For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven . . .
For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, summer is a season unto itself: three months of extended sunlight that dramatically alters our sense of time. In the Christian calendar, our summer months coincide with what the Episcopal Church simply calls After Pentecost, and that our Roman Catholic friends describe more poetically as Ordinary Time. It’s a long stretch without a major Christian holiday, during which we are invited to experience the presence of Christ all around us and dwell on His teachings.
On a recent parish visitation I invited those gathered for the Sunday forum to consider the weeks between Memorial and Labor Day as a distinct season in their life. I asked them to call to mind what they knew was waiting for them in the summer months and what they hoped for. Even for those whose work patterns don’t change, I said, we seem to have more time in the summer, and the possibility of adventure For many, routines and rhythms change dramatically, allowing space for the things that bring joy.
Several people mentioned working in the garden and other summer-related activities that they loved. Others spoke of planned trips, family reunions , and college-aged children returning home. There was lightness and laughter in the room.
The tone shifted when one person shared that the summer would be a time of healing from surgery and then on-going treatment for cancer. Given a recent lay-off, another said that she would spend the summer looking for a job. We acknowledged that dramatic events that can occur at any time–the birth of a child, unexpected diagnoses, untimely deaths, and life responsibilities that remain, no matter the season.
There are unique opportunities for ministry in the summer, I said. Many congregations offer programming for children out of school, or take advantage of the opportunity for extended service locally or on mission trips. In the on-going work of gun violence prevention, the summer months can be intense, and one of the churches I admire, Peace Fellowship in Southeast DC, dedicates itself to walking its neighborhood in a ministry of presence. Food insecurity also rises for many families, and congregations across the diocese are stepping up their efforts to meet the need.
I asked, then, the question that my Jesuit spiritual director sometimes asks me: what intention might you set for the season ahead, and what grace might you pray to receive from the Holy Spirit for this time? Imagine yourself in September, looking back. What would you hope to be able to say about the growth you experienced this summer, or the healing? What offering were you able to make, and how did you increase in love?
The room grew quiet as we all pondered what lay before us.
I offer the same invitation to you. Consider the season of life before you, however you measure it. In a time of silence, or in close conversation with a trusted person, set your intentions and ask for the grace you need.
Keep in mind that setting an intention isn’t the same as a self-improvement plan. Rather, it’s an expressed desire to set your sights on a guiding light, and to keep your focus there. There is no failure in setting an intention, because it acknowledges our humanity and all beyond our control. An intention is a way of placing our heart’s desire in God’s hands and asking for the grace to live according to that desire, no matter the outcome. It helps us to place our desires in the proper order, as St. Augustine would say, so that we keep in mind the things that matter most.
If you are in church this Sunday you will hear two particularly inspiring passages of Scripture to consider at the threshold of summer: the first story of Creation as told in the Book of Genesis, and the Resurrected Jesus’ final words to His disciples as He ascends into heaven as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.
The Creation story reminds us that God sees this world and all that is in it as essentially good, and that we are all created in God’s image. We can’t deny all that works against that essential goodness, including our own failings and sin, yet goodness remains as our birthright and blessing. The passage also includes God’s creation of the Sabbath Day, a gentle exhortation for us to establish rhythms of rest, a welcome reminder at any time.
Jesus’ final words are of reassurance of His presence: Remember that I am with you always, to the end of the age.
May this summer, however it unfolds, provide you opportunities to savor and cherish the blessings of God’s creation, to fully live the life given you, to make meaningful contributions to others, and to rest. May you remember that you are created in God’s image and that Jesus will be with you, wherever you go.