For the last several weeks, I’ve wanted to write in this space again and I’ve been wondering what my first word would be as I re-engaged this setting. Until the last few days, Sabbath was not even in the top ten list of topics I was considering.
There has been plenty of other stuff churning in the media and in me.
- The SCOTUS decision giving shape to the way marriage is practiced and recognized in the States.
- The FIFA scandal and what that says about our obsessions with sports, about our avoidance of transparency and accountability, and about the complicity of so many in seemingly systemic and global corruption
- The report in Canada on the Truth & Reconciliation commission – a long-awaited step toward naming the historical abuses and continuing impact of systemic racism toward First Nations people, particularly children, in the Canadian context.
- Reflections on my experience of white privilege as a Caucasian-American living in Canada – especially as I have watched and grieved the violent ways in which racism continues to play out within the States, and dramatically within Charleston, McKinney, St. Louis, Baltimore.
- Conversations in the CRCNA (the Christian denomination I am rooted in) around same-sex relationships & pastoral care
And beyond these more urgent conversations that have occupied my thoughts, conversations around worship, discipleship, and community engagement, as well as on cultural engagement and vocation, and occasions such as our 20th wedding anniversary and our oldest’s graduation from high school have all been on mind. There certainly has been plenty to write about…and I anticipate that whether on this site or elsewhere, some of my reflections on those conversations and topics will surface in written form of one kind or another before too long.
Yet, somehow today: Sabbath.
I’ve been learning a lot about Sabbath since I’ve written in this space last. Though I’ve not really tried to figure out why I suddenly stopped writing here, I suspect that some of it had to do with the need for a season of rest. For the first month or so after my last post, I didn’t open the admin page or even draft a post. By the time Ash Wednesday arrived, I found myself coming here intent on writing, but finding myself too cluttered, too distracted, too meandering to put together a coherent post of any sort. And so I would type. delete. repeat.
It wasn’t a writer’s block of wanting to write with words that seemed overwhelmingly impossible to find. It was something different, more of a beckoning to avoid words. Words were too forced, too premature. And so I stopped. I began to Sabbath. Not just from writing here, but in all sorts of ways. While I am still just getting my toes wet in the deep waters of Sabbath-keeping and Sabbath-making, three thoughts have surfaced with enough shape and buoyancy to stay afloat in this space. I’ve posted the first of these today. And in the coming days, I’ll add further posts on the other two thoughts.
Encountering the Weeds
In a previous house, we had an area out back that we (eventually) came to affectionately call “The Jungle”. When we moved into that house the weeds and brush in the jungle came up to my mid-chest. We couldn’t really walk through most of it because the thistles and prickers would quickly attach themselves to our shirts and shorts, while embedding themselves in our hair and our shoe laces. When we tried to walk through that space, we came out with scratches up and down our arms and legs. It simple was an unpleasant place to be.
What I realized in January or February was that my Sabbath day – and in fact, every other day, too – had become like our jungle. I was so thoroughly entangled in what needed to be done next: the next day, the next week, the next lesson, the next article or speaking engagement, the next chapter in my dissertation, the next _____, that carving out space to rest seemed nearly impossible. I certainly felt negligent – as if I was somehow playing hooky from my responsibilities by taking a day off. Though I used to practice Sabbath well, sitting still became unpleasant because of the sheer volume of commitments I had made and the people and projects pressing for my attention. Every Friday, when I attempted to enter my Sabbath day, the only thing I could think about was the prickers of upcoming conversations and the thistles of uncompleted projects. Even on days when I shut down my email and avoided my phone, I found myself spending my energy unsuccessfully trying to avoiding thinking about what needed to be done. Somewhere along the way, my Sabbath day had become an unpleasant space for me.
Sabbath Begins with a Sustained Pruning
With our jungle, I was pretty clear that before we could enjoy the space, we needed to do some serious pruning…and that’s admittedly too gentle and refined a word. We needed to hack away the weeds, yank out some of the thorn bushes, haul away the decaying tree branches, and remove the old tires, broken boards, and half-buried bricks we discovered underneath everything. With thick gloves, a few tools, several hours of sweaty work, and a huge burn pile, we managed to clean out our jungle over the course of a couple Saturday afternoons.
But cleaning up my Sabbath space has taken a bit more of a sustained effort. That daunting feeling of not knowing where to begin was the first issue to deal with. After several weeks of talking about needing Sabbath, I finally started by simply saying ‘no’ to any new commitments. I came up with a couple dignified ways of saying ‘no’ at first. Typically, I said no with some variation of “While I would love to, my schedule simply won’t allow it.” In other words, I made my schedule into the ‘bad guy’. It was the first step of taking ownership of my Sabbath space. As I completed projects and had no new projects or commitments lined up to replace them, I found an increased capacity simply to say “it’s okay to stop today.” And with that recognition, a sense of peace has started to return to my Fridays.
Perhaps the most stubborn piece though has been uprooting the invasive presence of email and social media from Sabbath spaces. Initially, I invited them in with all the bells, whistles (my former text message sound), and other red, numbered notifications informing me that someone or something else needed my attention. Even when I silenced the sounds, I left the vibrate feature on just in case someone really needed to get a hold of me. If there is a source of busyness in my life it has been my indulgence of these intrusions, whispering with siren-esque seduction “You are needed. Don’t stop. You are important. There is more to do. This can’t wait. You can’t wait.”
And so, over the last month or so, I’ve been working steadily at removing myself from unnecessary email lists, turning off layer after layer of social media notifications, and limiting the time I’m consuming news. These small steps have not only reduced my exposure to the deceptive message of my own importance, they have also dramatically decreased the volume of information demanding my attention throughout the week. As the last few Fridays have come around, I’ve found myself less frenetic, less frazzled, and more ready to simply rest. The one challenge that I am still fighting – and that I am looking forward to uprooting soon – is my habit of checking email on Fridays.
I’ve got a couple more thoughts about Sabbath that I’ll post in the coming days. In the mean time, I’d love to hear your thoughts, struggles, successes with making and keeping Sabbath. What have been the easiest aspects of Sabbath for you? What have you found to be the most difficult? What are the things you do to keep your Sabbath space restful?
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