July is National Ice Cream Month (at least in the United States). For me, the arrival of July is the signal to down tools, metaphorically speaking, to close up shop; to move away from the campus; to suspend the commute.
For July heralds that longed for hiatus in the relentless routine of the year: the holidays! A space that affords the luxury of longer and more leisurely evenings and days; the gift of time to spend and to cherish. This year the seventh month has been graced further with dry weather and generous temperatures, and in my part of the world, these have been welcomed.
The thoughts of Sr Teresa White, in her blog piece about retreat, resonate with my own July joy. She begins by appealing to etymology: holidays, after all, are ‘Holy Days’. They are set apart; seasons of emptiness according to the renderings of the Romance languages: vacanze; vacaciones; vacances. “A clear diary”, she writes, “can be an opportunity to see and hear what we overlook or ignore in our everyday lives – there’s no such thing as wasted time if that time leads us closer to God”. Her own time spent walking in a park yields rich dividends: “when I breathed in the scent of wet foliage and wild roses, I felt brushed by the fingers of God, and wrapped in peace”. Each observed detail that comes into our view enriches: “Once or twice, sitting on a park bench, I saw, in the grass around me, mossy and brilliant green, raindrops sparkling like diamonds in the morning sun. They were tiny, these sparkles, like stardust”.
In July this year, to celebrate my parents’ birthdays, we travelled to England; unusually, “en famille”. There were twelve of us. Together we visited the cathedral at Wells. There we each found something particular to amaze and inspire. For the youngest, it was the spacious expanse of the Cathedral green, perfect for dancing under the great blue canopy of sky. For others it was the light-filled sanctuary of creamy-white stone that has the capacity both to soothe the spirit and to mesmerise. For others still, a library of ancient books, richly scented with wood and leather seasoned by the passing of centuries.
For all of us, the hospitable cloisters; the marvellous jewel-colours of the spectacular windows; the remarkable arches that support the great structure itself, built as it is over springs of water.
The words of Andrew Rudd, poet in residence at Manchester Cathedral, might have been written most especially for us:
If you are very quiet
You might even hear angels
Playing their instruments
Up there on the ceiling.
Let your eyes walk
Through a glass garden-
All of these colours
Are born from one light.
Reflecting on more humble architectural spaces – his garden writing place, affectionately termed “Temple of Peace” after Gladstone’s study, and the parish church in his Cambridgeshire village – another poet, Malcolm Guite, writing in the Church Times, directs our minds to the presence and purpose and silence that such spaces that are set apart can offer. For Guite, creating an external space of quiet expectancy opened up a new inner space for the birthing of a poem, even though the poem came, in the end, unannounced and suddenly, and, strangely enough, in a crowded train.
Holidays in July are about spaces and time set apart: to watch; to wait; simply to be. In short, to do not very much at all. On purpose. And yes, even whole days to spend in ways that might seem useless and unproductive. For it is in days like these that the the restorative power of the vacation can be found. This July, then, should you be in cottage, cathedral or caravan, take your time. Find that space. And celebrate the joy of the holidays with an ice cream…or two.