In the Meantime…or Late Summer

August, for me, is the month before things really get started. Heavy with the accumulated heat of the season, it flattens all ambition. Even as the long days grow shorter, with summer slipping away, there is no energy to spare.

My daughter returns to college soon; life is about to change. Soon it will be time to take on new projects, but not quite yet. If there was ever a waiting time to fill, August is it.

What to do in the meantime? Tomatoes ripen faster than we can eat them, the urgent culmination of the season’s growth. The basil desperately tries to go to seed, anticipating the first frost that still seems far away to me. Summer wanes, yet for the moment I’m not ready to move forward.

I’ve been looking around at what needs to be done, giving the attention that’s harder to bring when I’m in the midst of things. I’ve culled cookbooks and recipe files; kept appointments with the vet, the dentist, the rug cleaners; read through magazines I’ve been saving; cleaned out the refrigerator.

In the meantime is valuable in its own way. A time of gathering energy, of clearing a path through the clutter of to-do lists. It’s a particular kind of waiting, like emptying the dishwasher while the tea steeps, or finding a good read while watching for a friend at a bookstore. It’s a way of attending, not “killing” time but filling it.

John Lennon reminded us that life is what happens while we’re making other plans. Our goals and hopes and plans are important, but so is the life we live on the way to attaining them, in the meantime. It’s good to remember that, because sometimes life surprises us with what is substantial and what isn’t. The things that look solid as a stone wall can crumble, and what may seem ephemeral as a delicate weed can endure among the rubble.

Soon and suddenly, we’re pulled into the forward momentum of September. It happens so fast I’m in it almost before I see it coming. This year August has cooled down early here, with the autumnal weather bringing a corresponding change of pace for me. Those languid days seem slow, but they pass quickly by. September will soon be upon us.

What do you do in the meantime?

The Things that Save Our Lives

I’ve begun reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World, a title that speaks to the significance of our embodied lives and our daily experience of the world around us. Her book explores the meaning inherent in our physical existence. The chapters describe ways of inhabiting our bodies and our lives that help answer the spiritual longing for more—“ more meaning, more feeling, more connection, more life.”

“The accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life,” she says, “suggests that the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot is because we are standing on it.”

The friend who recommended this book called Taylor’s “an earthy spirituality,” and it is exactly that. She rejects the separation of earth and spirit, of body and soul, found in many spiritual writings. She sees that split as more an injection of the history of Western thought than the essence of a life of faith. She makes the point that Christianity at its heart reveres the life of the body through its reverence for the Incarnation. In her words, Christianity takes body and blood very seriously.

Barbara Brown Taylor is an excellent writer and I am finding both pleasure and meaning in her work. I appreciate the way she describes the practices that keep her grounded in the world and, at the same time, connected to the divine.

But the question that keeps prodding me is one she lifts up in her introduction, a question from which her book arises. Asked to speak at a church gathering, she inquired what the priest wanted her to talk about. In his wisdom, he went straight to the heart of life and asked her to “Come tell us what is saving your life now.”

There’s a question. What is so important right now that our lives depend upon it? How do we hold onto what will give life meaning or at least keep us from the pit of despair? Our answers change, but the question remains essential. I’m learning something from how she answers that question, and thinking about how to answer it for myself. I think conversations in which we can share the things that are saving our life are themselves part of what saves us.

For me, the process of learning to see helps. I’m learning to see how the spiritual resonates in the physical world, learning to see patterns in how life unfolds, learning to more clearly see other people. I think that learning to see is a way of learning compassion, as well.

So I would love to hear—What’s saving your life right now?

Clearing a Path to the Spring

When Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” he could be talking about church leaders. In entirely different contexts over the past few days, I’ve happened upon articles and presentations about clergy burnout, and I know the same thing happens to lay leaders of the church. There’s something wrong with this picture, and the solution goes beyond recruiting more workers.

Photo by Laura C. Brown

The church is a busy place. There’s a lot of work to do, people to serve, and programs to fulfill. We do our best to educate the young, comfort the sick, and reach out to those in need. Hopefully we also find meaning and create community as we carry out the work.

But do we find God?

We need the sustenance provided by a spiritual life. It strengthens us for all this work we’re doing, but more importantly our spiritual life helps us gain perspective on what we most need to be doing. Prayer and discernment help us to see clearly, to respond effectively, and to spend our strength wisely. Individuals need the strength and stability of a deeply rooted spiritual life, and the church community needs it as well. Yet even though it’s the basis of health, we don’t spend much time on nurturing individual spiritual practice at church.

We act as if participation in a church constitutes a spiritual life. We assume that church members have their relationship with God covered. But is that true? When people show up at church looking for God, how can we help? We can put them to work and make them feel part of the community, but is that enough?

Participation in a loving community may be what many people are looking for. But how can we show those with a spiritual thirst the way to the spring they seek? And how can we refresh those who have grown weary?

The Christian tradition offers centuries of wisdom and experience from those earnestly seeking God. Yet many seekers never find their way to this richness of the Christian faith. Many feel they must carry on their search elsewhere.

As a church and as individuals within it, we need to know our way to the spring that waters our community, our ministries, and our lives. It’s the same spring that Jesus visited when he went out early in the morning to pray, and where he spent the hours before he was arrested.

The pathways to that spring become overgrown when we focus solely on ministry, cut off from the spirit that sustains it. We need help finding our way to the source and keeping it clear of debris. Something within us thirsts for the living water there that brings wholeness. It’s a spring we need to visit again and again, and the world will benefit if the church can show the way.

Is there something the church could do to help clear that path for you?