Showing posts with label sabbath. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sabbath. Show all posts

Sunday, August 30, 2015

a glimpse of rest

I had the privilege of hearing a great sermon about the importance of taking a sabbath this evening. Mark talked about how the moments of rest are an integral part of the creative process: In Genesis, the seventh day is one of the days of creation, not an extra day after a six-day creation was complete. In music, it is the rests that shape the phrases and create beauty rather than cacophony.

In the breakneck pace of twenty-first century American life, and especially the diffused nature of academic work, it's sometimes hard to imagine what sabbath rest looks like. For me, it looks like this:

dissertation shelfie
That, dear readers, is all the books and articles related to my dissertation on the shelf, which really only happens on sabbath.

Most days, they look more like this:

piles like this populate floor near my desk
Over the course of the working week, the piles around my desk multiply and grow precariously taller.

When I'm done working on Saturday, I save and close my working dissertation file and minimize the browser window with related websites. My teaching materials find their way into my backpack, and the sea of books and articles surrounding my desk return to their shelves.

And then I rest.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I'm Kind of in Awe of Fasting

The Velveteen Rabbi is one of my favorite blogs to read because Rachel Barenblatt's introspective representation of her own spiritual journey inspires me to take a closer look at mine (and, if we're being honest, because it makes me picture a velveteen rabbit with tzitzit and tefillin).
Recently, Rachel wrote about "Approaching Av....and Ramadan" and getting ready for the fast and introspective prayer to come. Fasting as a spiritual practice, of course is not limited to Judaism and Islam, but neither is it part of mainstream Christianity.
In  high school, one of my Jewish friends was nervous that she couldn't make it through Yom Kippur, so she talked fasting strategy with her dad. One key to a successful fast, he told her, is to eat lighter on the days ahead, so that the stomach can shrink a bit. The Muslim student in our class bemoaned the challenge of observing Ramadan, though she was happy to be excused from participation in phys ed. I was confused by this foreign (to me) practice.
In college, I had passing contact with Ramadan because of the Kay Spiritual Life Center's shared worship space. We Methodists rearranged some of weekly activities so that the Muslim students could share their evening meal. Because the allocation of time and space at Kay is finely tuned to allow each faith group private use of sacred spaces, this was one of the few times I saw our Muslim friends in fellowship with one another. I could see the community that Ramadan cemented among them, but I still didn't get their holiday.
When I was first teaching, my shadow tutor and one of my students both observed Ramadan. Since the sun set during our evening class two days a week, for that month we had small snacks during the class. And, because the other students and I were curious, Ayrene and Misha talked about their physical and spiritual experiences of fast. I finally started to get it, and I'm in awe of their dedication.
The discipline of fasting is less about the physical experience than about the opportunity for spiritual growth. Time not spent on cooking, eating, and tidying up can be used for prayer. Physical discomfort can be a call to pray without ceasing. Radical fasting marks out a time as other than ordinary. The balance between energy spent on spirituality and energy spent on secular details shifts in favor of the former. My Lenten fasts, prayerfully chosen though they are, pale in comparison to the discipline of fasting for Tish b'Av, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan. I've thought about observing a total fast for a day or a daylight hours fast for a week, but I struggle to incorporate it into Methodist tradition in a meaningful way. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Take a Break

Take a Break
This was presented as a sermon at Jones United Methodist Church on Sunday, March 7, 2010. They asked me to speak a little bit about my time in Brazil in January of this year.

As you all know, I love to travel. Anywhere. To the woods, to the city, to Siberia, to Germany. Offer me a ticket, and I'll go. There is nothing like steeping myself in another culture to prompt reflection on the way I live my life at home and to ultimately live my life better. Let me give you a couple of examples:When I visited France in 1999, I learned about the pleasure of shopping for my daily bread and fruit from the baker and the farmer who produce them and also about the more intense experience food can provide when you enjoy a restaurant meal slowly, one small portion at a time. When I visited Russia in 1997, I learned how 5 people can comfortably live in an apartment with only four small rooms. The keys are having just what you need, assigning everything a place, and always putting it there. Where there isn't room for impulse buying and needles accumulation, you won't do it. I value these lessons, and I know that travel will always teach me something if I am willing to learn. So, when Andrews University, where I am an alumna and an adjunct professor asked me if I would go to their Brazilian sister institution UNASP to teach in an English Immersion program for a month, I said, “Where do I sign?”

Brazil is a beautiful country. The tropical birds, flowers, and trees are amazingly different than what we find here with vibrant colors, giant blooms, and cacophonous songs. Like the exuberance of the flora and the fauna, the Brazilian people are exuberant with their smiles, their music and their hospitality. They took such good care of me at UNASP that I sometimes felt like a queen. But that's not the lesson I brought home.

The lesson from my time in Brazil that I want to share with you this morning is about my learning to value the observance of Sabbath for the rest that it offers. Having grown up with Jewish friends and studied and worked with Adventists, the concept of Sabbath was not new to me. I have seen a variety of ways to observe Sabbath ranging from resignedness to joy. I got the resignedness. God commands it, so we do it. Period. End. But I didn't get the joy. I didn't understand how my fellow students who, I knew, were just as buried under work and as behind on papers as I was, were so grateful for a day that they couldn't get any work done. I wasn't comprehending the gift of Sabbath, just the duty.

Because I was living in the dormitory at UNASP, I lived in the rhythm of Brazilian Adventist life. My days in the intensive immersion program began at 6 AM and often didn't end until after 11. I planned, I taught, I graded. I shared meals with my students and participated in the program's planned recreation like swimming and choir. It was both exhilarating and exhausting. By our after lunch class on Friday of the first week, both the professors and the students were drained. Thankfully, classes ended early on Friday so everyone had some free time before the beginning of Sabbath at sundown. We American professors used the time for an outing, wanting to see as much of Brazil as we could, something, anything outside of the UNASP campus. The students, on the other hand, used the time for recreation and to prepare for Sabbath. When we gathered again at dinner, we professors were on the rumpled side, wearing the clothes we had put on that morning, happy to have had an adventure, but still tired. The students, on the other hand, had used the time to shower and change into Sabbath clothes. Some of the girls curled, braided, or straightened their hair. All in all, they came to supper looking more relaxed than they had when our class ended. The mood of relaxation was palpable in the air.

After supper came Friday vespers. Saturday morning brought worship and Sabbath school, and Saturday afternoon was a wide open block on our schedule. Any planning or grading or homework to be done for Monday could wait for Saturday evening or even Sunday. At lunch after worship on Saturday, we chatted about what we would do with our afternoons. The consensus was sleep.

By respecting the customs of my hosts and participating in this observance of the commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, I experienced the gift that God gives us when we tithe one seventh of our time to Him. The day of Sabbath rest and relaxation was a sharp contrast to the energy and effort of the other six days. On Friday afternoon, I was exhausted and wondering how I would make it through the next week, but by Sunday morning, I was refreshed and ready to prepare and to grade and to teach again on Monday.

The new challenge has become bringing this lesson home with me and transform my Sunday into a Sabbath. I am not, after all, an Adventist, and I don't live in a world which supports this kind of Sabbath observance. My world consists of mainline protestants and Catholics for whom Sabbath is a couple of hours on Sunday morning and secularists for whom Sabbath is irrelevant. For several years now, I have been committed to not engaging in commerce on Sunday because if I go shopping or to a restaurant, that means a whole team of other people had to come to work on Sunday. Many of them would like to go to church and to spend time with their families, but often refusing to work on Sunday is asking to be fired. Everybody deserves a day of rest.

Now, I am trying to keep my Sabbath more Holy at home, too. I don't deal with school related e-mails or work on my freelance work. I also don't do any schoolwork with the kids. And when it comes to housework, if I can't do it with a joyful heart, I don't do it on a Sunday. I have realized that although stressful events may drive us to our knees and lead us to talk to God about our problems, it is only in our relaxed moments that we are available to listen to God, and to let His peace fill us up. Stress consumes all that space and drives the peace out. Sabbath rest with God can restore it.

In another way, this trip to Brazil was a sort of Sabbatical for me. Yes, I was there to work, and I worked hard! But this work was different from my usual work, and there is rest in that difference. At UNASP, teaching was my only work. I did not have to be involved in administrative decisions and politics as I so often am in the ESL department at Andrews. I also didn't have to do any housework beyond keeping my things tidy so that the staff could clean my room. Having the freedom and the necessary support to be wholly a teacher was really nice. And as I return home and take up my life here in Michigan again, I am trying to be more mindful about the commitments that I make. Do I really want to add that to my list? I ask myself.

Our Lenten journey together as a church family has given me some additional insight on these ideas, too. The 15 quiet minutes with God that our text challenges us to take are like a mini-Sabbath each day. In these 15 minutes, we give ourselves permission to just be with God, and to let everything else go. Just like grading and planning can wait until after Sabbath, washing the dishes and taking out the garbage can wait fifteen minutes. This time alone with God makes room for peace, and renews the feeling of Sabbath throughout the week.

Dedicating time daily time to God with our families can also work a powerful change on the way we live our lives. With my students in Brazil our instructional day began at 7:45 with 10 minutes of worship and 5 minutes for announcements. Most other departments at UNASP began at 7:30, so as I made the 10 minute walk each morning from the dorm to the classroom, the songs of the tropical birds mingled with the songs of each department joining their voices in praise to God. It was beautiful to hear and beautiful to know that everyone on campus though divided by occupation was united in praise.

Praise services like these are democratic moments. Teachers, students, and the praise leader are all doing the exact same thing, and the academic classes begin on a different note when we all pause from our rush to arrive to spend some time together with God. We come to the tasks of the day more united and with a greater sense of calm centeredness. So, this is what I'm trying to do now both alone and with my children. In Brazil, this time was built into my day, but here at home, I have to carve it out for myself. There, we had a dedicated space that we used only for worship, but here, I have to find that same relaxed stillness among all the tasks and objects that fill and sometimes clutter my day, and I challenge you to do the same. Go ahead, give yourself permission to take a break, and dedicate that break to God. I promise that if you do, the reward will be great. Sabbath rest, daily and weekly, is as much God's gift to us as our obligation to Him.