holy habits for Lent: sabbath-keeping

Whatever is foreseen in joy

Must be lived out from day to day.

Vision held open in the dark

By our ten thousand days of work.

Harvest will fill the barn; for that

The hand must ache, the face must sweat.


And yet no leaf or grain is filled

By work of ours; the field is tilled

And left to grace.  That we may reap,

Great work is done while we’re asleep.


When we work well, a Sabbath mood

Rests on our day, and finds it good.

                                                                                 – Wendell Berry


This farmer poet’s little piece about the gift of and need for sabbath has arrested me since I heard it a week ago at a Courage to Lead retreat day (go to www.couragerenewal.org for information about the wondrous work of Parker Palmer, a courageous, sabbath-keeping Quaker teacher).  I am arrested by it because it stops me in my tracks and keeps me honest.  I am arrested by sabbath each and every time I let myself hear what true sabbath-keeping might mean for my life.

Today, my regular day off, begins with journalling, meditation and silence – my intended sabbatical practice on my working days.  Although there is a part of me (the pastor) that thinks sabbath needs to be “anything that is NOT religious, the spiritual (the human) part of my life needs this daily rhythm, this routine of “returning and rest” so that “I shall be saved” (Isaiah 30:15).

Even on my day off, I need salvation.  And today my sabbath-keeping includes a visit to the dentist to keep a part of my body safe; a time of reading and reflection, which saves my self from working too hard; and a visit to the movie theater, one of my favorite forms of re-creation.  Hopefully I will exercise and nap, two other favorite forms of sabbath-keeping that always bring some good rest to my day.  Whatever brings me some form of healing ointment, some salve, some balm, some health – whenever I practice shalom (wholeness), I practice shabbat (sabbath).

Yet it is still hard for me, a person who has practiced for most of my adult life, to believe that my practice will not make me perfect.  My imperfect practice is imperfect in ways that are different from yours.  Yet as human beings we share the inevitabitlity of imperfection.   Why is it so hard for us to believe that NO leaf or grain or budget or sermon or class or task is “filled by work of ours?”  Why do we keep tilling the field, thinking, “Well, grace is nice, God, but why don’t you give it to someone who really needs it?”

Today, while I practice sabbath imperfectly, I pray that God would help me (and you) pry open the fingers of our need for control and perfection.   Open the hands of our minds and hearts, O God.  Help us believe that even (especially!) when we sleep, we will reap.


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