Sunday, June 8, 2008

Summer slowdown; holy communion

Deirdre Good, colleague and friend, writes about academic summers and provides a link to the sage summer advice of Ms. Mentor, who is the Miss Manners of academe and writes for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Thank you, Ms. Mentor.

Life has quieted down here. The academic year is over. I have met some immediate deadlines and taken care of the most pressing household concerns. I've visited my parents, attended the memorial service for my mentor, and traveled again for a major professional obligation. I have gotten some rest.

I canceled my attendance at a conference this past week and weekend. It was my first absence in 15 years and I was supposed to help give out an award to a terrific scholar, Barbara Hilkert Andolsen of Monmouth University, whom I had nominated for the honor. But there were two other women speaking in tribute to her, and I e-mailed in my tribute, which someone else read on my behalf. I stayed here, getting into a steady rhythm of life, enjoying the reunion with my congregation this morning.

I am one of those very blessed people who worships and helps lead worship in a wonderful congregation. I have not capitalized "holy communion" above because the communion we shared this morning, the communion with Jesus and with each other, is also a broader communion. Our visiting preacher, Bob, spoke of this with different words but in the same spirit.

In this time of summer slowdown, I (and some fortunate others) can move into greater mindfulness, attentive to the ways in which all our lives can be both attentive and eucharistic. One can rarely have the latter without the former. Do we gulp down our food our savor it? Do we approach our dinner plates, our dishes, our piles of unsorted papers, our work, our encounters in stores and homes, with haste? with dread? with pleasure? with resentment? with hope?

If we feel dread, do we take time to know that we are feeling it? (I asked myself this very recently about two small tasks I was dreading and which were growing bigger by the hour because of the dread.) Not to wallow in the feeling, not to over-analyze it, but to notice it?

If we meet a person, a task, a place, do we meet that person, task, or place, as reverently as we would the moment of Holy Communion?

There is still work this summer: completion of small and large writing projects; getting the new administrative staff person settled with the diocesan committee I chair (we are all volunteers, but she is paid through a small grant we have) and starting to plan for some teaching I'll be doing in the diocesan deacon formation program; a few other things.

But life is less riddled with the term-time lurching from one fire to the next with metaphorical fire extinguisher in hand. I have more control over my time and over the rhythm of the days.

There is more time, of course, to attend to inner realities, and those can be as challenging to face as the outer ones. Still, there is more space to be reverent. I try not to mourn the times I was not able to be reverent, mindful, eucharistic, in this past packed year. Perhaps summer can also be a time for reconciliation: for forgiveness of self as well as others.

In this way too, summer holds the promise of sacrament.

Are there ways in which you have, hope for, struggle toward, a sacramental summer?


FranIAm said...

Oh Jane - this is an extraordinary post and I can feel your presence deeply in it.

That is all I will say right now... peace and amen.

Doorman-Priest said...

I usually value my summer slowdown as an opportunity to play catch-up which means it isn't slowdown at all, merely a different brand of busy.

I should take time to be reflective.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Jane, in one sense, my summer is a slowdown, too, because my grandchildren whom I help my single-parent son care for after school are with a sitter, so I'm on duty less than during the school term. Today, my first "day off", my son called me from work to ask me to pick up bread and take it to his house. He did the big preparatory grocery shopping last night, but he forgot to buy bread. It was a small thing, but it reminded me that I must be on the alert and ready for duty at all times.

Unfortunately, since I've retired, I don't have much of a rhythm to my days, except for when I have to pick up the children, and that is not good. I'm all over the place.

As for time for reflection, my best time seems to be when I take my walk in the evening. Sometimes it's good, and sometimes it's dry and distracted. I find that more often unexpected sacramental moments seem to come unbidden throughout the day, than previously. More grace or more paying attention? I expect it's the latter.

And I didn't mean to write a book. said...

I apologize for doing this in this way, but I just wondered if you were the same Jane Redmont who did summer bible school so many years ago in northern Vermont. It would seem that you must be! I just happened to be thinking of you, all these years later, and of your good spirit.
If I manage to do this right, you should have an email address at which you could contact me if you're not offended by my doing this in this way.
-- Debra

Jane R said...

Debra, yes, I am the one! I have wondered what happened to you and I will write in the next few days. I'm delighted to hear from you.

Mimi, writing a book is fine. You know I always love hearing from you. Plus: I wrote and asked all this as an act of ministry but also, obviously, because I struggle with this as many of us do and I am in the middle of shifting gears.

Grace does come unbidden and that is a blessing.

I just heard a bit of an interesting conversation about distraction and attention (and lack of education in civics, history, and critical thinking -- someone's been looking in on our college classrooms!) on the Diane Rehm Show. Feels related to me. Today's show should be available in the archives later today. I see that its title was "Distraction and Democracy."

Enjoy your summer... Your grandchildren (I keep wanting to call them grandpups, Clumber has rubbed off on me) are blessed to have you.

DP, this sounds familiar. It's hard to get out of the doing-doing-doing mode, especially when we have multiple demands on our time and energy, as you do.

This is why the practice of Sabbath is so important. For us, and for our institutions. One of the books on the Sabbath I read suggested taking Sabbath afternoons or moments if we couldn't find the traditional 25-hour Sabbath day. Of course observant Jews manage quite well; it's G*d's commandment and it's what you do. (I know some who aren't so sure about G*d but still do it.)

Thank you, Fran! Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. No rush, though. :-)

By the way, Martin Smith has a great essay on prayer, time, desire, and overwork today at The Episcopal Cafe.

Kitten said...

I'm finishing the school year in eight days. As someone who is a go-go-go type of person, it's very difficult for me to fully slow down. Over the last couple of summers I've found myself getting depressed over the lack of a routine. I'm not sure if this is normal or not, or if it's just my way of avoiding much bigger problems that I need to deal with. Fortunately my personal problems are at a low right now, so maybe this summer will be different. Maybe.

FranIAm said...

I was planning on returning, but time was running away... what summer slowdown? Then I saw your post to remind me.

Ah... I had winter slowdown, but it was not slow. Now as we approach summer, I am realizing that I must get employed and sooner rather than later.

All of which has given my life a chaotic quality over the last few days as I have realized that finances are more dismal than anticipated.

That said- when I read this post, I do know that I am reminded to examine my "first" blogging name, which is in my blog url, Festina Lente. Make haste - slowly.

It is that which is done, even in haste - with great reverence, that feeds the soul and brings us closer to whatever it is we seek.

And that - especially in the interpersonal encounter, blog or in person, is truly Holy Communion. Or as my pastor says over and over, we must meet in common union every day.

Amen amen amen.

pj said...

Hey Jane, I got so embroiled in the Phyllis Chesler thing that I didn't make it to this post! You'd think I'd have learned to read a blog from the bottom up, by now.

Being in job-search mode myself, I'm sort of dreading summer. I've had too much time to reflect this year! May I lend you some? :)

Joan Slepian said...


Many thanks for this post. I'm posting here from my "real" account (I occasionally post on these blogs as jerseyjo,) because I too am an academic whose life is blessed with the changing rhythms of these seasons.

I'm writing this at the moment from Sao Paolo, where I'm traveling with a group of students and faculty on a two-week summer learning trip to Brazil and Argentina (You all can read my new project for this trip from my profile, a travel blog that is evolving -- hopefully student voices will emerge in the comments).

Two comments for you, Jane:

1) First of all, thanks for the Ms. Mentor piece. I have shared it with my (only) female colleague -- her instruction to set and keep loving life priorities is so very valuable. It is a call to mindfulness.

2) I find that the pace of summer provides an oppportunity to slow down, look around, and listen. Listen and look to the spirit working in us and around us. As I stood with my students on the mountain in Rio the other night, walking toward the great statue of the Redeemer in the midst of a great wind, without speaking words, I was given the gift of sharing a time of holy communion. Such are the gifts of summer.

Many thanks for your ministry,