Summertime All Year Long.

The rhythms of the family farm structured and shaped 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 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 and work less behind a desk than 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 lives unfolded according to patterns furrowed deeply into them by yeas of a cultivated 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 house.  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.  

This week, St. Louis’ record-breaking summer fever finally broke.  Finally, there’s a fresh snap in the air.  So far, only the Sasafras trees in the park by our house have thought to color a leaf or two, but clearly, autumn is knocking at the door.  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 have traditionally fantasized about escaping frenzied Twenty-First Century life to occupy my grandpa’s simpler day and age.  For parents of school-aged children, George Gershwin’s, “Summertime,” is being replaced by the cicadas’ insistent, early September, summer’s swan song.  Parents can hear in the cicada’s drone, a kind of taunt:  “Schedules are here!,” “Homework’s here!,” “Conference Time!,” “Soccer Tournaments!,”  “Less sleep!,” “More driving!” “Time to rush”… and on and on… For parents of school-aged kids, this is the time of year when booming, banging, buzzing busyness comes back to call after a blessed summer hiatus.  

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 God and themselves.  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 strengthen 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 and replenish our stores of peace and equinitmity, 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?  I know a woman who meditates in the time it takes to brew her tea each morning.  These three minutes represent a downpayment on a growing contemplative practice.  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, even if some days you can only muster a five minute session?  Can you keep a good summertime novel going on your nightstand throughout the course of the year?  

My Grandpa knew that willpower has no real staying power, nor does a dependence on fleeting motivation. Habits grow in the soil of daily rhythms.  Nurturing an inner store of summer vacation during October won’t happen by happenstance.  Last week, I described the importance of taking in a breath of Spirit to soothe one’s heart in a marital conflict.  The hidden theology in that intervention is that sometimes it takes a deep breath of Higher Power to find enough equinimity to stay supple and open.  The prerequisite for that momentary intervention is an intentional daily practice of contemplation or meditation.      

Here, as the road bends, just past Labor Day, could you take a few moments to consider how you might keep a little island of summer alive in your heart all year long?

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