“The Father himself
Willed that the path of tillage be not smooth,
And first ordained that skill should cultivate
The land, by care sharpening the wits of mortals…”
Virgil, The Georgics
Summer has begun. As a kind of new beginning, every season offers a natural occasion to be more intentional about life. Yet a season is not a generic restart. Rather, each constitutes a concrete call, if we give ear to the natural world, for attending to specific aspects of our life.
Summer is certainly no exception. It is a time of work and productivity. Just look to the plants and the animals. Now is the acceptable time for toil. Now is when extra work is done—even a kind of overload that will make possible a slowdown and a time of rest. Later.
In earlier days, summer was a time to leave school aside primarily because there was other more pressing work to be done. Especially in cultivating the land and ‘harvesting’ the astounding energies of the natural world, summer was a time characterized by meaningful and shared labor. It was not a ‘break’ from education, as though it were primarily a time in which young people rest-up so they can go ‘back to school’ in the fall.
In the older view—indeed one going back to ancient times—education concerned the formation of the whole person, of which the ‘academic’ was just one part, and not even the most significant.
It was not that families necessarily chose summer labor as part of their grand ‘educational’ scheme. It simply was an integral aspect of a whole rhythm that engaged and formed young and old alike in the great project of life.
Today I think we would do well to re-evaluate an approach that sees summer as an extended vacation, especially for the young. To do something different will require being savvy and intentional. There is no way around the fact that this will be an effort to make the best of a challenging situation.
Many families struggle to find what to do for children in summer. Camps of various kinds can indeed be a fitting response. At the same time, we can sense that children tromping from one camp to the next is not the best summer plan.
What are parents to do? Good work is the obvious natural solution, but we find it very difficult to engage our children in meaningful work because to a large extent the work that we do is remote, unconnected, and inaccessible to them.
There is no easy solution to an issue that points to a root structural problem of our households today. But let us not theorize right now about the deeper issue. Let us think about summer.
Anything we do to arrange for some meaningful work can make a real difference. Maybe it is just one larger project or two, or a series of smaller but connected projects. Maybe it is taking up a new art or learning one new skill, or honing one we/they already have.
Each household must find its own way. One key will be finding labor that can be shared. The involvement of one or both parents is invaluable. Tried and true ways—especially such as cultivating the earth (which can take many different forms!)—is worth special consideration. Sirach says, “Do not hate toilsome labor, or farm work, which were created by the Most High.”
Virgil and Sirach both point us toward toil, especially husbandry of various kinds, as a hidden gift from above, a gem to be discovered and polished. It is not easy. That, it seems, is part of the very point.
Sure, summer is a great time for family vacation, particularly since for many the absence of ‘school’ and other such activities allows for the freedom to travel. Such vacation can be a wonderful and nourishing aspect of summer today.
Yet let us not miss what is surely the deeper genius of summer: the call to all of us, according to our state in life, to step up and step out into the life-giving practice of wholesome toil. There is a time for everything good. And one of those times is now.
Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is the great Roman poet, author of The Aeneid and The Georgics. In the Divine Comedy he appears as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.
Join the Community.
Become a LifeCraft Member and gain access to our online courses and exclusive content. It's FREE of charge. Period.
If you join as a contributing member, you will help make this content available to an increasing audience and enable me to spend more time in this work. I thank you in advance.
Join the LifeCraft community today and get access to:
- Man of the Household (Course)
- Woman of the Household (Course)
- Concepts Made Clear (Mini-course)
- Dinner at Home (Mini-course)
Friendship and the Conversations that Really Matter
“One must always tell what one sees.” Charles Peguy So many great conversations never happen. There is nothing like sharing insights with a friend into things that matter, and even things that don’t matter so much. But why is it so difficult? One of the great...
What Makes Home a Home
The words ‘home at last’ are uniquely powerful. The desire to be at home is so deeply rooted in us that we don’t question it. If we see these words on a tombstone we scarcely notice; or we smile and think, of course. In the end where else would one want to be? It is...
Hospitality: Finding Our Way Home
It is perhaps a sign of our times that we speak of a hospitality ‘industry.’ Rooms-for-the-night and meals away from home can certainly be bought and sold. But hospitality is something no exchange of money will ever effect. Hospitality is intimately tied with being...
Husband, father, and professor of Philosophy. LifeCraft springs from one conviction: there is an ancient wisdom about how to live the good life in our homes, with our families; and it is worth our time to hearken to it. Let’s rediscover it together. Learn more.
Great article! I decided to try vegetable container gardening with a few veggies and some herbs. I was excited and not the least bit deluded about the toil of such a venture. Then the heat dialed up to 100 degrees! In June! This is actually August weather for us here in the Front Range of Colorado. Now I’m exhausted already, and we have four intense heat months of summer to go! I will keep on trying to keep the container garden experiment alive. If not, there’s next growing season!
Beautiful truth beautifully expressed! Theology of the body seeps through every word of this. Outside the household, this perspective is especially urgent as workers eschew paid labor for government handouts, bleeding talent and dignity. Work was made for man. This is a truth learned best and most deeply within families. Wonderful post.
Thank you, Lily. I completely agree–we can be working in our homes to rediscover the real gift of work.
This was a much needed post, Dr. Cuddeback! My husband and I have been exploring rather deeply what our son (age 10) needs to become a well-formed man. Our society is missing key components, especially in the area of work. We have noticed so many great homeschool families, like ours, who appear to be failing their young sons by not expecting enough from them in this area. They seem to have meaningless, toil free lives aside from their school work and some various chores they have to attend to. But really nothing that will help form them as men. Nothing meaningful and sustaining.
We have been trying to remedy this in our home by expanding our “homestead” to include bottle goats (nearly entirely my son’s responsibility), enlarging our garden, requiring help with the keeping of our bees, chickens and yard mowing. We have even managed to secure a few lawn mowing jobs for him outside of the home and expect him to send out the the bill every month. This has required a considerable amount of extra time and energy on my husband and my part. Especially with the added work in the garden, bees and lawncare. This part of your post really resonated with me:
It is a time of work and productivity. Just look to the plants and the animals. Now is the acceptable time for toil. Now is when extra work is done—even a kind of overload that will make possible a slowdown and a time of rest. Later.
Here’s to resting…Later.
Thank you for sharing this. I certainly do understand your situation. You are on a path very similar to our own.
While there is no path that assures ‘success,’ nonetheless I am convinced that your good efforts will indeed be fruitful–perhaps in ways you could not have foreseen. All the best to you, and yes indeed, here’s to resting later!