Ann Arbor Friends Meeting
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Readings for Reflection: January 2007
from the Committee on Ministry and Counsel

Recapturing the Simplicity of Childhood Summers

People of the “baby boom” generation and older often remember with fondness long summer days from their childhood without schedules or pressing obligations. For many those memories include outdoor occupations such as climbing trees, playing baseball, riding bicycles, and swimming. Others filled their summers with reading, crafts, and games. The hallmark (at least through the lens of memory) was the sense of freedom that came with waking up each morning with a long summer day beckoning, and being able to choose freely how to fill most of it.

Is it possible to live with that sense of freedom as an adult? Quaker writer Thomas Kelly gives some hints on how one might achieve this in the essay “The Simplification of Life” (found in his book A Testament of Devotion, published in 1941). He described the problem as follows:

Our lives in a modern city grow too complex and overcrowded. Even the necessary obligations which we feel we must meet grow overnight, like Jack’s beanstalk, and before we know it we are bowed down with burdens, crushed under committees, strained breathless, and hurried, panting through a never-ending program of appointments. … But if we withdraw from public engagements and interests, in order to spend quiet hours with the family, the guilty calls of citizenship whisper disquieting claims in our ears. … Our professional status, our social obligations, our membership in this or that very important organization, put claims upon us. And in frantic fidelity we try to meet at least the necessary minimum calls upon us.

Kelly’s answer to the dilemma of countless obligations and calls for assistance is to “live from the Center,” and to allow ourselves to be led. It has more to do with hearing a call to act than with telling ourselves to act. Kelly continues:

Many of the things we are doing seem so important to us. We haven’t been able to say No to them, because they seemed so important. But if we center down, as the old phrase goes, and live in that holy Silence which is dearer than life, and take our life program into the silent places of the heart, with complete openness, ready to do, ready to renounce according to His leading, then many of the things we are doing lose their vitality for us. … There is a reevaluation of much that we do or try to do, which is done for us, and we know what to do and to let alone.

I hear Kelly describing a way of life that can give us back those free days of summer vacation. It is not a life without obligations, but one in which discernment and leadings help us understand which obligations we are called to answer.

Peggy Daub

All Readings for Reflection

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