“Summertime and the livin’ is easy…” words used by George Gershwin in the opening song for his 1935 opera “Porgy and Bess.” “Summertime and the living is easy.” It sounds so carefree and relaxing. This is not always the case. Summers can be fast paced and filled with activities – too many activities. The living is not always easy and finding time for relaxation and recharging is a challenge.  Fr. Pat Heppe poses with Jeff Ristow, left, and his son Jacob, Fr. Heppe’s godson, in this 2004 photo. They have planed annual “Father, Son, Godfather” cycling weekends since Jacob, now a third-year student at the Medical College of Wisconsin, was in middle school. (Submitted photo)

St. Augustine termed some times in the monastic day as, “Otium Sanctum,” which is translated as “Holy Leisure.” It is the ability to achieve a sense of balance and peace, amid the numerous responsibilities and activities that are present. 

Good health and wellness presume that we add a dimension of holy leisure to our life each and every day. I try to do that but oftentimes fail. I make sure that I don’t fail including holy leisure during the summer. The challenge for all of us is making sure it actually takes place.  It needs to be “scheduled.” 

I’ve already begun the process and made some holy leisure plans. Each year three of us plan what I call the “Father, Son, Godfather” weekend. Jacob, my godson, Jeff, his father, and I head out cycling someplace. This year we didn’t travel too far. We bicycled the Wiouwash Trail in Oshkosh then headed to Green Bay for part of the “Mountain-Bay Trail,” the “Fox River Trail” and the “East River Trail.” I managed to fit in the “Bugline” trail in Menomonee Falls as well. 

It’s been a change of pace and, a great addition for a day off and, in this case, an extended weekend. Holy leisure with good friends is a beautiful way to begin the summer.

Also included in my holy leisure is a retreat. I’ll spend some time this year at St. Norbert Abbey in Green Bay.  My preference is a silent retreat where I meet daily with a spiritual director. We talk about where God might be leading me on retreat and in life and I usually get some “homework” for the rest of the day. I treasure the times I’m able to participate in the prayer experiences of the Norbertine Fathers and Brothers at the Abbey. Part of holy leisure is spending quality time with God as well. 

I’ve found over the years that prayer and bicycling can go hand in hand. I call my prayer bicycling time “contemplative bicycling.” This can be difficult, if not impossible, on a city street but on a secluded trail, prayer just seems to flow. Give God some quality time.

Summer is also a time for continuing education. I’ve included in my schedule a few days away that include presentations that can help me in my ministry.  

My priest classmates usually plan a summer event. Some of us have season tickets to the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. We’ve been doing this since we were deacons, 39 years ago. This summer’s event has not been planned yet, but quite probably will include a play at the American Players Theatre in Spring Green. Some of my classmates are priests of the Madison Diocese so we meet in a location closer to them.

I can’t forget the importance of family in this time of holy leisure. They are primarily located in the Slinger area. We have homes on the family farm so we see each other often. The homes are connected in back by “cow paths” that run through the fields.  We walk, bike, golf cart, moped or drive and end up at one of our homes for a good visit and conversation. Another glimpse of holy leisure.

How are you going to spend your summer? It’s just beginning. There’s lots of summer left but it needs to be planned carefully as the “livin’ is NOT easy.” The challenge is not to be swallowed up by the activities. It’s easy for us to miss that time to achieve the balance St. Augustine knew was so important for his monks. Enjoy some quality “holy leisure time” this summer.