cause the most stubborn stress-knot in the shoulders to relax a little.
During this time of year, my mind drifts, like a wisp of smoke freshly curled off the tip of one of Grandpa’s front porch, after-dinner cigars. This is the time of year when I imagine myself escaping frenzied Twenty-First Century life to occupy my grandpa’s simpler day and age. This is the time of year, when for parents of school-aged children, George Gershwin’s, “Summertime,” is replaced by the cicadas’ insistent, late August, summer’s swan song. Parents like me can hear in the cicada’s late August drone, a kind of taunt: “Schedules coming!,” “Homework’s here!,” “Conference Time!,” “Soccer Tournaments!,” “Less sleep!,” “More driving!” “Time to rush”…and on and on….For parents like me, this is the time of year when booming, banging, buzzing busyness comes back to call after a blessed summer hiatus.
In this Sunday’s Second Reading (Romans 12: 1-2), Saint Paul warned that we Christians ought to avoid being “conformed” by “this age” (vs. 2). If there is anything that characterizes this age, and this time zone, it is a sense of frenzied busyness. When I was a parent of three school-aged children, during this time of year, I felt like my family and I were on a roller coaster car ticking our way up the first steep incline of the ride. Just on the other side of the hill awaited the whoosh, and twists and turns of a September/October schedule.
Perched as we are on the brow of the hill just before September, it is easy to hear in Saint Paul’s admonition about, “this age,” a call to turn the clocks back to a simpler time…to say…my grandpa’s era. But then I remember that Saint Paul wrote the words of this Sunday’s Second Reading a couple of millennia ago. That’s when I remember that every age presents unique challenges to the spiritual life, as well as unique opportunities.
In light of the crush of complexity and craziness in our current age, nostalgia for a bygone era is understandable. It is also an illusion. The recipe for the spiritually informed life is more nuanced than simply turning back the clock to a simpler, more wholesome time. For one thing, how many of us have the power to locate an “until death do we part” kind of job like my grandpa’s generation enjoyed? Good pay, a pension, guaranteed health-care benefits, reasonable hours, and life-long employment have a way of creating a context for peace and stability. Alas, this intervention is beyond the grasp of most working men and women’s Twenty-First Century hands.
Rather, the readings of this Sunday challenged us to be formed by a constant renewal in Christ (again, vs. 2 of Romans 12). Each year, summertime carries with it the promise of renewal. During June, July, and August, priests, ministers, rabbies, imams, and religious women and men leave their convents, temples, synogogues, and parishes to attend extended retreats where they renew and deepen their intimacy with themselves and God. During the summer months, poets, artists, and various professionals, attend camps and workshops to renew and deepen their skills. During the summer, families relax and deepen their bonds through taking time to recreate with one another outside of the confines of schedules, and household administration.
It seems to me that at least one way to continually renew ourselves in God, would be to create rhythms and rituals that will bring a little bit of summertime into our school/work year. Can you take just a minute and reflect upon your daily rhythms? Where could you build and insert little summer vacations into your September, October, November, or December days? For example, could you and God share a quiet morning cup of coffee together before the crush of another school or work day? Can you and your spouse get the kids to bed in time to create a forty-five minute summer vacation together over a glass of wine, or a decaf tea? Can you carve out time to enjoy heart-pumping, joyful exercise several times a week? Can you keep a good summertime novel going on your nightstand throughout the course of the year?
Here, as the road bends around Labor Day, could you take just a few moments to consider how you might keep a little island of summer alive in your heart all year long?