Summer Sings!

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Summer Sings!

Summer is my favorite season.  Although I am unable to put adequate words to the “why,” I do thrill to summer in the words of Emily Dickinson: “A something in a summer’s noon/ A depth—an Azure—a perfume/Transcending ecstasy.”My excitement over summer has much to do with gardens and dates back at least to the summer I was eight years old, when I discovered in my grandmother’s basement a battered, black-covered, musty-smelling book—repulsive really, until I opened it. The book: Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. I opened. I read. I absorbed. And I was enchanted, an enchantment that has lasted.In the novel, the spoiled, sallow, skinny nine-year-old Mary Lennox discovers a desolate garden (a secret world of its own) and two friends: a robin and Dickon Sowerby. As the children restore the garden, Mary not only blossoms herself but also heals her invalid cousin Colin, both spiritually and physically.In the height of the summer, exulting in the garden’s riotous colors—poppies of all tints, hordes of roses, fair fresh leaves, buds of all hues, all dancing in the breeze; the golden sun; the lush green grass, the azure sky—the children feel a mysterious force at work, but they do not know how to name it. Colin calls it Magic and at that moment is sure that he will “live forever and ever.” Because Colin feels that he wants “to shout out something, something thankful, joyful!” the children form a circle and sing the doxology. When Mother Sowerby intrudes upon the ritual, she avows that she, too, believes in the Magic, though she calls it by another name. But what, she asks, does that matter, since people all over the world call “The Big Good Thing” by various names. The joy, not the name, is what matters to the “Joy Maker.”When I was eight, I could only have said that The Secret Garden made me feel happy, serene. Reading the book years later, I thrilled to discover that it has stood the test of time as a fine piece of Romantic literature. I began to think more deeply about why it continues to evoke joy in me. I know now that it reassures me that Eden is recoverable, literally and symbolically in gardens. The book is a source of hope, reminding me of what the poet Hopkins proclaims:  that though we have despoiled planet earth,

“The world is [still] charged with the grandeur of God.  It will flame out like shining from shook foil;  . . . Because the Holy Ghost over the bent  World broods with warm breast, and with ah! bright wings.”

The flaming feast of the Holy Ghost, Pentecost, ushers in summer, the season when the Spirit comes with the force of a strong, driving wind, resting upon each of us, giving us the power of utterance, promising to enliven us, to challenge us, and to give us the graces we need to face up to those challenges (Acts 2:1-11). As Peter attests, God will pour out upon everyone—even slaves, both men and women—a portion of the Spirit; then daughters as well as sons will prophesy.And the “great resplendent day” of the Lord will come (Acts 2:14-21).  Now I have a clearer understanding of why I have always loved The Secret Garden and why I experience such joy in gardens. Both the novel and vibrant gardens remind me that the Holy Spirit continues to dwell within us, that “nature is never spent;/There lives the dearest freshness deep down things” (Hopkins). Books and gardens everywhere increase my appreciation of the richness of diverse understandings of, and approaches to, God, the “Big Good Thing,” among peoples across our earth.  So, summer sings in me:

“Satisfy us with thy love when morning breaks  that we may sing for joy and be glad all our lives.”   (Psalm 90)

—Sister Sarah Smedman, OSB(Pathways, Vol 16, No. 4)


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“Listen carefully, my child, to your master's precepts, and incline the ear of your heart. Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father's advice, that by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.”
–St. Benedict of Nursia, The Rule of Saint Benedict