I am learning, imperfectly, how to take sabbath.
One of the funny paradoxes about this job is that Sunday, which is traditionally the day of rest, the sabbath day – becomes a work day. And not just any workday – but perhaps the most important of the whole week. So, the day that God set aside to rest on, and that we are commanded to keep holy – is the heaviest work day of all for those who have taken vows of ordination.
I surely hope God doesn’t mind that I take my Sabbath, my day off, on Monday.
This day off puts me at odds with many of my peers. For most of the employed world, Monday is the beginning of the week, so there aren’t usually many people to call and hang out with. I’ve usually gone to the farmer’s market on Saturday, so there often isn’t a need to run grocery errands and whatnot. Instead, as is the case with yesterday’s sabbath, I have the opportunity to simply sit, and be, alone.
This is harder than it may seem.
I love the idea of alone time. I love the idea of a peaceful morning, spent doing little else than drinking a cup of coffee and catching up reading the Sunday New York Times, a day late. However, in practice, I get antsy. I sit down to read but realise the fridge could be cleaned out, and set to work doing that. Perhaps then I’m too hot to sit still, so I go downstairs and dip in the pool. Then I get lonely and bored, so call my sister in Seattle. Then, I’m hungry for lunch but can’t make decisions so just keep snacking on things. And on and on and on. . .
Now, none of these things are antithetical to keeping sabbath. There are no rules or prohibitions on what the day of rest looks like – only that it is kept a day of rest. And, sometimes, I can take this rest while running errands and doing laundry. And, sometimes, even if I am sitting still at home my mind is racing and antsy and hasn’t found rest.
What I am learning, ever so slowly, is that sabbath is much more about state of mind than it is about activity or lack thereof. There seems to be a mixture of needs to be met on a sabbath day – needs for my own health (sleep, exercise), needs for preparation and responsibility (mail, groceries, laundry), and need for sabbath (some kind of spiritual retreat to mountaintop which will sustain me in my work). Sometimes I find the mix easier to handle than other times – and sometimes, like yesterday, I just can’t seem to actually unplug. I kept checking my emails and answering them, which is decidedly anti-sabbath.
But, I had this one moment – in the early evening, Bree and I sat outside on the porch, and chatted about discernment. I sipped a glass of wine and we talked about the summer, and her going to Chicago in the fall, and how we follow our calls, and some other, less serious things, too. It was the kind of chat where you just mull things over together – happy for the company but not dependant on it.
For those moments, I experienced a sabbath. I had a moment where I just rested – where I simply was, with God, recognising God. In the moments when I can find it, sabbath is a beautiful gift. And perhaps, for now, all I need is the moments.
Last week in Bible study, as we looked at the lectionary, there was a clear shepherding theme. Pastor Diane explained how commonplace shepherding was to the community that Jesus was preaching to – and yet, how foreign it can be to us.
As some of you know, I spent a year and a little bit more working on my mom’s farm, which, in fact, did have sheep. So, this idea isn’t completely foreign to me – even as I recognise the vast difference between pastured animals on a spot of land, and wandering as a shepherd with a flock.
But, I digress.
As we were in Bible study, Pastor Diane wondered aloud what the equivalent imagery would be, particularly in the context of Hawaii. She mentioned the pidgin translation of the bible, and we thought how different translation and contextualisation could be. Perhaps, then, this would be the image of the paniolo – caring for herds of cattle.
Once I started thinking about it, though, I was intrigued – what would the Native Hawaiian version of this be? What is the Indigenous contextualisation of sheep / shepherd imagery?
I think it would be kalo. In Hawaiian culture, kalo is a physical manifestation of the first human, Haloa, who was born of Papa and Wakea. Haloa was a stillborn, and when he was buried he grew into taro, or kalo. Kalo is, then, much more than a plant – but rather a living and breathing relative. An elder brother, who takes care of us through his own life. The kalo farmer must know his own plants – he must know how old they are, and tend to them. He must be careful not to seperate the keiki, the offshoots, before the plant is old enough.
Perhaps Jesus is the good kalo farmer, and we are the kalo – living our lives seeking to care for God’s people.
Last week, I was talking to Pastor Diane about the declining numbers in church membership (not just as something affecting St Peter’s, but as an overall trend).
She commented that there are so many people who subscribe to the, “spiritual but not religious” category. And we got into a discussion – why do people need to go to church anyway? What is it that happens there that can’t be done alone?
I’m sure there are a bunch of different ways to answer this question. I’ve heard an argument before that you have to go to church to receive communion – it’s something only a priest can do. I don’t agree with this. I believe strongly in the priesthood of all believers, and think Eucharist happens all the time — whenever we break bread around a table, whether there are two people or dozens.
Some would say that the ritual of church is needed to connect us to the ones who have gone before. While I recognise the impact this has on me, and the ways it connects me to my ancestors, I also don’t think church is the only place you can do this.
In the end, I think church is important because of the community of it. Where else, in life, is it possible to have so many people gathered together in a singular experience?
I thought, then, about protests – and the ways that civic engagement of that kind connects us with one another. I thought about how everyone is going through the same physical motions – whether that is marching with one another, or chanting together, or wearing the same color.
At church, there are some parts of the liturgy which encourage this. When we recite together – say, the words of the Nicene Creed, or the confession of sin – our breath becomes uniform, and we are cohesive.
When we sing together, we are also united. Breath comes at the end of musical phrases, as a punctuation. This isn’t about the beauty of your voice, the ability to harmonise or even be in the right key. It is about, instead, a willingness to participate – a willingness to contribute individually to a greater collective.
In church, our very breath connects us, spiritually, to one another. We are able to be present with one another, to feel a unity, that we don’t usually experience. We are given the opportunity to journey together, and break through the isolation which can otherwise overwhelm.
Church is where we can truly breathe.
Last week, before we ate together, Bree and I bowed our heads – and then there was a moment of silence. Usually, somewhat organically, one of us will say a short grace. Now that I want to explain it, I don’t think there was a moment where we decided this would be our pattern – It just seemed to naturally emerge. After all, we met one another in seminary – perhaps it was a given.
But, that night, it wasn’t. We sat there in silence, until I opened by eyelid and peeked at her. We were both tired, from long days at work. I think I felt like there was nothing to say. My day had been ordinary – no big God moment, or standing in recognition of the holy. And our dinner was simple – leftovers we each had pulled from the fridge. It didn’t feel like much needed to be said.
So, it got me thinking about prayer – do we pray for us, or for God? Why do we do it? What does it do, to us? to the world? to the relationships that happen around it?
Prayer is for God, yes – but I am sure that more than my prayers shaping the actions of an all-knowing, compassionate God, my prayers shape me. They shape me into a person who recognises the holy – one whose vision has perhaps been fine-tuned towards the Divine. Prayer is itself an action, and it leads me into further action – it helps me to reflect on where I see God, and to go towards that light, towards that promised kin-dom.
Last night as I bowed my head, I had no poetic slurry of words. Instead, I began by saying, thank you. And I followed with things for which I am thankful. For family, for these delicious tomatoes, for tax documents prepared by someone else, for food filling my fridge, for seeing friends, for a car. . . Once I began, I had quite a lot to say. I think this is how prayer is shaping me — not such that I won’t ever sit in silence, for there is holiness and wisdom in that, as well — but such that I never feel as if a day is only “ordinary”, and needs no words of gratitude.
I am still learning.
I have a story to tell.
Last week, after I was finished with my work day, Bree (my girlfriend) asked if I would be interested in an evening stroll together. While I was tired, I agreed, because it was a lovely invitation, and I wanted to spend some dedicated time together. While we walked, I asked her if we could talk about the lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, because I was leading Bible study the next day.
So, we were walking and talking about last week’s long gospel reading, where there are so many characters and so much going on – and we were talking about how even though each of the people in the story are talking to Jesus, none of them are talking to eachother. We were thinking aloud about connection, and people, and how we can get wrapped up in our own stuff. . .
and we walked past a woman who was kneeling down by her car. When we had turned the corner, I said, “Shoot. It looked like her tire was flat”. Bree replied, “What? really? Oh, let’s go back and help her – I know how to change a tire”. At this, I began to backtrack a bit – “Oh, maybe that isn’t what happened, it just looked like her tire was flat maybe, but I don’t know how to fix that”. . . to which my capable girlfriend responded, “I do”.
So, we turned around, walking right back down the street we had just passed. Bree asked if the young woman needed help, and she said yes – and they set to work. I did little else except for feel incredulous as they talked about lug-nuts and car-jacks (things I clearly know nothing about). I helped at one point to take the screw thingies off the old tire, and roll the new one to where their capable hands took over.
As we worked, the woman shared that she had a rough week. One thing after another, she said, without detailing anything. I hoped we offered some solace. When the task was over, we waved goodbye – no fanfare, exchange of numbers, or hugging – the job was over, and we walked on.
But, a week later, I find myself still mulling this story over. Were we compelled to return because we were talking about the gospel? Did we miss her in the first place because we were talking about theology? One thing I do know – if either of us had been alone I don’t think we would’ve turned around. I needed to notice, and Bree needed to offer her skills – and the woman needed to be willing to accept help from strangers.
Kindness – it might be as simple as doing what you can, when you can. Nothing more, and nothing less.