For many people, summer is a type of Sabbath: a slower pace; vacation; more interaction with neighbors as the warm weather invites people outside; a deliberate pause between academic years. Even people whose lives do not operate solely on an academic semester calendar sense the changes that summer brought and the changes that fall brings as fewer children play outside, the probability of getting a school zone speeding ticket increases [oops!], teary eyed parents send kids off to college, changes in church programs, and a remarkable increase in clothing and lunchbox sales.
With every change there is grief.
Some changes are smaller with less pronounced grief. Some changes are larger with more pronounced grief. Some people, whether children or adults, may feel excited while others may feel overwhelmed and anxious about upcoming changes that a new season and a new school year brings. Giving spiritual attention to this important annual transition will help make the experience more centered and meaningful.
St. Ignatius of Loyola writes on examen prayer in The Spiritual Exercises, a time of spiritually reflective prayer characterized by considering pairs of opposing questions. Examen is typically used at the end of a certain time period such as at the end of a day or week. This examen process is an invitation to reflection and processing with a particular focus on how one experiences God and the spiritual life in daily life. Here are some helpful questions during the summer to fall transition for adults and children:
When did I most experience God this summer?
When did I least experience God this summer?
When did I feel most connected to [myself, mom, dad, God, church, etc.]?
When did I feel least connected to [myself, mom, dad, God, church, etc.]?
For what am I most thankful for this summer?
For what am I least thankful for this summer?
Select 1 pair of questions for consideration. Take a few moments for quiet and unhurried reflection between each question. Some people find journaling a response, or looking through pictures as a reminder for what all happened during the given time period of reflection, or even hearing the questions then responding to them later to be helpful. After considering a pair of questions and responding to them, ask for God’s continued presence, grace, and guidance throughout the next time period- whether day, week, semester, etc.
Havdalah is a prayer to conclude Sabbath, the particular period of ceasing from work and focusing on restfulness each week in Jewish tradition. The liturgy of Sabbath begins with Kiddush, a blessing, on Friday night, continues with time shared with loved ones, and concludes with prayers. The wisdom behind havdalah is that even transitions can be remembered as sacred time.
A havdalah to conclude summer Sabbath:
Blessed are You, Lord, Creator of all and giver of every good gift.
Lord, thank You for changing seasons and new opportunities.
May I/we always be thankful to learn new ideas.
May I/we always be thankful to lead in new ways.
May the water of the water fountain remind me/us of fun summer swimming.
May the traveling to and from school remind me/us of summer travels.
May seeing apples at school remind me/us to taste and see that You are good.
May packed lunches and sandwiches remind me/us of Your Communion.
May the colorful faces of students and teachers remind me/us of Your love for all people.
May the weight of backpacks remind me/us that You share heavy loads with me/us.
For more on Sabbath practices check out Every Person’s Guide to Shabbat by Ronald Isaacs, and Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller. For more on prayer and examen with children check out Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life by Dennis Linn.