by Charles LaFond
Sabbath is the pathway to the fields in which God lays in the sun waiting to be with us. But we must walk the pathway that leads through the proverbial woods of the many tree-like tasks which so seduce us from the commandment to take rest with God.
Are we courageous enough to walk the pathways which lead through our “to-do-list forests” to that distant field in which God rolls in the cool grass under a hot sun like my Dog Kai and smiles?
But so many of us, especially church leaders, are self-worshippers. We believe that if we rest, the worlds and work in which we live will unravel without us there to hold it all together like little gods playing with our toys as if they are kingdoms. One who prays, really prays, and listens, and keeps their Sabbath Holy can tell, at a glance, which clergy are faking Sabbath. And prayers, for that matter. And the irony is that they think we cannot see.
But do not try to keep Sabbath Holy if you are lacking in courage. It takes great courage to put down cell phones and alcohol, impressive work products and television and Facebook feeds to simply be in silence and rest with a God who would like to chat. A God who is both shy and vulnerable. And patient.
What would it be like to set down our cell phones and to-do lists and walk through those woods to where God awaits us in fullness.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.
It stuns me that we so rigidly keep doing the Eucharist over and over, like little liturgical terrorists, absolutely sure that this way or that way is right. Repeating it week after week with our liturgical toys, wielding rubrics like bricks. And yet, when it comes to keeping Sabbath Holy, we are terrified of what that silence and stillness might reveal – so we self-anesthetize with busy-ness in order not to have to face our God, stripped naked of all our vestments and hymns – nothing left between us but breath and exposing love.
Being a Christian does not make one better than others, but it does make one different. And if not, is one really anything other than an on-looker, an observer? Jesus began a movement, not a religion. So being different is a mark of being a Christian. One way in which I am marked as a Christian is that I do not take “vacations” nor do I have “lunch hours” nor do I have “weekends” nor take “days off.” I keep Sabbaths whether a day or a week or 5 minutes. At least I try. Often I fail but I do try and often I succeed.
If I am “off on Friday” then actually, I use terminology such as “I am on Sabbath on Friday.” I do not mean to annoy those who consider this weird. I love that I annoy them, to be sure. But that is not why I do it – annoying them is a side-benefit. I take Sabbath days because I follow a God who made and named the Sabbath Holy and then commanded that we keep it.
My Sabbath Day is usually Friday. So, in keeping with the Christian notion that a feast begins on the night before at sunset, I do not agree to any work on Thursday nights (my Sabbath-eve) unless for pastoral need. On Thursday night at sunset, I wash my bed sheets and dry them (with lavender – back when I could smell). I then dress my bed gently, the way a deacon dresses the altar with the vessels of the Eucharist – lovingly, carefully, slowly, and reverently, as a symbol to myself of the need we have for sleep and rest.
As a recovering work addict, I need to be careful to leave my cell phone in the car glove box and keep my computer off unless for something I will enjoy. If I am on-call for pastoral care in the congregation, I take another day as a Sabbath. A phone unable to ring is different from one not ringing – the Sabbath-rest is different. I realize that many, especially parents and the working-poor are denied Sabbath, so I pray for them and remind myself of the goodness of the gift I enjoy – hoping it provides me energy to work for justice for the modern-slaves – those not freed from the Egypt of their cell phones’ work-bells, ringing and ringing like the whips of the ancient slaves under Pharaoh. The new pharaoh is a ringtone, a vibration.
Stillness and Silence are an important part of my Sabbath–keeping and so I only make plans with my closest friends – people I love and trust – on my Sabbath day. And I work hard to follow the monastic norm of doing only one thing at a time. A Sabbath day is a time for hand-written letters on cotton stationary, with a good pen and to people I love and who love me. It is also a day to tend “The garden” – the list of my closest 20 friends – what friendship needs watering, what feeding, what pruning and what needs pulling up and out, to make space for new growth?
A Sabbath Day may be broken by carelessness (as I did last Friday – oops) in which case stopping, standing and acknowledging the mistake with a moment of un-scolding silence helps me re-orient. Mindfulness will keep a Sabbath Holy. I will say my prayers but not usually in the morning and I will try to create something on my Sabbath day – some pottery, some Butter Crunch Almond Toffee or writing or a meal for friends.
Sleep is an important aspect of my Sabbath. I do the math. I consider my week and if I need extra sleep stolen from one day or another, I intentionally sleep long or stay in bed and listen to a book while my black lab Kai snuggles close for heat snoring and heaving deep sighs as if offering himself as a cheer-leader for Sabbath-keeping. As I watch my black lab sleep I sometimes wonder of God sent him to me as a Sabbath-coach.
As Sabbath ends, I try to recollect it at bedtime with gratitude. I thank God for the gift of rest and ask forgiveness if I invaded and broke my Sabbath or if I was dull, lazy and lifeless, wasting time rather than enjoying it.
God made all things in heaven and on earth says Genesis. Each act of creation was named good or very good. Only one thing was called “Holy.” The first time that bombshell of a word is used in our scriptures it is used for the naming of Sabbath-of rest – “holy” was spoken first in our scriptures not to name a person, nor a place, but rather a time.
If God is to ascribe rest with such heavy glory, then who am I to do anything but bow and enjoy it when possible. God gives it as a gift. Let no man break it asunder, least of all me.
I can feel my body changing as I get older. My soul too really. I put up with less Bull@*#t. I am more often and easily tired. As I see the clergy and bishops around me I begin to realize how Satan does its best work. Pride. Perhaps there was a day when Satan inspired sin. But nowadays, I think Satan makes better headway with pride. I have seen such wonderful bishops and clergy and lay leaders in my day. And I have seen so many horrible bishops and clergy in my day too. It is the price we pay for living a long life in the Church. But I have never once seen a spiritual leader who is kind, honest and effective while also robbing Jesus of Sabbath time with Him.
I am trying, hard, to forgive evil clergy in my past. And that forgiveness is helped when I realize, with compassion, that they live in this culture of work, success and power. And I suppose, my Sabbath day helps me to see that there, but for the rest in God, go I.