Scripture: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
This is the season of Pentecost, of honoring the presence of the Holy Spirit among us. Wisdom, as our scripture attests, is the Hebrew Bible iteration of the Holy Spirit. This is also our now annual season of Sabbath at Lyndale, Sabbath summer, when we make intentional time to rest and hone our spiritual practices. The last few weeks, the convergence of these two seasons has been tumbling around in my head and my body and my soul. What can we learn by honoring Spirit, Wisdom and Sabbath together? What do they have to do with each other?
Before we get all theological, let’s just pause for a reality check. I am not preaching as an expert but as a somewhat desperate learner when it comes to Sabbath. I am more exhausted spiritually, physically and emotionally than I can remember ever being. While the love in my life has grown exponentially since I’ve become a parent, the number of hours of the day has not expanded with it. Love isn’t like pie. But time is. There is only so much to go around. Where are my parents at here? You know this, right? And while there are tremendous gifts in living multi-generationally, caring for an aging and disabled parent is profoundly and painfully poignant too. Where are my fellow elder care-takers at? You know this, right? And while I’m being honest here, this has also been a deeply challenging church year for me as we had to walk through a process of asking a congregant to leave because of abusive and threatening behavior, including against me and my own family. Abusive relationships create toxicity and trauma too many of us grapple with, right?
All of this messiness of human life is the reason the Sabbath day is not just a passing mention in the Bible, but a full on commandment by God. Because without holy rest to reconnect to divine source, spirit and Wisdom, we are ripe for burnout.
One of my mentors of sustainable living is a man I only met through his books – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. He is best known in our circles for calling us to “pray with our feet,” as in to protest as an act of prayer. He walked the frontlines of the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s arm in arm with Rev. Dr. King. But what sustained his justice practice was his prayer practice, more specifically his Sabbath practice. He wrote in his now classic book on Sabbath, “What is the Sabbath? Spirit in the form of time.” (Heschel 75)
I love that theological poetry. This is the connection between our two seasons – Pentecost and Sabbath, spirit/wisdom and rest. Sabbath – the day of rest God commands each week –is divine, IS in and of itself an incarnation of Wisdom’s Spirit. We are usually taught to understand God in entirely personalized images or entirely ethereal concepts. But Time. Let yourself sit with that idea. Time in and of itself can be the presence of the Spirit and Wisdom.
How often do we think we have to be in a certain place, like a church, to experience holiness? Or think we have to show up to worship looking or feeling a certain way to know God? Or think we have to be with the right people who believe the right things – the stuff we believe- to get close to God? All of those ideas go out the window when we think of time in and of itself as containing the possibility of rest and reconnection with the Divine Spirit of Wisdom among us.
Heschel continues: “With our bodies we belong to space; our spirit, our souls, soar to eternity, aspire to the holy.” This is the glory and the struggle of being incarnate, embodied beings. When I’m sick or in physical pain or just entirely exhausted, sometimes I joke I want to hang up my body like a dress in my closet and just take a break. Bodies are both our greatest source of pleasure and pain – which means they can be exhausting. They also have a habit of needing things. And collectively they have a terrible track record of seeking dominance, ownership and hierarchy. Our souls, on the other hand, enliven our bodies. They connect us to the divine within and beyond this realm. They are like a wifi hotspot to the divine, the eternal.
Sabbath is the time the two – body and soul – commune. As I’ve realized how finite my energy and time actually are, I’m realizing that Sabbath practice is, to put it crassly, a bit like the password needed to actually connect the body to the proverbial wifi network of the divine. You can’t get there otherwise.
We also can’t get to liberation and healing without holy rest. There is a ministry lead by a group of predominantly Black Femmes in Atlanta called the Nap Ministry. As they say, “the toxic systems we live under don’t want you to embrace rest and slowing down. Rest has the power to connect and heal us at a soul level. A healed mind and heart can imagine and practice a new way to liberation.” In other words, rest is a form of resistance.
I am just a couple of weeks away from a time of rest as resistance to all that threatens burn out in my life from the macro-political to the micro-dynamic. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I will be taking the idea of Sabbatical pretty literally, exploring themes of Sabbath and embodiment.
Pastor Rebecca and Matta will be leading a series on Sabbath – both in some Tuesday evening sessions and in regular worship on Sundays – this summer in parallel with my time away. I want to share with you some of what I will be up to in my time of Sabbatical in hopes it inspires your own practices and thinking this summer.
The Christian tradition is rooted in around the communion table at which we eat together in ritual. I will be exploring this practice – it’s history and its implications for current church life – through study and, well, practice. I’ll be reading In the Beginning Was the Meal: Social Experimentation and Early Christian Identity by Rev. Dr. Hal Taussig.
Here is a summary: “What were the origins of the Eucharist? …In the Augustan age, [these] common meals became the sites of dramatic experimentation and innovation regarding social roles and relationships, challenging expectations regarding gender, class, and status. [Eucharist]… was … a swirl of experimentation [of] the early Christian assemblies, with their “love feasts” and “supper of the Lord.” I will also have the honor of assembling a group of my colleagues from seminary in a retreat with Dr. Taussig to experiment and practice and study for a few days.
Then I will be cooking and sharing meals with various contingents of my own beloveds to experiment with what emerges from this reading and retreat. I’ll be using the cookbook called Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat as my study tool and guide. I encourage you to consider how your daily meals might also become a time and practice of Sabbath this summer.
I will also be exploring CrossFit as a form of religious community. Christian tradition is rooted in incarnation and embodiment of the Divine among us. Increasingly, my generation is exploring this understanding consciously and unconsciously through communal fitness practices rather than church. I will be exploring the ways that my generation is finding this kind of transformative community though CrossFit. My text guide will be “How We Gather,” a study out of Harvard Divinity School exploring the patterns of community, ritual and religious life of Millennials.
In this report, they talk about CrossFit workouts (programmed like liturgy across the thousands of gyms in the US) as rituals desperately needed by Millennails: “Ritual gives us a rhythm in a world where we’ve lost so many of the traditional markers of time. We no longer have a harvest calendar. A “9 to 5” [job] no longer really exists. So much of our life is completely independent of the natural world around us, and ritual is about bringing part of that rhythm [back].”
But they/we don’t just need rituals, but rituals done in community: “People come because they want to lose weight or gain muscle strength, but they stay for the community. It’s really the relationships that keep them coming back. That need for community was something that was so strong in our research. People were longing for relationships that have meaning and the experience of belonging rather than just surface-level relationships. Going through an experience that tests you to your limits, especially if you’re doing partner or team-based fitness routines, there’s an inevitable bonding that comes from experiencing hardship together.”
In the last few months, I joined a CrossFit gym in Minneapolis. I will be working out with this crew and also interviewing some coaches about their community leadership and model of individual and collective transformation. I’m curious what we can learn about religious leadership and community for today and the future from them. How might you too move your body in community or as a desperately needed time to be a lone as a part of your Sabbath practice this summer? Something to ponder and explore.
Welcome to this season of Sabbath, of basking in the holiness of time to rest and reconnect with the Divine. It is a commandment from God. It is a communion with Wisdom/Spirit. It is a day we owe ourselves and each other. “Even when the soul is seared, even when no prayer can come out of our tightened throats,” says Rabbi Heschel, “the clean, silent rest of the Sabbath leads us to a realm of endless peace, or the beginning of an awareness of what eternity means. Eternity utters a day [we call the Sabbath].” (Heschel 101).