How to Cultivate Our Spiritual Lives By Living Summer to the Full
I notice the sunrise shortly after I sit in my red vinyl chair, where I reflect on daily Mass readings and spend a few moments journaling. It is before 6:30 AM, I realize, a bit surprised but also grateful. Early June heralds the season of light, a season that cues an increase in outdoor activities and more time spent with family and friends.
Summer has always symbolized abundance to me.
I look to the seasons when it comes to my own life and its rhythms and patterns. Winter is always the hardest, because it is so harsh and (seemingly) barren and dark and cold. But summer is when I am continually amazed when I venture outside and am welcomed by the bumblebees, the brown hare that sits casually underneath a lush pine, the Eastern bluebirds and goldfinches and woodpeckers, the monarchs and swallowtails.
Fireflies and cicadas herald late summer. I always note the screeching that halts momentarily, then the call-and-response of other cicadas on nearby trees. Flowers and fruits and all sorts of foliage surround me every day, so much so that I am overwhelmed at their growth spurts – and the weeds I must discard, so that the plants are not choked out.
On our property, we enjoy what I call a three-seasons landscape. The previous owners hired a professional to chart different plants and trees and flowers that would bloom, as if on cue, about nine months of the year. The tulips and daffodils pave the way for the color that unfurls day after day.
Next, it is the whimsy of the white flowering crabapple, the delicate lavender of the lilac, and the tiny flecks of plum on the redbud tree. I can step outside any time of day from March through November and be greeted by the abundance of nature.
Summer is not symbolic of rest. It is a time to prepare for the forthcoming harvest of autumn.
We plant in spring, but we cultivate our seeds in summer, through watering, weeding, proper maintenance and care for any infestation or disease or pestilence. So it is with our interior lives, I think. We spend long winter nights resting our bones, because we need the stored energy for the period of time when the sun grants us its light for the work we must continue.
I think, as I sip my brewed cacao drink, of the importance of light this time of year. The palette of reds and oranges seems particularly majestic in early summer mornings. What in my life needs special cultivation right now? I consider the ongoing work of sanctification and what that entails. Every year it is different. This year, it means digging deeper into my past trauma and trusting Jesus in the very long and arduous work of healing.
The soil of virtue must remain moistened by daily prayer. It needs to be watered and nourished by weekly Eucharist. The weeds of sin are carefully plucked every time I make my way to Confession. Eventually, I await whatever yield may come of my efforts. But I also recognize that my efforts do not, by themselves, bring about the great fruit of my life. God takes what I give Him, and when I walk away, leaving the tended dirt and tiny saplings in His hands, I trust that He will do with my offering as He pleases.
Some years, our fruit is sparse. Other seasons, God seems to multiply what little we feel we have given Him to work with. Regardless, summer is a time of fortification. I think of what it means to be willing to do the hard and necessary toil of interior growth. This is something that never ends during our earthly lives.
Yet there are seasons where God invites us to take a reprieve, to regroup and gather and wait. Summer is not that time.
The longer days signify that I am meant to stay awake, to remain vigilant and attuned to the stirrings of His Spirit in and around me. There are beautiful conversations with long-lost friends, healing moments between me and my husband, and more time to reflect on what it means to have a full life.
Living life to its full potential is what summer’s most meaningful invitation can be. I grow only to the extent that I invest in myself, in my soul. Nothing grows in my garden without careful attention to what it needs, day to day. Now, in these three months of light and warmth, I know what I must do is enter into the joy of gratitude, to recognize what God has given me and continues to place in my life that I otherwise do not have time or energy – or even daylight – to appreciate.
I don’t consider summer to be a time of slowing down. It is a period of possibility, however. It is a season in which I am called to be exuberant, to face the sun and breathe in the scent of summer fruits and flowers. I do this, because it revitalizes my body and my soul. I do this, because it connects me to God.
There will be other times for contemplation. Winter affords us a vast stretch of months in which we can learn (or relearn) what it means to wait, to rest, to sleep in Christ’s tenderness. But summer ramps up the time for play, for connection and community, for exiting our holes of hibernation and entering into the social events in our area.
I think, too, of the Good Samaritan. Summer invites us to cross the street into new territory once in a while, to notice the needs of our neighbors and to demonstrate a willingness to support others in a very visceral, human way – not just through distant prayer or by sending a card, but in stopping by and bringing a meal or sitting on the front porch with a glass of iced tea and carefree timelessness.
There will come a day, soon I am sure, when life will slow its pace again, and I will leave behind the long afternoons spent sitting underneath the tulip tree, watching my children gleefully delight in running through the sprinkler and making sand castles in the sandbox. But for now, I find that life is full and is meant to be lived, here and now.