"High summer holds the earth."
That's a line from James Agee's poem "Sure on This Shining Night." I know it from an exquisitely legato song setting by Samuel Barber. It seems to describe today, June 14th. Not quite summer by the calendar, the day is nevertheless everything you could want from the season: warm, green, gentle, promising. The birds sing, and this afternoon, Jack the dog will take her nap in warm sunshine, on the lawn chair on the patio, rather than on the couch in the darkened living room.
Barber's vocal line soars over the beating heart of repeated chords in the song's accompaniment, while the words describe "hearts all healed" and kindness and wonder. Many important words in the poem begin with h: high, holds, healed, hearts, health--each one exhaled, each one a letting-go. High summer holds the earth, and we walk in that blessed space beneath sky and stars, where kindness watches us, as Agee says, "this side the ground." It is a space that, to me, seems to be filled with God's love, explicitly in the molecules of oxygen that I breathe, in the humidity of the air that touches my skin. In high summer, gentle, nurturing love seems suspended in the atmosphere, and even in the grey of winter, the cold air that reddens cheeks and freezes fingers enfolds me with God's care. The Psalmist says, "Your tender love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens," and that is a vast and infinite love.
Listen to the song here: Sure on This Shining Night