“Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summers day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.” To Kill A Mockingbird
I first read To Kill A Mockingbird in ninth grade, as so many ninth graders do. Something about the first lines of this renowned novel, noted above, captivated my attention immediately. Harper Lee painted such vivid word pictures of the reality of sweat. Her words have lingered in my ears and mind’s eye, much like humidity hangs on the skin and soul on a steamy summer day. I have never forgotten that introduction. The way Lee’s words foreshadowed her book’s strenuous tale of human struggle deeply impacted me. I have thought of these lines often throughout my life. Incidentally, when my best efforts to remain calm and cool are futile and sweat takes over my appearance and attitude, I remember her vivid depiction of southern climate. I’ve never been to Alabama nor Louisiana or even Mississippi. There’s always been something illusive to me about the deep south – the way people have had to manage not only unbearable hot temps but brutal hot topics. As a northern ninth grader, I wondered how people in the midst of such oppressive heat still made a daily effort to press their collars and powder their cheeks, knowing it would all come undone at some point during the day. Sweat seemed an enemy and any effort was fighting a losing battle. Why bother? Yet, as an adult, my perspective on sweat has changed to welcome it as a companion to help me overcome the mundane as well as more serious challenges of life.
Even as recent as the other night while walking along a river path near my house, it was insufferably hot and the sweat quickly formed a shiny sheen on my skin’s surface. I wiped the hair away from my brow more than a few times, which kept sticking to my face like pasted threads. I felt ugly and depressed, but then the wind started gently blowing and I quickly felt amazing. As the wind touched my wet skin, I felt a cooling effect and even had a chill or two. That wind was such a gift, but I also receive sweat as its own gift – wind and sweat work together to cool me down. There are many reasons why we sweat, but it all boils down to our body’s cooling and cathartic attempts to keep us alive and well. Our pores open and release moisture that is evaporated by the air, cooling us down when we get overheated. Hormones can also be included in our sweat, as our body’s method to release and regulate emotional and/or inner-physical intensity. Sweat is a signal for us to understand what is happening inside of us and around us. It’s a metabolic miracle. It certainly doesn’t feel good to sweat; but it can tangibly clue us in to how we definitively don’t feel good inside or that something around us is not okay. It signals for us to respond accordingly, to find ways to either weather the storm or improve conditions.
Sweat can also be the palpable proof that something good is happening in us and around us. When I exercise or perform manual labor, I often sweat a lot (TMI, I know, but it’s reality. Thank God for deodorant, showers and clean clothes!). As sweat pours out of my pores, I feel like it proves I am accomplishing something. I want to believe that hard work pays off – that as I toil day in and day out, my efforts are not in vain. Sweat can offer me the satisfaction that I am working towards something; or at the very least, it offers me an opportunity to evaluate whether or not my work is leading me in a beneficial direction. My body may be telling me that I am exerting too much energy and it is, in fact, time to rest, catch my breath and refresh resources to either carry on the same course or change trajectories altogether. Contemplation is its own worthwhile effort, though it is not easy work. Just as any hot day or labor intensive task exhausts me, so can considering how my efforts are empowering or dis-empowering myself and others. I need help to discern and confirm this process. The Holy Spirit is a sacred wind that restoratively blows across my weary and worn soul, especially when I feel the heat of life’s stressors.
At the end of Jesus’ journey here on earth, He promised that the Holy Spirit would come to “guide us to all truth” (John 16:13). Throughout all Scripture, the Holy spirit is defined as a “Counselor” and “Comforter”. This description is most meaningful to me. As a licensed professional counselor, I and my colleagues often ask “who counsels the counselor?” When I am sweating it out, overwhelmed by difficult or puzzling situations, the Holy Spirit counsels me. Initially, He simply says “I counsel you…even during the night” (Psalm 16:7). Such declaration quiets my restless soul. During the day or, especially, as I toss and turn at night, He says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a). There are other times when words seem nebulous and He simply grieves with me and places my exhausted heart on secure rock to find rest and joy (Psalm 40:2, Romans 8:26). God, indeed, is my breath of fresh air. Every time I feel the temperature rise, He revives and refreshes me. In my restored state, I am better equipped to help others who are, themselves, in need of refreshment. I can point the fan towards them, and pour them a tall glass of sweet tea to sip while they rest. Many times, they are the ones, inspired by the Spirit, to offer me a rejuvenating cup of cheer. The best is when I can share such sustenance with someone. Then, no matter how oppressive things get, we can lift our glasses together to celebrate that we are alive, loved and not alone.
- Wood carving sculpture in process by Jamie Wasson 2013
- To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Human Biology by Starr & McMillan
- Forgotten God by Francis Chan