Monday, June 15, 2009

What to Do on Your Summer Hiatus

Summer Hiatus

We’ve come to the end of a Church Year. Beginning next Sunday we enter our Summer hiatus, when regular activities will be suspended through Labor Day. Four Summer services are on the calendar. I’ll be doing two—one in July and one in August. And there will also be two lay led services in each Summer month. All will be held at 10:30, the time we will observe, after Labor Day, for our one consolidated Sunday service.

In the rhythm of our Unitarian Universalist ways, a summer hiatus is a long standing tradition. The popular story says that in the nineteenth century Boston Brahmins who summered away from the city took along their ministers, too. So the Boston churches were left without clergy. And without clergy the churches were closed. That’s most likely apocryphal.

I’ve concluded that we’ve long taken a holiday, a summer hiatus, because we can, and also because we’re the better for it. We all return glad to see familiar faces. But most of all we’re refreshed, eager to start anew, rich with experiences and reflection during our time away.

And surely in the background is our sense of religion and the place of Sunday services in an overarching scheme of personal exploration and self-culture. So, while we won’t be meeting regularly for a dozen weeks, nearly a fourth of a year, I usually give you a recommendation on how to use this time well, for the sake of your personal enrichment.

Summer Story

And this time is special interlude, a season of particular value that is captured in a special literary genre known as a Summer Story or a Summer Tale. I have two favorite, relatively contemporary Summer Stories that you’ll recognize. One is the children’s classic by E. B. White, the wonderful Charlotte’s Web, with Fern the farm girl, Wilbur the pig, and Charlotte the spider, whose death at the story’s end is compensated for by the host of tiny spiders who hatch from her eggs—a poignant conclusion but true to life’s cyclical nature. A second Summer Story is the novella by Stephen King, The Body which became the popular movie Stand by Me, that chronicles the in-between, eventful summer of four boys and their transition from youth to the first realizations and responsibilities of adulthood.

Summer is a momentous span of time.

Keeping a Journal

Here’s my recommendation, then, for you to use your time away from UCH to the advantage of your spirit/psyche/soul. Keep a journal. Discover your own Summer Story.

Every day set aside time to record and process the conjunction of the day and of your life.

Some of you may remember that I’ve created a structured journal, format based on the psychology of Carol Jung. You can purchase it through or via It’s called All the Elements and each book has enough pages for one season. It would serve you well, particularly if you were of a more serious mind and interested in exploring archetypes and the process of individuation as described by Jungian psychology.

However, what I have in mind for most of you is a free form sort of journaling that you might naturally discover in the process of journaling.

Keeping a journal is significantly more than writing a diary or a mere recording of events. It is a matter of you responding to, by processing, the day, relative to your inner life, in an ongoing way. Keeping a journal has many good results. Here are proven benefits of keeping a journal.

Benefits of Keeping a Journal

A record of your days. Each day comes as a precious gift. Yet those days are so ordinary that we too easily lose them in the retreat and onrush of time. Contemporary life is an ever accelerating tumult. Your journal entries are like souvenirs—beloved reminders—that you pause to gather and keep so you will not neglect or forget the preciousness of your days. And each day is a precious gift.

Embedding you in the moment. When you keep a journal you are generally more aware, because you've charged yourself to keep a record. Be aware: of weather, health and mood, events and relationships, dreams and memories. Details and texture pop into clearer focus. Context becomes apparent. Journal keeping encourages the active form of meditation known as mindfulness.

Centering. A journal gives you a sense of order and at least a semblance of control of your life. You focus on yourself, but you also see yourself in context, particularly through your many relationships. Such a vision allows you more easily to repose in your world with understanding and even serenity, though the demands of the world press upon you and time rushes you into the future. It is good to be centered in this fashion, especially in our demanding, hectic contemporary world.

More memories and more accurate memories. We unconsciously forget much more than we ever consciously remember. What we do choose to remember is sometimes so processed as to be fabrications rather than facsimiles. (Psychologists speak of “the graceful degradation, as we make our memories fit our current circumstances.) A journal's record is a memory aid and a memory corrective.

Relationships. Be encouraged to register the connection or lack of connection you may experience. You have a relationship with yourself, with other persons, with your work and otheraspects of your life, with nature, with the Divine. Relationships also have a transcendent quality that reveals the spirit that marbles Life; and they can take you toward the depth of existence.

Accumulation of rhythms and patterns. When you review your daily journal entries, certain aspects of your life and world will seem to repeat or progress: a dream recurs; winter weather melts into spring's warmth; a particular relationship languishes; you continue to resolve to lose weight but fail to do so. Rhythms and patterns alert you to the seasons of nature, your world, as well as seasons of your self.

Change and Growth. An accurate record of your days and ways inevitably reveals the changes that are always working around you and in you. When you recognize the constancy of change, it is natural to not only accept the changes but to direct them toward your aspirations and goals. Personal growth hinges on an acceptance of the reality of change in all aspects of existence. A daily record also alerts you to the harbingers of change.

Commitment and Accountability. The seductions of our world are many, and we are culturally conditioned to be perpetually entertained. Many of us fear commitment. It is also said that we tend to deny responsibility for our actions, especially by casting ourselves as victims of this or that influence. This journal insists that the "buck stops here": with you, the person who keeps the journal. If you are not honest, your journal silently mocks and admonishes you.

Confession. Keeping a journal works only if you're honest. The one person you can never deceive is yourself. A journal's intimacy makes it easy to tell the truth, because truth telling is therapeutic. There are two sorts of confession. We generally see confession as coming clean—admitting to something negative. However, there is a more positive confession—baring the depths of your soul. Both are good for the spirit. Your
journal is your conscience on paper.

Discipline. Journal keeping requires commitment and steadfastness. There are days when you for one reason or another you will want to shirk from doing it. These are occasions that make or break the journal's many benefits. Journal keeping is a form of exercise to keep you mentally, emotionally, and spiritually fit. To maintain a healthful tone you do
it especially when you don't feel like doing it. It is an end in itself, too—a dedication to Life and your life, that you sacrifice daily. (Sacrifice literally means to make sacred.) Through dedicated journal keeping you realize the inherent sacredness of Life and your life.

Creativity. You are a work in progress. A journal encourages engagement and participation in becoming your true Self. This is the surface creativity of keeping this structured journal. There is another level of creativity that relates to the art of writing. Reflections, where you can process your day through your marvelous imagination. With daily practice you will discover that writing unlocks creativity. Your life as written down in a journal is a kind of art.

Spirituality. Spirituality animates religion. Spirituality—the emotion, the realization, and the imagination that merge into a unique consciousness—marbles every life. Intention and awareness brings such qualities to our consciousness. The attitude of mindfulness swells our grateful, reverent participation in Life. Many find that keeping a journal illuminates a religious truth: the journey is, at least, as important as the journey's destination.

Journal Mechanics

You have a week to think about how you might keep a Summer Journal. What would work best for you, giving you the satisfaction of the task itself?

Do you want to work at the computer or with paper and pen? A handy way to keep a computer journal is to use an unpublished blog, such as Google’s blogspot. (Only you as the blogger have access to the blog.) In this regard every entry will not only be chronicle and separate, but it will be automatically marked with time and day. Such a blog is also thoroughly searchable.

There are those, who in keeping a journal, prefer a special blank bound book and the feel of pen on paper as a tactile art and continuing reward. A hand written journal is obviously handier in most instances, relative to a computer, and can be taken with you throughout a day or on a journey. It is always at hand.

For the materials of your journal choose what best suits you.

And don’t be intimated by the writing. Approach the writing process through the alchemy of putting pen on paper and letting the words flow. In flow writing you enter the realm of imagination through stream of consciousness. You may be surprised that rather than having little to articulate you have almost too much to articulate.

In this regard journaling is an antidote to the deleterious effects, the skimming across the surface and dwelling on the insignificant, that is part and parcel of the likes of text messaging and twittering. (There seems little room for reflection or depth of expression in the limits of 140 characters that Twitter imposes. And even a cascade of twitter messages—so many tweets--doesn’t seem to offer much compensation, merely piling triviality on triviality.)

I thoroughly maintain that journaling, for the discipline it imposes, as well as for the insights it offers, is one of the best tools of self-understanding. Give it a try, if you haven’t done it before. And if you’ve done it before, take in up with new enthusiasm and resolve to stick to it. Discover your own Summer Story.

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