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The God of Summer

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On a summer Friday in Minneapolis, driving to work can be almost surreal. The traffic jams are gone, the lanes are clear, and the city seems emptied out. Sometimes, I have a moment of panic: "Is it Saturday?"

It's not Saturday; it's just summer in Minnesota, where people know not to take the warm weeks for granted. They escape to lakes near and far and do anything but work. Near my home, urban Lake Harriet is full of boats and awash with the sweet scent of barbecue.

This impulse towards a break from work is not only primal, it is deeply rooted in our faith traditions. As a Christian, I see this both in Christ's teachings and in his actions. He often urged people to respect the Sabbath, which meant to lay all work aside. His own breaks extended beyond the simple observance of the Sabbath, of course. He retreated alone for reflection and prayer often, and in direct response to his work becoming overwhelming. In Luke 5:15-16, for example, the crowds seeking him out grew large and he withdrew to a deserted place to pray.

There is something transformative to this message. Taking time off from work is not lazy, it is a faith imperative. Working all summer, coming in on Sundays, is not just unhealthy, it is unfaithful.

As a law professor, I see the differing effects of this in my former students. Some go off to law firms where work expectations are overwhelming -- they have no time to go to the lake, or anywhere else. Many of them are profoundly unhappy, and much of their limited free time is devoted to escape fantasies. Others, in more humane firms and other settings, achieve more balance and almost always are happier.

It isn't by accident that the teachings of our faith correlate to what is healthy for us.

Originally, I am from Detroit, and I will never forget an image from that city. Several years ago I came out of a store and into a parking lot to see a middle-aged man hunched over next to a Dodge Viper. The Viper was an exotic sports car which at that time was virtually hand-built at Chrysler's Mack Avenue plant a few miles from where I stood.

I watched the man trace his finger along the rear quarter-panel of the car and wondered what he was doing. He didn't seem affluent enough to own such an expensive car, and he walked away rather than driving off in it.

Then it hit me: He built that car. He put that quarter panel in place, and secured it with his own hands. He was tracing the arc of his own work, seeing how it performed out in the world. Nothing else could explain the loving attention he gave it.

It makes sense, in the end: The Creator knows his creation. It should not surprise us that the ancient wisdom, embedded in our modern faith and too often ignored, tells us to do what is best for us, to give work a break and go to the lake.