“….. a time you may embrace….a time to refrain from embracing…….”
“How’s your summer going?” It’s a familiar question in Alberta at this time of year. With winter lasting a little longer than most of us would like in our part of the world, we prairie folk treasure our summers. During winter we think about summer and talk about summer and make summer plans. We long for the ‘lazy days of summer’, and we dream about the time ahead when “it’s summertime and the livin’ is easy”.
Spring and summer are my favorite seasons. Making plans for holidays. Barbeques with friends and family. Spending time outside…in the mountains, near (or on or in!) the water, always trips west. Making memories. I have been blessed with many wonderful and memorable summers!
Mixed in with the ‘fun’ summers there have been some summers that were a little less carefree. Most memorable for different reasons. In my twenties I spent one summer recovering from major surgery and I watched every detail of the 1984 Olympics. Then there was the ‘great with child’ summer the next decade when son number two finally made his entrance on the last day of August. That was a hot and uncomfortable summer…with a lovely gift at the end! Then the summer when I was 42…. I spent that one fighting breast cancer. And the ‘summer of thin space’ the next decade… sitting with my Dad in hospice when he was dying.
When I look back on the summer of 2020, how will I remember it? I might be tempted to remember it as ‘2020 – the summer we couldn’t ’. The summer when we couldn’t…. have big parties, go to festivals, travel on an airplane. Or the summer of ‘changed plans.’ The summer we made plans and had to change or even cancel them. The summer when we were almost afraid to make any plans at all. Maybe we’ll think of it as ‘the summer of uncertainty.’
Yes, this year my summer plans got changed just like most people’s. I’m a registered nurse working with the pandemic response. So much change. So much uncertainty. Changed work sites, changed job descriptions. Changed expectations. Changes every work day, many times a day. Even changes in vacation plans.
Thankfully, even with all the changes and much uncertainty, I was able to get two breaks. The first week was at King’s Fold Retreat where I did a seven day ‘silent, guided Ignatian spirituality’ retreat. It was a time of resting and wrestling. I did rest… I slept, walked, painted, and read. And I wrestled with lots of stuff. I’d like to say that I came out of the retreat with all my problems solved and all my questions answered, full of certainty. I didn’t. But I did learn a bit about embracing the questions. And how to wrestle with things that challenge me…. including uncertainty.
The second vacation was to visit my older son Stephen in Prince George, B.C. My younger son Michael and I drove out. We didn’t want to be the Albertans who brought Covid to northern B.C. So the three of us had the ‘Covid Conversation’ and adjusted our plans to do our best to keep everyone safe. Instead of staying with Stephen, we planned to stay in a hotel. We planned to social distance visit outside. We decided there would be no hugs.
On the long drive out, this song came on my playlist: The Byrds’ version of Pete Seeger’s song ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ based on the words from Ecclesiastes 3 (song below). Of all the ‘times’ identified in the song, the one that struck me most was “a time to embrace, a time to refrain from embracing”. I’ve heard those words many times, but never had reason to pay attention to them or wonder what that could possibly mean…. until now.
So many feelings surfaced. Fear. Longing. Sadness. Bewilderment. And …uncertainty.
Despite our inability to embrace, the visit with Stephen went really well. Michael and I did stay in a hotel. We visited Stephen in his back yard and we picked strawberries and veggies with him at the organic farm where he’s interning. We played endless fetch with his dog Sunny. We went for bike rides. And instead of embracing each other, we did our best to embrace each moment together.
It’s been a memorable summer. Even with the change and uncertainty, there have been many moments of joy…. kayaking, riding my bike, outdoor visits with friends. Really noticing… flowers, trees, the warmth of sunshine, and the cool evening air on my face. Moments of gratitude…. intentional and thought-full. As we inch closer to fall, it seems I’m embracing these moments even more. There is already much uncertainty about what fall and winter will be like this year.
I’ve rested a bit with this song and scripture. Mostly I’ve wrestled with it. I’ve thought about it, prayed about it, read commentaries about. I have some ideas about what it might be saying, but nothing too clear to me. I’m left with a few answers, but a lot more questions. Here are just some of those questions…
What if, as the last verses say, I trust that God is making something beautiful in this time?
Is this scripture about living life in the moment? What would more living life in the moment be like? How can I learn to do that?
What if God really wants me to be happy and do good while I live? What might that look like?
If God wants me to eat and drink and find satisfaction in all that I do, what a gift! And what could that kind of life be like?
In this ‘season of uncertainty’ when I’m restless and wrestling with so much, what if I just rest sometimes, and snuggle into God’s loving embrace……
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
(The photo was taken July 2020. My adult sons Stephen and Michael Rudolf at Hope Farm Organics near Prince George, B.C.)