Texts: “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver * Matthew 6:25-34 (“do not worry)
Edmonton is the most northerly city in Canada, and winter sometimes lasts for half the year. So, we relish our short summers with their long days of sunshine and heat.
When I had two months off in summer 2018 – one of vacation and the other of unpaid leave — I appreciated the break. Unfortunately, it was a smoky year as fires burned across BC and Alberta. Last summer, I enjoyed a three-month sabbatical followed by one month’s vacation. But in what researchers said was the world’s hottest year on record, Edmonton was unseasonably cool and wet. You may recall that Canada Day 2019 saw a high of only 8 degrees.
Today as I start a five-week break, summer is still struggling to establish itself. People in Siberia are sweltering under a record-breaking heat wave, and southern Ontario just ended its longest ever stretch of consecutive days above 30 degrees. Meanwhile, we have yet to crack 30 degrees in Edmonton.
The first time I lived in the West, I loved the weather. I flew to Edmonton in late August 2009 to begin nine months as a student intern and a supply minister at Knox United Church in Didsbury; and for the next month, pretty much every day dawned bright and hot.
I missed the next summer in Alberta since I returned to Toronto in June 2010 to finish my final year of schooling. But in July 2011, I landed in Saskatchewan on the border with Montana as a newly ordained minister. That summer and the next two that I spent in Coronach are my favourite ones so far.
Summer on the 49th parallel comes with endless sun, intense heat and low humidity; and it all struck me like a revelation. This was especially the case in 2012 where there was no rain from mid-July to mid-September.
But summer offers its blessings regardless of the weather. Kim and I live in Lendrum, and on most days, we walk west to a field at the University farm where I am cheered to see the progress of the crops. Even as the latest outrages of world leaders scroll through my mind, the plants, clouds, and sun carry on their dance heedless of that folly. I look at the grain growing in the fields and feel peace.
Jesus directs his friends’ attention to the blessings of fields and sky. Every moment is a gift; and remembering this Grace can help us lay our worries aside, relax, and rest in confidence that love is all and love is everything.
This summer, we may need reminders like this more than usual. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages in failed states like Brazil and the United States; as bankruptcies and job losses mount; and as renewed cries for racial justice are spurned by politicians who base their popularity on racism, there seems to be much to fear.
Mary Oliver puts it this way in her poem “The Summer Day” — everything dies at last and too soon. Nevertheless, she doesn’t worry. Instead, she spends her one wild and precious life paying attention; kneeling in the grass; strolling through the fields; and being aware that she is blessed.
I first wrote a reflection on “The Summer Day” for the 40th anniversary service for Mill Woods United Church in November 2016. I did so because I realized that the first 40 years of Mill Woods United almost exactly mapped with my adulthood — from when I started university in Toronto in 1976 through the ups and downs of a checkered career. That day, I recommended ministry as a blessed way to spend your one wild and precious life, and gave thanks for the ministry of those present and for the generations before us who have reached out in love from this beloved community.
That service was also my first one after the presidential election in the United States; and now almost four years later, we watch with both horror and hope as the next one approaches. Whether Trumpism is confirmed or rejected this year will matter a great deal for the world and for us; and viewed from a different angle, I don’t think it will matter much at all.
Regardless of the success or failure of racist politicians, the seasons will continue to turn; the birds of the air will continue to fly; and the flowers of the field will continue to bloom. Regardless of how the pandemic, the economic collapse, and the U.S. elections unfold, this precious summer will inevitably flow into fall, then winter, and then another spring of promise and beauty.
Each time we come to the Table, as we will in a few minutes, we are reminded of the Grace that supports us in the face of injustice, poverty, and violence. Love is stronger than death, and communities of faith can help us stay awake in our one wild and precious life — with humility and respect, with pain and joy, with disappointment and growth, and with a continual return to the Love that never ends, come what may.
May it be so. Amen.