Dog days of summer. Sometimes the Dallas heat seems unfair to dogs as well as humans. But here we are, trying to rest and relax. Trying.
Trying is half the problem. If one half is external — the weather, the non-stop press of activities, the stresses of the economy — the other half is internal. How do we revive the spirit? How do we disengage enough from the engine of doing and plug into the power source that will recharge us?
The first thing to say is that the noun “vacation” comes from the same root word as the verb “to vacate”. Before you can fill up, you have to empty out.
Leaving home is harder than it used to be. Technology means never having to be out of touch. But it also means never vacating. The loss of the ebb and flow of the spirit that comes from being “always on” endangers our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. It makes us over-earnest. Labor overwhelms leisure and makes us anxious in the same way lack of sleep robs us of energy and sends us searching for Red Bull to make it through the day. But that only makes us jittery.
When we descend into this mood, the world looks bleaker to us and we despair of our power to control our destiny or help those we love. The cure is not to try harder.
The poet Wendell Berry put things in perspective in his poem “The Peace of Wild Things”: “When despair for the world grows in me, and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be — I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
Nature knows a peace that often evades us, and when we allow ourselves to sink into its rhythms, we find ourselves again. We are earthlings, after all. We may harbor heavenly hopes in our hearts for things above in ways that separate us from lower beings. But we can learn from what is lesser when our greater nature betrays us.
“Look at the birds of the air,” Jesus says. “Consider the lilies of the field.” The modern world has pulled us away from such pondering. Now we look at the Dow Jones Industrial Averages and consider the price of gasoline. The cost to our souls escalates with every step away from grounded spirituality.
Summer may extend the idea of Sabbath beyond the weekly rhythm to a seasonal flow. Sabbath rest involves vacating from work on the one hand, but also filling the time with renewing leisure on the other hand. Sabbath worship is good for nothing — literally. It is not done for any purpose to be measured in worldly terms. It’s a “royal waste of time”, as one writer puts it. But as such, it redeems time by connecting us to the King of Heaven.
Play does the same thing. Reading for fun, cooking out and eating in, playing with the kids or grandkids, gardening, walking at the lake: These good-for-nothing activities amount to something nothing else can match. They revive our spirits and renew us body and soul.
“For everything there is a time and season,” Ecclesiastes says. Including a summer time to slow down and catch our breath.
George Mason is pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church. The Worship section is a regular feature underwritten by Advocate Publishing and by the neighborhood business people and churches listed on these pages. For information about helping support the Worship section, call 214.560.4202.