Writer Michael McGirr speaks of summer as the silent season, where an extravagant slumber on a hot afternoon offers the luxurious expanse of wasted time. Yesterday afternoon, amidst a stunning sky of blue, the occasional wandering clouds, and a southern breeze that conducted the chimes to make their music—I slept. Up here in the wilderness, eight hours from home, sleep can be the most generative part of the day. It is the moment, as he puts it, “our egos get out of the way.”
But I am not so good at rest. After a recharge, I am ready for tackling down trees, burning the debris of winter storms, kayaking, hiking, repairing, and writing. But all of this is secondary to something I am after. A deeper journey with God. I am more firmly planted on what David Brooks refers to as The Second Mountain. It’s a more generous and satisfying phase of life. It’s less about self and more about a summons to follow, less about building the ego and more about losing self, less about career and more about calling, less about acquiring and more about giving.
And this summer, here at the cabin, is the perfect place to work on these. In this setting, prayer takes on deeper forms, I am more intentional to listen to God, journal, and seek a greater encounter with God. A row of books line my desk, ready to be enlisted into service: Swoboda’s Subversive Sabbath, Augustine’s Confessions, Ford’s The Attentive Life, von Balthasar’s Prayer, and Foster’s Spiritual Classics. Early mornings in my kayak, I hope to see something of the celestial grandeur break through as I paddle up river. I hope to experience divine meetings that I can look back upon as God moments. But I must admit, these are rare.
It would be great to experience God as one experiences the world—direct and immediate. My journey is a mix of fleeting mountain tops, occasional dry valleys, and long, perplexing plateaus. Sometimes God feels near; at times, he seems distant. Painfully distant. Answered prayers share space with long, agonizing periods, where answers are hard to find. Some may claim they hear God talking to them every day on every subject, but as Buechner puts it, “you are either trying to pull the wool over your own eyes or everybody else’s.”
There are moments the words of God leap off the page. I read Exodus 14:14 and hear God telling me to be still. At other times, I find it near impossible to connect the dots with revelation and life experience. The distancing eye has not moved to listening ears. My praying can soar, but often my words seem quite domesticated. Brooks, speaking of his own challenges to pray, quotes from Flaubert: “human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.”
Often my best prayers are praying the psalms. I find I identify with so many of the psalmist’s words—his praises, his laments, and his hopes–like today’s “Don’t discard me in old age. As my strength fails, do not abandon me” (71:9). There is so much yet to do—and be.
Only so much time for summer sleep.