Presented on-line January 31st 2021 by Rev. Fiona Heath
It is astonishing to me that it is still January! This has felt like the January of 10,000 days. A ceaseless month of bad news and worse news and endless staying home under grey skies.
Yesterday’s blue skies and sunshine felt like a sign that hurray, finally this endless January 0f 2021 is actually ending. And with February comes the arrival of my three month sabbatical.
A gift and grace of UU ministry that is an opportunity for all of us.
A sabbatical is a rest, like the sabbath day of Jewish and Christian traditions. In the ancient Hebrew tradition people were encouraged to rest every seventh day. Custom said that every seven years farm land was to be left fallow, and every forty nine years debts were to be forgiven and slaves and prisoners freed.
These customs help people and systems break free of entrenched routine and create change. They offer a collective reset which helps new perspectives to arise and relationships to reorient.
The Sabbath day is a small personal reset opportunity – to help you lift your gaze from routine and catch a glimpse of the greater whole and connect to your spirit.
Sundays used to be a day of rest for most people in Canada. Businesses and stores were closed, and there were few public or commercial activities. In my lifetime, that societal rest period shrank to Sunday morning and has now mostly disappeared. Sundays are a prime activity day for kids – from hockey to gymnastics – as well as a shopping day and work day for many.
This isn’t a terrible change – after all for most Sunday is just part of the weekend. Muslim and Jewish people hold different days as Sabbath without any societal accommodation.
But I think we all lose something when we aren’t intentional about sabbath time. Especially now that time stretches endlessly under the pandemic restrictions.
Our days are both broken up into minutes and hours as we follow the clock for zoom meetings and appointments and meal times and also diffused into an endless sameness as we stay at home each and every day. For those who go into workplaces it must feel like there is no end in sight to this odd distanced and masked time.
It’s no wonder January feels 10,000 days long while at the same I also feel like it can’t possibly be a full year since the first cases of COVID-19. Where did the year go?
For me, much of it went into Netflix.
Ritualizing some of our time “keeps time from becoming all of the same anxious pace and piece” (Donna Schaper, Sabbath Sense). For many of us, as our space in the world has shrunk to home under the onslaught of global crisis after crisis, time has become all the same anxious pace – stretched and slow. Anxiety is exhausting.
Ritualizing some of our time, creating moments of Sabbath, helps to shape our days and weeks with intention, providing markers of meaning. We need that ancient practice of the Sabbath – moments outside of ordinary time – to restore our flagging spirits. The intentional resets help us cope with the endless sameness greyness of lockdown living.
I hear from many of you that the Sunday service has become a highlight of the week because it is a moment – a ritualized time and place for us all to be together. It’s good that this service is a sabbath rest for many of you – my hope is always that you leave feeling better then when you arrived.
You can also create your own small moments of sabbath – regular morning meditation or reading poetry in the evening. Exercise can be a reset – that change of pace that refreshes. Or you may have a monthly or seasonal ritual that helps you mark the journey of the year.
What matters is being intentional, of turning away from your to-do list. Turning off the phone or radio or tv or laptop.
Sabbath is the moment you press pause on the daily routine and let yourself shift into being – being open to yourself, open to the greater force of life on earth, open to the divine.
It’s kind of like putting on Mr. Roger’s cardigan – you know when he takes off his jacket and puts on that cardigan you are entering a special time – a time of dreams and kindness and insight. A time just beside ordinary time, just enough distance to give you a new perspective.
My hope for each of you is that you have time each day or each week to put on Mr. Roger’s cardigan and give yourself the gift of sabbath.
What is your sabbath? What takes you out of ordinary time and leaves you refreshed and renewed? How do you feel during and after?
If there is nothing now, consider what used to be a sabbath moment for you. Is this something you need in your life now?
There is a Catholic legend about Saint John the Evangelist, who was one of the disciples beloved by Jesus.
St. John is sitting outside in the sunshine, gently stroking the feathers of a tamed partridge hen.
A young hunter passes by, with his bow slung over his shoulder; he stops, and says to the older man, “How can it be that a holy man such as yourself wastes your time playing with a bird?”
The saint smiles and answers the question with a question. “As a hunter, why do you not keep your bow string taut and ready for an arrow at all times?”
“If I did that”, says the hunter, “My bow would lose its strength and flexibility and no longer serve its purpose properly.”
“Just so” says St. John. “And in the same way, I take the chance to relax, so that I might give myself more fully to my work. No person lives well who does not take the time for recreation.” (adapted from McEwan, C., World Enough & Time, pg. 222)
While I have been careful over the seven years of ministry with you to hold Monday as my sabbath day – I can feel it is time for a longer break, for a sabbatical to refresh my sense of all the good in myself and the world. The bow string of my heart is feeling overstretched, held taut too long, and in need of rest. I am surviving, not thriving.
Of course much of that is to do with the pandemic, but it is also a greater tiredness reminding me that the intangible work of ministry is made better by occasional sabbaticals.
In the Unitarian Universalist tradition, minister’s sabbaticals are times to renew, to explore, to contemplate, so we can return to community life with new inspiration and insights. Stepping away from the seasonal rhythms of congregational life allows me to gain a new perspective on the work we do together.
And it provides the same for you. You get the excitement of a fresh voice offering Sunday wisdom and new opportunities to step up and help the congregation thrive. We have managed marvellously well throughout this pandemic and you will continue to do so.
It is a gift and grace to be extended this time – and I more grateful than I can say.
I know that I will l miss all of you and all the good we do together. And I know that I need some time away.
There is a story told by explorer Bruce Chatwin of a white man many years ago hiring locals in northern Africa to carry his gear on an expedition. He pushes them hard to a fast pace. After several days the porters set down the gear and refuse to budge. The white man could not offer enough money to get them to move. The men said they had to wait for their souls to catch up. (Chatwin, B, The Songlines, p.?)
Now I haven’t been going anywhere in a hurry this year, but I do have a sense that my soul and I are a little far apart. Perhaps it has wandered off, tired of Netflix and zoom.
So this sabbatical for me is a time for my soul to catch up. To restore my wellbeing with some intentional welldoing.
I will be spending time in nature, as much as is possible; walks in the woods are deeply restorative for me. I will be spending time reading – returning to cherished sources of wisdom and finding new sources. I will be taking care of family.
I also plan to spend time reviewing our years together, looking at all we have accomplished since August 2014, and looking ahead to where we might go next. In the midst of this current uncertainty lies opportunity.
I’m going to miss all of you and this work that I love. I will be back with you at the end of April with my first service May 2nd.
I am so glad to be part of a chalice community that can say “Go away for a bit. Find renewal. We’ll be fine, and we’ll do great things together when you get back.” (Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford)
I wish all of us had employers so generous and so wise.
Thank you thank you thank you.
Blessings on all of you.