I remember it vividly but didn’t really understand at the time. The summer after I completed seventh grade, my parents took our family of four children on our first trip “out west.” We flew from Philadelphia to Denver (my first plane ride) and rented a “woodie” station wagon for the next two weeks.
Every few days my father would stop in a small town, find a pay phone and make a collect call back home to “the factory.” My father owned a medium-size commercial printing and manufacturing factory that began as a postcard company by my maternal grandfather in 1907. I worked at the factory in various capacities from the time I was a child until I was married. However, as a twelve-year-old, I didn’t fully comprehend why my father had to interrupt our trip in order to check in. Now I know all too well.
My mother realized that Dad needed to make sure everything was running smoothly at the factory while we were on summer vacation. My father worked long hours in the office and always brought home paperwork at night, so he needed the time away, even if he had to call in periodically.
My mother wasn’t too pleased, however, when my father sought out lunch-time Rotary Club meetings so he could fulfill Rotary’s strict make-up requirements. While Dad was eating a good meal with fellow Rotarians in Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona, we were relegated to the laundromat, where we did our wash and waited. It was a small price to pay for my first opportunity to experience the incredible beauty of the west.
Summer is a time when everyone ought to have the opportunity to kick back, let go and enjoy life. John 10:10 is the scripture verse that best describes for me the wonder and glory of summer. Jesus says to his disciples, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The context of this verse is Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees, who are investigating his healing of a man born blind. The Jews don’t believe that he was born blind, even when the man himself testifies to his healing.
When the Pharisees claim that his so-called healer is a sinner, the man says, “I don’t know whether Jesus is a sinner or not. All I know is that I was blind and now I see.” After bantering with the Jews about their spiritual blindness in not recognizing him as the Son of God, Jesus states that he is the gate, for whoever enters the sheepfold by him will be saved and experience abundant life.
What God wants most for you and me is to live an abundant life. Yes, we have abundant life because Jesus also calls himself the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep. Yet we experience life abundant through God’s gift of creation as well, especially in the summer.
Summer and vacations go together. In most locations schools are out, it’s the warmest time of the year, and we can be outside enjoying the beauty of mother earth. What is it about summer that evokes abundant life? Four words: energy, growth, light and rest.
In the summer the sun’s rays are most directly focused on our planet with an intense energy that is accompanied by powerful waves of heat. Certainly, heat can negatively affect our physical energy, and we can become sluggish. Yet the energy of the sun also elicits joy and abundant life.
In the very first verse of the Bible we read that this energy was present from the beginning of creation. “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1)
The energy of creation is nothing more than the activity of the Holy Spirit, this wind moving over the earth before humans were even created. Do you ever wonder why we humans pour outside on the first warm day of spring and stay outside all summer? It’s because we want to soak up Holy Spirit energy, whether we call it that or not. Whenever I am outside in the energy of creation, I feel fully alive.
Where do you receive Holy Spirit energy? How are you using your God-given energy to make a positive difference in the lives of others?
Summer is a time of ripening and abundance. The earth is alive with growth, much of it feeding our world and showing off God’s glory in a riot of colorful flowers, trees and plants. Hundreds of thousands of acres of corn, soybeans and grains accompanied my cycling journey through the Midwest several weeks ago. I learned much about farming and was especially intrigued with the many no-till fields along the way.
Some of the farmers we talked with do not plow their fields at the end of the season, and we observed new crops growing in the midst of the residue of previous plantings. The benefits are many. No-till farming prevents fertile topsoil from being worn away by wind and water at tons per acre. Nutrients do not leach out in the winter, creating a more natural soil. In addition, farmers save time and money in plowing, equipment, and human resources.
Life abundant feeds our earth in the summer, as home and community gardens and local farmers offer fresh and healthy food for our table. In the same way, a tiny seed of curiosity, openness and faith can grow into a spiritual maturity that feeds bodies, minds and spirits. Summer reminds us that we either grow or die in our spiritual life.
How are you growing in your relationship with God? Are you following the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for you so that you might have abundant life?
Summer is characterized by light early in the morning until late in the evening. The birds wake us up at dawn, and the crickets beckon us to sleep deep into the night. The nuances of dawn and sunset create spectacular splashes of color and light, inviting us to ponder Jesus’ assertion to the Pharisees in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
It is well-attested that light enhances mood. Light evokes both playfulness and attentiveness. In the light of summer we are called to see God, others and ourselves in new ways. I have wonderful memories of summer as a child but recall virtually nothing about fall, winter or spring. What I remember is light, sun and being outdoors.
I lived in a small town where I left the house after breakfast and didn’t come home till the sun set, except for lunch and dinner. Baseball glove on the handlebar of my bike, I rode around town attending summer recreations programs, frequenting the candy store, playing sandlot baseball and touch football, climbing trees and making miniature golf courses in the back yard. We didn’t have bike helmets, cell phones, iPods and video games. What we did have was abundant life.
For whom will you be light today?
The rhythm of summer reminds us of the need to slow down and rest. Energy, growth, and light are all dependent on fallow times. In John 12:24 Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Pulling back, waiting, practicing sabbath, and being rather than doing are integral to the abundant life that Jesus offers to each one.
That’s why vacation is so important, even if we do not leave town. The origin of the word vacation goes back to the Latin, vacare, which means to be empty, be free from, be unoccupied, be idle, or be vacant.
My mother and father were not able to take us on other big trips like our adventure out west. But they did understand the importance of recreation, renewal, play and experiencing abundant life. Even though Dad had to make periodic phone calls to check up on the factory, once he was done he gave his full attention to his family and helped us to learn about the world and its people through travel.
Are you slowing down this summer to rest, relax and become playful?
- Can you feel and harness the energy of the Holy Spirit through creation?
- Are you open to growth in your own life and facilitate growth in others?
- Will you soak up and absorb the light and reflect God’s light back at others?
- Will you be unoccupied rather than preoccupied, vacate your mind from work, be attentive to creation and rest in God’s love?
I am going to vacate for the next two weeks. No blog, no cell phone, no meetings or Rotary lunches. Just the four words of summer/abundant life: energy, growth, light and rest.
P.S. The next Leading from the Heart will be on Monday, August 4.