Summer in an academic setting is not down time, it’s just different time. A lot of catch-up going on. A lot of side-projects, and the return to central interests that have become side-projects without our intending so. Our time is easily filled, even though our parking lot is a bit roomier.
It’s not, as I sometimes imagine it was, just three months of doing whatever I want, which was often as little as possible. Students who go home are quickly finding something else to do; “nothing” sounded good during finals, but we were made for something. Often, we just hope it’s more than biding time or paying bills. A good, worthwhile something.
In the summer months, our experiences are widely scattered beyond the rhythms we share September to May. We spill out the top of the Spring semester and spread out until the Fall collects us.
The differentness of this time isn’t just in the changed schedule and lingering daylight. Even with the often intensive nature of summer classes, there’s a kind of casual-Fridayness to every day. Instructors seem just a little more approachable and open. There is more elbow room, but somehow community feels a little more accessible and neighborly. We feel like we might get away with something we couldn’t before.
It makes us wonder about possibilities we didn’t consider when the view was more cluttered, first impressions more frequent, and the sunshine a little more unpredictable. Sometimes I get a little brave; willing to let that little-polka-dot-bikini idea or desire or phrase, food, fantasy or habit out of the dressing room.
The desert mothers and fathers went out into the warm places to do something different. They ordered life and relationships around a summer schedule in thick contrast to the pressures and structures of the rest of the world, who at most took a few hours a week and a few weeks a year to be reminded of God’s rhythms. This had to be done boldly, distinctly, especially when it was Winter everywhere else. They talked about “guarding the mind,” developing habits that would keep your spirit alert to God’s work in whatever season you find yourself.
From Abba Mark’s epistle to Nicholas:
If you wish… to acquire within you your own lamp shedding the mental light of spiritual knowledge, so that you can walk without stumbling in the deep night of this age, and to have thy “steps… ordered by the Lord” (Ps 37.23), because you delight greatly in the way shown by the Gospels, in other words, if you wish to practise Christ’s commandments strictly and with the warmest faith and prayer, I will show you a marvellous spiritual method or means to achieve this, a method not requiring physical labour or exertion, but demanding spiritual work — attention of mind and thought, assisted by the fear and love of God. By the use of this method you will always be able easily to defeat the enemy host. So, then, if you wish to gain victory over passions, abide within yourself by prayer and with God’s help, and descending into the very depths of your heart discover there these three strong giants: forgetfulness, laziness and ignorance. These act as supports to intruders in the mind, who bring back other evil passions to act, live and grow strong in the souls of lovers of lust. But you, having found all these unknown evil giants, by strict attention and exertion of the mind, together with help from above, will find it easy later to get rid of them, again through prayer and attention. Then your zeal for true knowledge, for remembering the word of God and for harmonizing your will and your life therewith, together with your attention constantly standing on guard in the heart, carefully protected by the active power of grace, will destroy and wipe out the last traces of forgetfulness, ignorance, and laziness.
Writings from the Philokalia, 27-28.
May we find ourselves occupied by Something, whatever thing fills our summer. As the hours pass in work, leisure, conversation, and the warmth of the days and people and events ahead, may we re-member ourselves and our God, may we be mind-full of all we have learned and are noticing, and may we be vigilant in keeping the disciplines of both work and rest, engagement and absence, in the rhythms of this different time. May our lamps burn bright when the days grow shorter.
“This is how we start over.” That Typhoon song keeps running in my head: “Hold out for summer; There’s a promised land in every man’s heart.”