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January brings a flurry of busyness and making me feel like I need to “start the year out right” and “finally clean up that mess of a garage” or other things that never have gotten done. I think of that undone job, and others spring to mind: Building or buying something to house our new Christmas bikes, cleaning up the leaves and sweetgum balls. New year’s resolutions collide with overdue chores and heavy time commitment projects: exercise more, lose 10 pounds, round up a year of receipts and bills for all the housing expenses (which is one major component of the major task of completing the 30-40 page tax worksheet so I can have someone ELSE do my taxes), get the end of year report done for the church, plan the season of Lent, write that Easter season lectionary study for Process and Faith, go bring John Paul some KFC…..
I’ll confess that it all overwhelms me. There’s not enough time in the day to see to all this stuff, then also prepare for our weekly worship, check in on people associated with our prayer concerns, and see to the grab-bag of things that materialize at the office. “Death by a thousand papercuts” comes to mind. And into this miniature chaos comes the voice of Dr. Matthew Sleeth, who wrote the study we’ve been doing on Monday nights: 24/6: A prescription for a Happier, Healthier Life. “If you feel like you don’t have enough time in the day for all the variety of things going on in your life, don’t try to “work smarter,” or multitask. Instead, just stop.” The Sabbath is counterintuitive to the American mindset of “get ahead, go faster, do more, make something of yourself.” Perhaps that’s why it is so obviously Divine. If I were to make a commitment to take a Sabbath, a day of rest, the hurried, overwhelmed aspect of my reality would settle. I would see a path ahead. I would be more conscientious about what commitments I need to say “no” to in order to preserve the integrity of the whole. There’s a reason the Sabbath is part of the Holy order of things. In the poetic words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel,
He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil. He must go away from the screech of dissonant days, from the nervousness and fury of acquisitiveness and the betrayal in embezzling his own life. He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man. Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath, we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else. Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self. (The Sabbath, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1951, New York. p. 13)
“Embezzling his own life:” Wow. I hope and pray my own commitment to take a Sabbath proves more than an “attempt” that wears away by mid February. I’d like some accountability with it, and if you’d like to try as well, I’ll encourage you. We’ve started things before that I haven’t been good enough about following up on. I’m thinking at the moment about another book I recommended back in August, “Choosing Peace through Daily Practices,” and then never gave any follow up attention. I know several of you picked up the book and perhaps read along with me, but we didn’t do any “accountability” for the lessons of the book that would have made it more impacting. We can still get to that, but I want to acknowledge that this is the kind of thing that slips through the cracks when we (I) am not making time for the Sabbath.
My hope in proposing the new leadership structure of the church is that a more streamlined, condensed leadership is able to rest leaders who might not be called on at the moment (Sabbath taking). Perhaps there are other ways our church can benefit from a renewed interest in Sabbath. This is all on my mind because I am halfway through my 7th year of ministry at UUMC. That’s when some pastors take a “sabbatical” for refreshment and renewal. I’m not sure that will be in the cards for me this year, but I will assure you that this new year brings an attentiveness to the practice of weekly Sabbath taking, and that I hope it bears fruit in my ability to minister to you.