Recent excavations at Stonehenge in England have revealed that the site was, among other things, a burial ground. I didn’t know that. What I did know, and what pertains to our discussion here, is that Stonehenge is built so that on the morning of the summer solstice the sun’s light dawns right through the middle of one of the arches. This is one clue among many that the summer solstice had great meaning for ancient peoples.
It’s the longest day and the shortest night of the year, and as such was a time of celebration. Summer is the year in full bloom. Summertime is when, according to George and Ira Gershwin, the living is easy.
In the Christian calendar we mark the solstice on June 24 by remembering the birth of John the Baptist. Even some Christians will read that and say, “Oh, really?” Poor old John the Baptist – he gets nothing like the press and hoop-la that Jesus gets for his birthday six months later, not to mention the cultural excesses.
Christians most often hear about this John during Advent, when we hear him speak of one who is yet to come who is greater than he. He also tosses a few choice epithets at the Pharisees and Sadducees and by extension at us. For example: “You brood of vipers,” one of my favorite epithets. John is usually pictured in church bulletins as looking like an ascetic Fred Flintstone, wrapped in a short robe of camel hair, sporting a scruffy beard, his arms raised in warning: repent oh sinners!
The fact that not much is made of John the Baptist’s nativity observance either religiously or culturally demonstrates the point I wish to make about summer spirituality: everyone is busy in summer.
Whether tilling the soil, vacationing, getting married, going to or playing games, swimming, sunning, picnicking, going to summer festivals, driving the kids to various activities, et cetera, we are all basking in the warmth and light of the season. Even the homeless have an easier time of it in summer.
In December we all huddle together to beg whatever powers that be to please send the sun back because if the light doesn’t return this time we’re all going to die in the cold and dark. In the summer the terror of darkness is far away. Even rain is pleasant in the summer, because it’s warm, and bright, and it’s followed by more sunshine.
Oh, I know that you pagans are going to be out dancing on the night of the summer solstice and goddess bless as you do, but for most of the rest of us, it’s the end of the school year, the beginning of vacation time, a time of getting out and doing things rather than hunkering down to contemplate rebirth. In summer we are alive and living as fast as we can. Our spirits are more extroverted.
So I don’t have any deep thoughts regarding summer spirituality. It’s all about living in the light, with the confidence that life is with us indeed. Life is good, and it’s good to be alive in this beautiful world. That’s summer.
There is, however, a darker side of summer. As the summer wears on, and the days begin to shorten, there is a pressing spiritual question that arises, something we all must face and with which we must deal. That question is, of course, “What in God’s name are we going to do with all this zucchini?”*
*Thanks and a tip o' the hat to my writer friend Susan Bardwell down in Angleton, Texas, who got me thinking about zucchini.