Hot enough for ya?
I’m writing from Seattle which, along with the rest of the Pacific Northwest, is enduring a protracted heat wave. In this part of the world, “protracted heat wave” means temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s over a period of more than two hours. In fact, it’s been—actually, I don’t know how long it’s been because my brain melted days ago and I’ve lost all track of time.
Now, before you start in on me with “That’s a heat wave?” and witter on about how it’s 110 degrees and 110% humidity where you are, let me ask you a question: Does your house have air conditioning? Your workplace? Yes? Then stop talking now.
All right, I’ll confess that, unlike the vast majority of my neighbors, I actually do have an AC unit in the bedroom, where I’ve spent most of the last week or so. But this is only because of my husband’s guilty conscience. We had a hideous heat wave in 2009, with temps in Seattle making up to 103, and my husband chose that day to leave for Atlanta, in the land of AC. I got home from work and it was 95 degrees inside my house, so I packed up my dog and checked into a hotel. When the man got home, such was his guilt that he headed to Costco and dropped $300 on an air conditioner. So I am a princess, but most non-royal types just had to tough it out then, as they are doing now.
One of the reasons I hate hot weather is that it’s so enervating. It sucks the energy right out of you until you just can’t be bothered to do anything. There’s a soul-state like that, when you’ve been feeling heavy and sluggish for a while, and everything—prayer, reading, meditation—seems like a lot of work and you’d rather take a nap. The desert fathers and mothers called it acedia; it’s also known as the noon-day demon. Heat. The spiritual energy ebbs away and you’re left feeling listless and wondering if there’s any point to anything.
It’s no accident that it was the desert hermits who understood this so well. We talk about spiritual “aridity,” and things often do dry out in the heat of the day. I’ve been there recently, so tired for so long that I was incapable even of reading a novel. I felt like one of the plants in my yard, getting drier and droopier with each passing day. I’d stand there with the hose and know just how they felt, desperate for a drink. And I’d wish someone would water me. “What if I never bloom again,” I worried. “What if there’s no fruit?”
At times like that I remind myself of the promise of God to return Israel from exile: “Their souls shall be like a well-watered garden, and they shall sorrow no more at all” (Jeremiah 31:12). In scripture, we begin and end with well-watered gardens, in which God is fully and immediately present. It’s like the story of humankind is the move from one oasis to another, and there’s a lot of sand to be crossed in between.
People find ways to live in deserts, but we were made for well-watered gardens. Until we get back to walking with God in the cool of the day, we need to be gentle with ourselves. Jesus knows what it’s like to be hot and tired. I don’t think he’ll mind if I take a little nap in the shade.