The Complex Simplicity of Summer

If you were to ask me what my favorite season is, I would say, “Depends on the month.” In late August, my favorite season is Fall. In late November, my favorite season is winter. In late February, my favorite season is Spring. In late May, it’s summer. Notice a trend? Every time the season should start to change, I’m ready for the next one. Put negatively, I suppose the atmospheric wanderlust in my Michigander blood gets sick of being too cold, too hot, not enough snow, too much salt on the road, not enough football, too many mosquito bites. Put positively, there’s always something to look forward to, and Michigan never disappoints.

Life mimics the seasons, especially when you have a house full of school-aged kids and a job connected to a school, but in reverse correlation to the weather. Follow me on this: in the fall, the birds start to migrate, the leaves start to change, and the weather gets cold. Meanwhile, the world goes back to school with all the complexity of papers, tests, schedules, and locker combinations. In the winter, when the trees are dormant and the squirrels are asleep, our boxes of colored lights come out of their plastic caves and the warmth of the fireplace crackles in ambient protest against Jack Frost. Eventually, springtime wakes up again with the sudden sighting of a robin just when all the teachers, books, and dirty looks start to get packed away. Then comes the summer. Around here, if you listen and look, it seems like every plant, every bug, every bird, yes even every allergen comes home to roost in a complex weaving of wild, pure, and complex life. Meanwhile, we sit by the pool, nary a care in the world.

In mid-Michigan, the sun rises at 5:55 AM on the first day of summer. But we can sleep in and push snooze on the birdsong. The sun sets at 9:21 PM, but we don’t even notice it over the roasted marshmallows. There’s a flurry of activity on and in every square inch of ground, but we are drawn rather to the soft blooming peonies, to the gentle kiss of a warm breeze, to the sweet corn reaching slowly but surely towards heaven. Summer is simple because the complexity of creation’s life goes on without us.

God works in our lives in ways that seem to repeat this atmospheric cycle. When we are relaxed and feeling well, we can contemplate his deeds and marvel at how he maintains the beauty of his plans for us. But inevitably, our souls will soon become restless in all that peace, and we will start to grumble and complain like dead leaves crunching underfoot. In the soul’s fall, God’s works seem to be slipping through our fingers. Then comes the winter of our discontent. The dark settles in, along with Seasonal Affective Disorder, and you think God’s silence is permanent. But of course it isn’t, and the first splash of a mating carp brings the newness of life back to your heart.

The church’s season follows this by design, only instead of following the flurry of weather it follows our pattern of spiritual death and life. In the summer, we kick back in the church’s “Ordinary Time” with parables and epistolary lectio continua. We’re blessed and we know it. Through another burger on the grill. Eventually, about the time we get sick of that Manna and wish we had the onions and leeks of Egypt, the church turns red with the fire of the End Times, calling us to repentance. Then in winter, when all is hopeless and lost, suddenly there breaks forth the Epiphanic announcement of the Incarnation. Hope is restored as your soul comes to life with the gospel, finally climaxing in the dark-dispelling brilliance of Easter morning, the Ascension, and the gift of Pentecost.

Now it’s summer again outside. How’s your soul inside? I’m feeling pretty good now, but I know some day soon I will once again be ungrateful. I will again be obstinate and spiritually whiny. It’s not lost on me that the more I push God into winter the worse I feel, and the less I do on my own the more summery is his grace. But I also know that he knows that. And I know that he knows that I know that he knows that. And wretched man that I am, he will deliver me again and again and again and again and again and again, just as surely as the grass smells sweet from a fresh cutting.