These Are the Days, the song by Van Morrison, evokes many joyful memories from the simple summers of my childhood: glass jars of Kool-Aid and peanut butter sandwiches; grasshoppers; canvas life-jackets pushed down over our heads and flattening our ears; wet footprints evaporating from the concrete deck of the municipal swimming pool; cloud-watching on my back; and ant-watching on my knees. Musician and mystic Van Morrison released These Are the Days on his 1989 Avalon Sunset album. His biographer, John Collis, says that the song “combines earthly love with that inspired by a sun-warmed landscape, the yearning for simplicity with the love of ‘the (one) Magician who turned water into wine.’” It’s a song about what medieval mystics, like Meister Eckhart, called the via positiva: the spiritual way of joy and delight in Creation. Summers of the spirit come at less predictable intervals than the season; but when they come, grace strips down to its shorts and sandals and reveals itself in all its glory.
As a teen, I worked summers. Still, the languid days and warm nights brought with them relief from the scheduled life of school: barefoot dancing on the grass, barbecues, summer romance and drives out from the city to the long beaches at Ontario’s Point Pelee National Park. Those were days, as Van Morrison puts it, of “endless dancing . . . long walks . . .
[and] true romancing.”
In 1984, I was the student preacher in Crane Valley, Sask. (population: 65). I learned that even Prairie farmers, who work hardest in the summer, relish the season. We went for drives to observe the progress of the wheat and canola crops. On rainy days, we exchanged predictions about whether the precipitation would be too little or too much. There was communion in it.
As parents of young children, we beachcombed the sandy shores of Nova Scotia for driftwood, seashells and jellyfish. At night, we roasted marshmallows and lay on a blanket counting shooting stars until the children fell asleep.
Three summers ago, my extended family gathered to inter my father’s ashes at the cemetery in tiny Ingoldsby, Ont. The pine trees shaded us. Their fallen needles cushioned the sadness of the path beneath our feet. A warm breeze chased the chill of death from our souls. A summer sky, the scent of wildflowers and the sound of a lake lapping up against the stones can soothe even the sting of grief.
Summer makes us attentive: to the fuzzy stem of a brown-eyed Susan; to the sweet taste of strawberries in our mouths; to the harmonies of a campfire song; to a splash of cool water — be it from a lake in cottage country or from a fire hydrant opened on a hot city street. These are the days “by the sparkling river,” sings Van Morrison.
Summer makes the One we call Love tangible, and union with the Cosmic Christ seems a reasonable possibility. It’s a season ripe with time that is qualitative, not quantitative: time measured in smells and music and beauty rather than minutes and seconds. Summer renders clocks, calendars and schedules absurd.
The grace seems endless. However, summers — of both the climatological and spiritual sort — end. That inevitable first day back to work or school arrives. A scent of autumn drifts in on a northern breeze. We press our feet and our souls into stiffer shoes and sigh for warmer days, when God felt easy.
The days of summer “are the days now that we must savour,” sings Van Morrison. “Enjoy as we can. . . . You got to hold them in your heart.”
Very Rev. David Giuliano is a former United Church moderator and a minister with St. John’s United in Marathon, Ont.
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