The Lord is your protector; the Lord is the shade at your right hand. Psalm 121:5
The last day of summer.
School starts tomorrow and with it comes the hustle and hurry we all say we hate so much, but deep-down we somehow know that the scatter and scurry brings an odd sense of form and meaning to life. So we return to it. Early mornings and not as much sleep, papers to write for some, papers to grade for others, new things and new people, names to learn and where the heck is my summer reading book? And it all starts back tomorrow.
So for today, I sit.
It’s been a cooler summer than usual here in Memphis, a place known for its normally sweltering heat and unbearable humidity. It is now August, the real heat has come, but our June and July gave the cool summers in the Northeast and Midwest a run for their money, if you ask me.
I am grateful for this gift of mildness.
So for today, I sit.
On the back porch, my shady spot. It is here I read and think and write. I pass the hours with words, some my own, mostly the beautiful words of others from which I am learning. I labor long over the just the right verb for this particular noun while our dog Joe lies still at my summer feet. He’s getting older, like me, and sleeps more and more all the time, like me. I throw hard, tricky sentences his way and he indulges my experimentation with much wagging – a fine audience he is – until Larry comes home to listen – an even better one.
About writing, I am learning. Learning how to dwell in the shady spots, how to live in quiet places, how to write honest sentences about authenticity and real life. My own real life.
Battles are so often fought on battlefields under the angry glare of the sun, and I have seen the brutal winds of raucous storms bring out the very worst in folk – “the worst are full of passionate intensity” says the poet Yeats. Where are we to go in the blinding heat of the unrelenting sun, where might we shelter from the “passionate intensity” of our enemies, our raging tempests not yet assuaged?
I am learning to run to the shade for answers, to the quiet places where I can hear the earth and myself and my God, for I am learning this is where the best sentences live.
I now know that the more tumultuous the storm, the more meaningful and real the sentences can become, if I don’t hide under the raincoat of cliche. I have been hiding far too long under the plastic protection of banal platitudes. All groups are guilty of this, I know, but I walk in Christianity and we can strap on a corny slogan faster than most, far too often we have quick answers for everything and everybody when most of the time we just need to be quiet and sit down long and slow in the shade. See what dwells there, Who dwells there, learn to rest there. To be still and know.
When I dare to peel back the clichés and take a look at what is really there, it’s always a surprise. Sometimes even a pleasant one. I am learning to see myself – and everyone else – much more clearly in the shade.
And my sentences are improving just a bit, I think. I hope.
Have you dared this lately, ever? Will you? Dare to take off your slick garments of quick answers and see who you are underneath all of that triviality?
Dare to sit vulnerable in the shade.
The Psalmist says, “The Lord is the shade,” so I look around to see what it looks like, what it feels like to sit in the shade, to be in the shade. Birds dance and sing all day at my feeder by the screen door. But, in the midst of all their loveliness, they also fight, vie for rights and territory and seed. They don’t have to fight – do they not know that I will bring them food again, tomorrow and tomorrow – and more, our Heavenly Father knows each tiny one of them by name, sees their need and sends them seed, and there is no reason to worry? And yet, still they fuss and fret and seem always to forget.
Little birds, rest in the shade, in the cool of the day, can you?
We have chipmunks, lots and lots of chipmunks. They have grown accustomed to my back-porch-sitting and come close, nibbling the grasses and clutching proudly their newfound nut-treasures, never resting but scurrying to hide and scrounge and stockpile what is theirs.
Little chipmunks, rest just a moment in the shade, can you? Do you not know that your preparation will be enough, that our Heavenly Father will see us all through our cold, hard winters? Do you forget this wonder?
And flowers, so many flowers have bloomed this cool summer in the day’s extended lines of shade, longer and bigger and brighter. July’s sun not too hot, the flowers grow and thrive and do not wilt, they do not fade.
Rest ye flowers, in the unexpected and undeserved summer shade – I watch you and learn.
Water flows in a gentle fountain on my shady porch, so I close my eyes to hear the water’s song – did you know all water sings, have you listened, can you slow yourself to hear? It’s song through the ages has never changed ~ Come to me and be restored, for there is always cleansing and you may be baptized anew. I touch the healing water and it is cool, it refreshes for it rests well in shady places – I watch and learn.
The Psalmist does not say that the Lord is in the shade – he says that the Lord is the shade. So little children, why do we resist the shady places? Why struggle we all day like the birds at the feeder, fussing and fighting over food freely provided? Why scrounge we like the chipmunks, claiming what is ours and storing up more than we need? Can we not rest, just a bit, in the cool of the evening, in the shade? Breathe fresh, hopeful air and be still, dare to believe, even in our times of great struggle, that “the Lord is our protector; the Lord is the shade at our right hand.”
School is starting back. Tomorrow I will work, hard – it is good work and I will do my best.
So for today, I sit.
Today I will try again to take off my protective gear, my armor, my slick plastic coverings. All my quippy, rehearsed answers. I will try to sit vulnerable with the birds and the chipmunks and the flowers. With God. I will try to rest, comfortable and long and quiet, in the refreshing coolness of the shade.
For the Lord is the shade.
Thank you, Flannery and Annie and Ann,* my dear summer mentors, friends. You are among the great ones. What a stroke of genius – or was it the Holy Spirit? – that led me to spend my summer reading only you, only your work? What you have taught me is immeasurable – to open my eyes and really see, to look for the grace in every hard place because it is there, especially there. And then to laugh a little at my own ever-seriousness.
To breathe deep and rest in the shade. I am changed.
*Amazing summer friends ~ my teachers ~ for whom I am most grateful and to whom I owe much.