This past Sunday was The Well’s “Sabbath Sunday”. Since we began, encouraging people to stay home to engage in their own renewal each 5th Sunday was one way we chose to make rest a valued part of our life together. Many of us had come from churches where work seemed to be way more valued than rest. Sabbath may have made the top 10 commandments, but it has carried a whole lot less weight than the others. Like the pervasive culture surrounding us, the church has tended to elevate busyness as a virtue worthy of praise & a measure of success– rest not so much.

We wanted to resist that temptation.

When this Sunday came up right in the middle of the still unfolding worldwide CVD-19 pandemic, I began to think about the intersection of sabbath & what we are experiencing right now. What is their for us to learn in this scary, yet sacred (it seems set apart in some weird way) time?

Instead of no gathering at all, we decided to host an online conversation and to explore what is at the heart of sabbath & what (if anything) it has to do with where we are right now. A couple of connections have still been stirring around my heart & head.

  1. Home is at the heart of sabbath. We have a ton to learn from how our Jewish neighbors observe Sabbath. The Jewish Shabbat invites families to return home, to sing & pray light candles & remember that rest & freedom are vital parts of what it means to be human. Home is a place of remembering, resting & re-centering.

Right now, as we are all feeling somewhat trapped & isolated at home, perhaps we could allow ourselves to remember who we are here – to return to some things that we have lost – to remember that we are more than consumers & producers. We are more than our achievements. We are human beings & we need to learn how to “be” here.  

  1. Sabbath reminds us what is essential. There is a great deal that goes into preparing to observe an entire 24-hour period of rest. For one thing, during a true sabbath, you must make sure you have the essentials on hand because buying and selling are off limits.

 “Essential” is a word popping up a lot right now. We are being asked to do only what is essential, to pursue only that which is vital to our wellbeing. Do we even know what that is? Do we know how much is enough? One of the gifts for us right now if we dare to receive it is a new awareness of what is essential. Not only what, but who is essential. What people & professions are saving our lives, caring for our children, providing us food, making sure we have our daily necessities available? Imagine if we emerged from this experience with a new appreciation & prioritization of what is truly essential!

  1. Sabbath is better together. Sacred time away to replenish our weary souls & bodies is not just for our sakes, but for the sake of others. When we come back to our jobs, our friendships, our daily demands, we return with greater capacity to love, to share, to listen & to care. Jesus modeled this so often in his ministry as he unapologetically &sometimes rather abruptly left everything behind to spend time in solitude. This will look different for each of us because each of our lives looks very different. Some of us are working from home, others working double shifts, some are single parents, others retirees. During our time on Sunday, here are some sabbath-like practices that came up:
  • Taking a nap (shared by the mom of a toddler)
  • Starting the day with family centering prayer
  • Medititaion. The Insight Timer app is a great, free resource.
  • One participant shared that he is interrupting anxiety by re-reading & practicing The Silva Mind Control Method by Jose Silva.
  • Walking
  • Journaling
  • Porch time
  • Intentional tech-free time & social media sabbaths
  • What others would you add? What is renewing you & helping you rest from the worry & work right now?

Like many of our gatherings, I left Sunday’s conversation with more questions than answers (for one: what does sabbath look like for those who are working non-stop or who have no home to go to?!), but also with a renewed sense of the importance of sabbath. Collectively observing intentional times of freedom & rest creates an alternative rhythm to the dominant one which puts production & consumption & a strong economy at the forefront and compassion as a distant second.  

In her book, “Altar in the World”, Barbara Brown Taylor writes that ultimately “Sabbath is not only about getting a little rest, but also about freeing slaves, forgiving debts, restoring property, and giving the land every seventh year off…”. Right now, we are seeing some of these ideas emerge. I hope & pray it can be more than a temporary reaction & a much needed lesson that can guide us into a more just & generous future.

***

Here are a few other resources, some of which were shared during Sunday’s conversation:

Sabbath as Resistance by Walter Brueggeman

Subversive Sabbath: The Suprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World by A.J. Swoboda

When Economic Reversal Catches the Elite By Surprise

A Debt Jubilee is the Only Way to Avoid a Depression

Pandemic, a poem by Lynn Ungar

Artwork above: Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Siesta”

These words were shared in our online gathering on 3.22.20 & our based on Mark 12:41-44, 13:1-2:

***

In this strange & unsettling season, I’m noticing some things that are being brought to the surface in & around me. 

One thing I’ve seen coming to the surface in me is my incessant need to “do” something, anything. That’s my go to response whenever a crisis occurs – to step in wherever & however I can: Super Susan to the rescue – dont’ y’all already feel safer just knowing I’m here?! (I imagine that line fell as flat here as it did in our online gathering 😉 )

It’s good to know it’s not just me though. I’m noticing it in others, too.

Those who tend to be judgmental are now judging everybody’s every move. Are you sure that’s 6 feet?  Those who tend to be know-it-all’s are offering all kinds of unsolicited advice. And those who tend to be germaphobes & clean freeks, well, they started self-quarantining last month. 

It’s not only our tendancies, though, but our deepest fears, our darndest mistakes, our most soul stirring strengths & our most urgent desires that are making their way to the surface. 

There is so much to see, but unlike the latest breaking news, some things require our heads to be turned in order to see them.

Fortunately for us, Jesus was the master head-turner

He was always trying to turn his followers’ attention in a counter-intutitive direction: 

look at the birds, look at this leper, look at the seeds, look here at me.

He was always trying to turn heads & hearts toward the people & the places & the parts of creation that were so often out of sight & out of mind – teh seemingly small & insignificant.

Maybe you feel like you fit that description. 

Like you could be standing in front of the world hair on fire & no one would even glance in your direction. You feel invisible, like you are never really seen. The further into isolation we all go, its inevitable we’ll all feel that way to some degree – but, let’s be honest – some of us will feel it more.

Today we are invited to take some comfort in Mark’s picture of Jesus. There is hope to be found for those feeling an extra measure of isolation right now: 

In Jesus, we are introduced to One who sees the unseen & invites us to see, too.

In a temple full of filthy rich religious leaders coming to offer their spare change on center stage, Jesus looks stage left – away from the shiny & the shimmering, the loud & the proud to the small & quiet & the struggling. 

To a widow who is giving her last two coins. 

She was there doing her best to be faithful in a system built on the rich getting richer while the poor suffered. 

She was literally giving her last
two rolls of toilet paper,
her last two meals,
her last two dollars.

That is what was required of her.

She was a sign of the times – a reminder of what was so broken about the temple & about the way of life that was being fostered there.

The widow giving her last two mites is downright depressing. What could she possibly offer us in this moment?

But Jesus says look here.  This is the real story. Look at this woman. She is not only a beloved child of God – we have something to learn from her presence here. 

I was always told the lesson here is that I need to be more like her, but Jesus never tells us to imitate this poor widowed woman. Jesus never commends her, never applauds her self-sacrifice, or insructs us to follow in her footsteps.  

He simply notices her, and tells his disciples to notice her, too. 

Jesus had just been crituqing the temple system & the unfair practices that were benefiting the rich & exploiting the poor. It’s as though he sees her & says “see”:

Look at what we are doing.
Look at what is happening here. Don’t you see?

And in the very next breath after seeing this woman compliant in a system that told her to sacrifice all she had left to live on, they leave and start going on & on about how grand the temple buildings are & Jesus tells them it will all come crumbling down.

That is an image we are growing familiar with these days.

We have been forced into a strange, unsettling season. Some things have been shut down – others have been crumbling – hopes, plans, predictable routines. 

And some seemingly insignificant people & parts of creation are coming into sight. They too have a lesson for us. They too are a sign of the times. Here are a few I have noticed:

There was a full story devoted to janitors in the NYT this week. Part of it told about a Wells Fargo workplace that was exposed to coronavirus.  The entire building was evacuated. Only no one alerted the janitors who continued cleaning exposed areas.

For the first time in forever, swans were seen swimming in Venice’’s suddenly less polluted canals.

Satellites captured images of drastically reduced air pollution above China’s atmosphere as less cars & factories produce pollution.

In this unprecedented wildnerness place in which we stand, we are invited to look stage left. To the people & places & parts of creation so seemingly insignificant that we have lived as though they do not matter.

We are invited to see & to learn & in so doing, we may just hear an invitation to re-order our lives & to reconnect with what matters most.

Would we dare to have our heads turned right now? 

To see what so desparately needs to be seen.
To see that another world is possible.
To see that another way of life is necessary.

I know there is much to be afraid of right now. I’m afraid, too. But there is also hope here. God sees us in our darkest moments & God invites us to see, too.

**

Artwork: “The Widow’s Mite” by Gustav Dore, ca. 1880.

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