The Sacrament of Summer Days
We spent the past week at Bay View, Michigan. It’s a summer community on Lake Michigan that started as a Methodist camp meeting in 1875. Later it joined the Chautauqua movement, providing a summer program of religious, cultural and educational activities that continues to this day. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places because of its perfectly-preserved Victorian “cottages.” (Don’t let that word fool you; most of them are actually large houses.)
I had the privilege of preaching and lecturing during the last week of their 141st season. The cool breezes gave hints of autumn which is definitely on the way…up north, at least. Many residents have left. Some of the cottages were already closed for the winter ahead. By the end of October the community will be entirely shut down until next spring.
In the final lecture, I shared a beautiful poem by Emily Dickinson which captures the feeling of “Indian Summer,” those last fleeting days of warmth before the coming of autumn.
These are the days when Birds come back
A very few—a Bird or two
To take a backward look
These are the days when skies resume
The old—old sophistries of June
A blue and gold mistake
Oh fraud that cannot cheat the Bee
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief
Till ranks of seeds their witness bear
And softly thro’ the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf
Oh Sacrament of summer days
Oh Last Communion in the Haze
Permit a child to join
Thy sacred emblems to partake
They consecrated bread to take
And thine immortal wine!
Where Does God Dwell
Sunday’s sermon included Psalm 84. It opens with these beautiful words:
How lovely is your dwelling place,
Lord of heavenly forces!
My very being longs, even yearns,
for the Lord’s courtyards…
Yes, the sparrow too has found a home there;
the swallow has found herself a nest
where she can lay her young beside your altars.
I said that it’s hard to imagine a lovelier dwelling place than Bay View. Who wouldn’t want to be like a sparrow and find a home in such a lovely place away from the ugly, noisy, messy, conflicted, painful world out there? Who wouldn’t like to hide away in the idyllic memory of a mythical past? Who wouldn’t wish that the rest of the world might be just as lovely a dwelling place as this historic community? Who might not wish that we could make the world like this again?
But the writer goes on:
Those who put their strength in you are truly happy;
pilgrimage is in their hearts.
As they pass through the Baca Valley,
they make it a spring of water…
They go from strength to strength,
until they see the supreme God in Zion.
There’s scholarly debate about whether the “Baca Valley” was a literal place, some dry, barren desert. Or whether it is a symbolic place. Some translations call it “the Valley of Tears.” Either way, most of us have been there. We know what it’s like to be in a dry, barren place. We know how it feels to walk through the Valley of Tears.
But people of biblical faith always have “pilgrimage in their hearts.” They carry God’s “dwelling place” with them. As they walk through the dry, barren, pain-soaked valley of tears, they transform it into a place of springs. Assured of God’s presence, they go from strength to strength until they see the fulfillment of their hope in Zion.
I suggested that as these modern Methodists come to the end of their summer in a lovely place and pack up to go back into the sometimes ugly, messy, conflicted places from which they came, they get to choose.
Is God’s dwelling place at Bay View?
Or does God dwell in the place where we live and work the rest of the year?
Does God only dwell in an idyllic past?
Or does God’s presence give strength for the present and hope for the future?
Even we Floridians, for whom autumn is something we read about in poetry, need the assurance that God’s dwelling place is wherever we are.
May we find the dwelling place of God in our Baca Valley.
May we find God’s strength in our Valley of Tears.
May we know the presence of God in the sometimes ugly, messy, confusing conflicted places where spend the winter of our lives.
And may we be people of faith who travel with pilgrimage in our hearts, so that as we walk through the dry, barren places of this world, we will make it a spring of living water that brings life to others.
Grace and peace,