This is a homily I preached during a vespers service at Meadville-Lombard, so it is geared toward seminarians. However, the busy schedule they keep is not exclusive to them alone. It applies to teachers, doctors, mechanics, vets, retail employees and especially parents (including the “stay-at-home and “working” variety). I encourage you to read it, thinking of yourself as one who struggles to find the time, who wonders how much more you have left to give to others, who just wants to rest at night.
March 20th was the vernal equinox, a time when the days become long and all of those high energy ideas that have been dormant in our brains are suddenly seeming more and more plausible. This is a time ripe with opportunity and potential.
This is also the time of year when my wife lingers at the Gardening section at Lowe’s longer than usual. Not long after I get back from classes I’ll find her sitting at the kitchen table with a chart of our front yard, scratching out landscaping ideas. There will be seed catalogues with post it notes and dog eared pages all over the house. After about two weeks of this she’ll turn to me casually out of the blue and say, “I was thinking of giving the garden another shot this year.” Really?
We do this dance every year. We make two or three trips to pick up seedlings, top soil, a new tool or two and a vinyl flag. She’ll spend the next four weekends plotting and digging in the dirt, grinning the whole time. Planting season is the one time of year where my wife allows herself to succumb to joy and I love to watch her play in the dirt (from a safe, clean distance). Everything will be great until the temperatures hit the 90’s by 10 am and suddenly spending all day digging in the dirt isn’t such a good idea. By July the garden has dried up or become overgrown and as she passes through the overgrowth on her way to school in September she’ll promise me next year will be different.
That’s summer’s cruel little trick on us. All that daylight and we feel the need to fill it. The days get longer and we want to do more: family vacations, block parties, barbecues, road trips, yard projects, home repairs, we pack in as much as we can into those 15 hours of daylight and finish the day exhausted with only 9 hours to calm our minds and rest our bodies. Those of you with children know how hard it is to get them into bed when the faintest remnants of sunlight are still coming in through their window. “But Daddy! It’s still light out! Do I have to go to bed?” It’s hard for them to see how important rest is while there is still light outside. So when my son pleads with me, I’ll hand him a book, pull up the covers and tell him, “There will be time to play tomorrow, rest now so you have lots of energy to enjoy it.”
As seminarians, I don’t think we actually rest at night. There is always one more book to read, one more homily to write, one more triad call. Always one more thing. We turn on our reading lights and tablets and laptops and extend those day light hours just a little bit more, squeezing a little more energy out of our tired shells.
But we need the night.
If I send my kids outside to play without a full night’s sleep, I know for a fact that my daughter will get into a fight with her best friend. Her mind and body need time to process all of the excitement of the day and prepare for the next. If she doesn’t get that, the slightest thing will set her off, laughing one minute and crying the next. With all the excitement in those summer days, she needs the calm of the night more than ever.
The equinox is a time of balance, a reminder that the work of the day and the rest of the night should be given equal weight, for we cannot have one without the other. In the lives that have called us, those precious, sweet dark minutes will be few and far between. You will have to fight tooth and nail for some of them and at other times you may have to create that sacred darkness while the sun is shining. And when the sun is at its hottest is when you need those moments the most. They are not just gaps between events, but important events themselves, something to be honored and cherished.
Nine months out of the year, my wife teaches kindergarteners and puts in 12 hour days. Spring planting is her dark escape, her time to relax and do something just for her. This year I’m going to offer a suggestion. When the summer days get too hot, why not tend your garden at night? Get a lantern and just spend 15 minutes each night. Pull some weeds, get out the watering hose, whatever. Make the time, beat the heat and put your day to rest.
I bet that garden will be beautiful.