Thursday, June 21, 2012

Revisiting High Summer

Light, cool breezes, sunshine, and wildflowers blooming in the countryside marked this official first day of summer in Nebraska.

There were heavy rains in parts of Nebraska yesterday, and the worst flooding ever to hit Duluth, Minnesota caused $50 to $80 million dollars worth of damage. NPR reported that “every state in the Lower 48 except for North Dakota was forecast to have 90-degree weather [somewhere in the state] until Saturday”. A typically warm and pleasant day in the midst of extreme weather is a real gift!

The tension between the joy of a pleasant summer day and the concern that so many of the things we enjoy outdoors in the summer are in danger of being lost forever led to a Prayer for High Summer  in this blog last July. Here it is again to remember the summer solstice and the beauty of this day:

Gracious God, creator of the world and giver of all good things, we thank you for the beauty of high summer: for flowers and fruits, for birds and crickets, for sunny days, starry nights, and sudden rains. Help us in the warmth and abundance of these days to remember how fragile our future summers are. Help us through our love for you and for your summertime creation to find the wisdom and will to so order our lives that the delights of high summer might remain with us for generations to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The old-fashioned phrase “high summer” came to mind as I sat outside this beautiful morning in central Nebraska enjoying the quieter sounds of birds and chattering squirrels after yesterday’s Fourth of July celebrations. I was praying in gratitude for the beauty of the morning, all the while aware of the need to continue praying for all the living things of the earth as global temperatures continue to rise. 
While a few of the prayers in The Book of Common Prayer are close to what I was praying this morning, we lack prayers for the occasions of specific seasons. The prayer of thanksgiving For the Beauty of the Earth (p. 840) comes closest to what I was praying; it captures the gratitude for the beauty of this sort of morning and this time of year, and then turns to praying “that we may safeguard [these good gifts] for our posterity”. The idea of safeguarding something brings to mind a picture of keeping out external forces that would bring harm. In 2011, we know that the forces that threaten the gifts of summer are both internal and external; our own habits threaten the very things we love. Furthermore, we know how close we are to losing what we love; we know that the future of the environment we know and love is fragile. Praying that we can safeguard the gifts of summer sounds a little like praying for continued good health for someone who is terminally ill. has posted an essay Walking Home from Walden from journalist Wen Stephenson. In Part Two of the essay, Stephenson writes about walking along a favorite place, a “sacred spot”, and coming to this realization:
As these realities sank in, it felt like a turning point of some kind had been reached. That day at Stone's Pond, I could no longer pretend, and I knew, with a kind of visceral force: This place is already condemned. In the blink of an eye, it will no longer exist. Not like this. Not the way I know it. And not because some future builder and bulldozer will destroy it, but because they—we—I—already have, by what we've already done. Walking through a hayfield on a cold, bright, and gusty New England morning, it can be hard to believe that the Arctic is melting, the oceans acidifying, the great forests dying, ancient glaciers disappearing. But I knew that all of it was true, and that this sanctuary, this refuge, was a private delusion, a self-indulgent fantasy. There was no refuge. There was no sanctuary. Not for me, not for anyone.
I hope this prayer for high summer helps give words to that tension so many of us are experiencing between our continuing joy in the beauty and wonder we still experience outdoors and the knowledge that the things we love so much are in grave danger of being lost forever; I hope it helps us hold the earth in prayer.