I’ve been on sabbatical.
You may have noticed, since the action around the blog was almost non-existent for a few months.
In almost 20 years of ordained ministry, this was my first sabbatical, and I didn’t quite know what to expect. And I was joyfully surprised.
Yes, I traveled. I rested. I cleaned out closets and a few boxes I’d never unpacked since I moved. I rode horses, then rode them some more. I read books that had nothing and yet everything to do with God. And I rode horses again. I rediscovered pray as an act of worship and be-ing instead of just one more thing to do for the clergy resume.
And I realized how little importance most of us give to the commandment about sabbath. My rabbi friends remind me the commandment to remember the sabbath and to keep it holy is the longest commandment as written in Hebrew. That length should clue us in to its importance.
Sabbath isn’t simply not working; it’s a particular aspect of rest. Sabbath reminds us we have work to do in the world, and we also have work to do on ourselves.
I’ve heard a story about stopping our bodies to wait for our souls to catch up over the years in various incarnations. The basic themes of the story include Anglo explorers or missionaries or archaeologists going through the jungle or mountains or otherwise non-Westernized terrain. They have with them members of the Native culture who are with them. At some point the western men are up early and ready to go and the Native peoples refuse to move. After much cajoling and whining about how the team needs to get going, the Native peoples respond, saying that they walked so fast that they need to sit awhile and let their souls catch up with their bodies. The Western people suddenly realized some deep truth and all is right with the world.
I think the story and example is problematic on several levels, least of which I’ve always heard it used in sermons by white men and the congregation inevitably oohs and aahs as if we’ve never heard that our souls need time to rest.
As if we’ve never paid attention to the commandment to keep the sabbath or the numerous examples of Jesus going away to a quiet place or Mary pondering all these things in her heart or the communion of saints who needed to sit awhile in silence. Not, I think, to let our souls catch up, but to gather our souls back within us. Our souls can move quite quickly, I think. Often faster than our bodies. But they also scatter.
We humans, in our need to be busy and to feel important and to give to everyone who comes knocking, scatter parts of our selves and souls. We also live in a culture where people too often feel entitled to take parts of other people’s souls, even when we hear otherwise.
One aspect of sabbath is giving ourselves time each week, maybe even each day, to track down our soul. Is it all within us? Great.
Are their pieces of your soul that have been left with parents who are grieving the death of their child from addiction? Did some part of your soul remain with the woman who’s co-worker raped her because her soul is too shattered by violence to hold together for now? Are you weary from the parts of your soul that get broken by the constant news cycle of hate, discrimination, and oppression?
Locate those parts. Know where they are. Call them back to you through prayer, silence, art, or however you find helpful. And trust they will return. Or, if it’s not time for them to return, remind them where home is and that this is not a permanent loan.
The other pieces that have been taken, where are they? Are their people who have demanded pieces and parts of you that you did not want to give, who have not heard your, “no” and keep plowing forward into your life? Women’s souls particularly get strung out in this place, where we see - again - the phone call from a particular person and sigh as we answer it, forgetting we can take a sabbath if needed.
Where are those pieces of our souls? Who has stolen them, and again, what do we need to do to call them back to us…and what do we need to do to make sure those soul suckers are kept at a safe distance in the future?
When God implores us to remember the Sabbath, God is recognizing that we have a tendency to forget, to ignore, and to disregard the care and keeping of our own souls. Or we commute the sabbath into a day of running errands and cleaning the house and doing all the things that didn’t get done in the busy-ness of the past week.
And God is writing in all the words - DO NOT DO THIS.
Keep the Sabbath. Take dedicated time each week to care for your soul. Be still and quiet. Pray. Do nothing (those who read me enough know I’m a big proponent of holy boredom). Fiddle. Weep. Laugh. Pray some more.
Locate all the pieces of your soul. Call some home. Note where others are and how long they might be away on loan.
And breathe deeply into all that is.