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Boundaries

Boundaries

Wednesday, November 6, 2013 — Week of Proper 26, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 72 (morning) // 119:73-96 (evening)

Nehemiah 13:4-22

Revelation 12:1-12

Matthew 13:53-58

My aversion to legalistic expressions of the Christian faith has its downsides. In spite of the repeated Biblical insistence on observing the Sabbath, I very rarely create space for sabbath rest in my own life. Thus, I find myself deeply admiring Nehemiah’s rigorous enforcement of boundaries in today’s first reading.

When Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem after a visit to Babylon, he finds his community in disorder. In the sphere of God’s house, the Levites (priests) and the musicians have all “gone back to their fields” to support themselves. Their portions of the community offerings have not been distributed to them. Nehemiah puts new treasurers in charge of distribution and gathers the tithe of grain, wine, and oil from the people. He restores a simple livelihood for the work that these worship leaders do.

Nehemiah then turns his energy to reinstituting the Sabbath for all people. He sees people in Judah carrying things to sell and burdening their donkeys with merchandise on the holy day of rest. So, the night before the Sabbath, Nehemiah shuts the doors of Jerusalem and stations guards at the gate. Merchants who had come to sell things had to spend the night outside and wait until the Sabbath was over! After a few confrontations with Nehemiah’s intractable boundary, they stop showing up.

Nehemiah refuses to let the pressures of making a living and the addictions of consumerism exhaust his people. Not only do we need to enforce similar boundaries for ourselves, but we also deeply need leaders who will exercise this ministry of confirming these boundaries for us.

I met one of them last Thursday, when I took a Family Systems Theory class with an excellent instructor who has his own therapy practice. He told us that he refuses to meet with clergy on their days’ off. I was blown away—first, at the idea of taking an entire day off; and second, at this man’s firmness in setting boundaries not just for himself, but for the deep nurture of others. Inspired by his firmness, I did absolutely no work on the following Saturday.

But will this pattern continue? Oh, irony of ironies: This very next Saturday, I need to leave my home by 5:30am and drive to another city for a seven-hour workshop on none other than . . . Family Systems Theory. The very subject matter that encouraged me to set boundaries and to nurture my family will consume my only day off and take me away from my family. Oh, well.

I know that many people struggle with work that is much more exhausting and less conducive to family life than mine. I despair at the lack of Nehemiahs in our communities who establish the firm boundaries that can truly support our lives. Whether these Nehemiahs take the form of supervisors, therapists, labor activists, or family members, let us strive to thank—or to become!—the leaders who draw the lines that keep the marketplace at bay and that preserve us in peace.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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