Christmas Advent HERO

The Power of Taking a Sabbath

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.

Oscar Wilde

It has been a week since the polar vortex shut-down here at Valpo. With the temperatures now in the 40s and 50s and the snow melted all around, it almost seems like a distant memory. It especially feels like a distant memory since my life quickly went back to a pace of constant appointments, things to do, deadlines, and overall busyness. My conversations with students, faculty, staff, and administration that I bumped into last Friday all had a similar quality to them.  There was an air of extra breath, rest, and gratefulness. Yes, the week had been challenging due to the weather in many ways. However, for many it was also an unexpected Sabbath. I heard of students sleeping for hours on end, faculty and staff having time with their children that wasn’t interrupted with life’s normal schedule, people reading in a relaxed way, laughing, and connecting with others. The Residential Life staff worked especially hard during the campus closure, creating a unique moment of community connection through lingering pancake breakfasts and other meals shared with one another.  For me personally it was a moment of feeling like I was hitting “reset” on my spirit.

In our culture we almost idolatrize busyness. It is easy to feel like our schedules dictate how much value we have in the world. In the Bible the word “sabbath” is mentioned around 170 times.  It is first brought up in the story of creation when God rested on the seventh day.  Later as part of the 10 Commandments the people of God are told to honor the sabbath day and keep it holy. In the gospel of Mark when Jesus is being questioned about healing on the sabbath he says, “the sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the sabbath”  I think this is an important thing to remember about sabbath and God’s commandments in general.  They are not some list of rules to try to control us and to take the fun out of life. In fact, they are quite the opposite; they could probably be found next to other “self-help books” at Barnes and Noble that are going to help you live your best life.  Except, you see, these commandments are not about getting the best life based on the world’s standards but about God’s desire for us to experience abundant life that God calls us to. This is a life where we get to know our value not based on the number in our checking account, the tag on our clothing, the likes on our social media post, or the number of followers we have.  It is not the best life based on the title you hold, the honors you possess, or the how full your resume is. It is a counterculture best life that is about community, love, grace, reconciliation, forgiveness, and justice. It is the best life where a person knows that their value comes as a beloved Child of God created in God’s image. One place to begin this is with sabbath.

Humankind was not made for sabbath, sabbath was made for humankind.

God doesn’t need your sabbath, but you need sabbath and God knew that. Sabbath is a time of rest. You see, when you take sabbath the world keeps spinning. It is a reminder that God is still at work in this world; it isn’t all about you. On sabbath you are still loved. On sabbath you are still a child of God. On sabbath when we take time to pause, to reflect, we are often reminded of what we do have and what we are grateful for. When I pause I am reminded of the abundance of gifts that surround my life. When I was forced to pause during the polar vortex I was reminded of the gift of a warm home, food, running water, and energy to fill my house. I was also reminded of the gift of true human connection. I spent a few days truly being present with my children — reading, napping, crafting, and playing games.  When I came back to work after the cold had lifted I was more energized and focused on the work that needed to be done.

So this week I am reflecting on my very full Google calendar.  How might I be more intentional about the rhythms of my days and weeks?  Am I waiting for sabbath to magically appear via a polar-vortex or can I create some intentional time?

Sometimes sabbath isn’t an entire day but intentional moments, to stop, breathe, pray, and reflect.  

A couple weeks ago Mary Oliver — one of the first poets who truly drew me in — died. She was known for her poetry often steeped in nature. She talked about how she would take long walks outside with her notebook. Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” was one of the first I encountered. It reminded me of the power of stopping, reflecting, and noticing that which surrounded me. The power in this kind of sabbath taking is that in the silence away from the busyness I might hear God’s call for my life. May this poem (which also reminds us of the promise that winter doesn’t last forever) offer you a one-minute sabbath in your day.

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean –

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention,

how to fall down into the grass,

how to kneel in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed,

how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

Dcs. Kristin

Feb. 5, 2019

Deaconess Kristin Lewis and University Pastor James Wetzstein take turns writing weekly reflections. You can contact Deaconess Kristin here and Pastor Jim here