It has been over a month now since I preached my last sermon at Washington Plaza. It's very different life from how it was only a few months ago when I was asked to stand in pulpit every week and give an account of my faith while lovingly finding a way to be a presence of care for others. And although I jumped back into the pulpit last week as a guest preacher, my life in general has been lived out of the spotlight and I think will continue to be such for a bit longer. Sabbatical 2013 is on full-time.
Now, I go to church on Sunday and sit in the back pew and get up to walk out the door when the pastor says amen. I blog and write for online publications less, instead focusing on my goal of finishing my book manuscript by March 31. I spend more time than I have had at the gym. Maybe a 5K is in my future soon?
People who know me well ask one of two questions:
1. Are you bored?
2. What are you doing next?
These are normal questions to ask. But I'm not very good at answering them. Sometimes I miss the pace of what my life used to be, but most of the time I don't. As much as I am cheering on my favorite clergy pals and churches for whom I have rich histories, I have no envy of "I wish I were you." (Well, of course I could feel differently by Easter). And for the record, I no I have no 10 step plan for what is coming next.
I've had several pastor types say to me recently, "I could never do what you are doing. I could never leave what I know by choice." But, I made this big leap with Kevin's full support and I need to tell you that I'm still alive (imagine that?)! I'm also breathing, smiling, laughing and crying through the joys and sorrows of life just like everyone does, maybe though a richer level than before.
In taking this time to learn to exist and move in this world without a title or a traditional job to call my own, it has its scary moments of course. Sabbatical times are not for those who like hanging on to ego, public recognition, or even a "can-do" spirit.
I need to tell you that I worry if I stop blogging all the time many of you will stop reading altogether (and I like this conversation we're having). I worry no one will ask me to write for them again if I don't keep reminding them to ask me. I worry I might just have a completely new take on the church as an outsider that may never allow me to come back as the insider I once was. But in all of these things, Sabbath time is all about letting go and having faith that as you move through the rhythms of each day more will be revealed.
One of my favorite Sabbath authors, Wayne Muller writes:
“All life requires a rhythm of rest. . .
There is a rhythm in the way day dissolves into night, and night into morning. There is a rhythm as the active growth of spring and summer is quieted by the necessary dormancy of fall and winter. There is a tidal rhythm, a deep, eternal conversation between the land and the great sea. ”
Instead of moving slowly and listening to these rhythms, it would be much easier to start marketing myself for what is next (I know how to do that). Or, try to find some part-time job so that I could say I'm doing ___. (I know how to do that too). Or, even to be online every five minutes posting my accomplishments ("See, look at me, I'm as busy as you, just not getting paid for it right now") so others can validate my existence. But, such is not Sabbath's way.
Sabbath's way is about saying "no" so that we can say "yes" with greater confidence.
There are times of course when I feel guilty about my place of privilege-- I know countless others would love to have this kind of time a part from the norm and their financial, family or other life circumstances simply won't allow such. But, I have to keep reminding myself that Sabbath is a gift. God gave me this gift. It would just as wrong not to receive it.
And, as much as I would just like to crawl in a cave with my most favorite people in the world and call this Sabbath, life (or least how I experience it) can not be totally lived in a bubble. There are bills to pay, food to prepare, clothes to wash, events to go to that help support the work of my husband, and people who come out of nowhere and hit my car while I was minding your my business and as a result now require long and dramatic conversations with insurance companies to get it fixed. As we all experience, life happens. Even in Sabbath, we can't control.
Thanks for stopping by to sit in Sabbath with me for just for just a bit. Now, out of the spotlight I go again.
We worry about what we will eat for dinner when we come home. We worry if our children will finally eat tonight what we put in front of them.
We worry about what traffic will be like on the way to work. We worry about the fastest routes to take.
We worry that we aren't where we'd like to be in our lives by whatever age we find ourselves in. We worry what is next and how we get there.
We worry about a friend's reaction to this and that and how it might cost us a beloved friendship. We worry about being lonely.
We worry our parents are getting older with declining health. We worry about how we will have the means to take care of them when the worst news comes.
We worry that we won't make it to the movie on time and the show will be sold out. We worry then, what will we do for fun on a Friday night without our preferred means of entertainment.
We worry that our best laid plans will all go awry without a plan B automatically in place. We how we will cope when all feels lost around us.
We worry. Worry creeps into our every moment faster than we might ever recognize-- both in the minor details of our lives and the big stuff too.
But, when we do what resources of our faith tradition and practices are we deigning help from? How might we be robbing our constant worried filled lives with some of the best resources for calmer waters?
In the Christian tradition, Jesus had a lot to say about worrying. The most famous of sayings on this topic came from his Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew 6:
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
Such as always been one of my favorite and least favorite scriptures. It a comfort for Jesus to have acknowledged and cared about that which most of us do all the time, but annoying too. It is always easier to worry than it is to surrender, isn't it? I recently heard a member of my congregation say as we were having a discussion on this topic, "What would I do with myself and my time if I didn't worry?" Good question. It seems that the whole "non-anxious" presence is not a state of being that comes naturally or enjoyably to us. We might just have to re-think our dispositions in the world if space in our brain was opened up from letting go of worries.
A hymn-- a great hymn of the Christian tradition that often comes with baggage for many is "I Surrender All." Such is certainly the case for me. Only until recently did I allow it on the "songs we are allowed to sing in church" list during worship planning. "I Surrender All" draws to mind images of emotional manipulation, long "alter calls" at revivals, and on the type of Christian worship that makes me want to pull my hair out in disgust. But, even with such a history, it's a hymn whose words are a powerful testimony of what God asks us to do in our all-consuming problems. And this is: let go of them.
All to Jesus I surrender;
all to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust him,
in his presence daily live.
I surrender all, I surrender all,
all to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.
2. All to Jesus I surrender;
humbly at his feet I bow,
worldly pleasures all forsaken;
take me, Jesus, take me now.
3. All to Jesus I surrender;
make me, Savior, wholly thine;
fill me with thy love and power;
truly know that thou art mine.
(See aren't the lyrics not as bad as you might have remembered?) What powerful words!
Surrendering everything is one giant leap from the worry world in which most of us live all the time. But what if we began with just one worry? What if we said for a day, "I will not worry about ____ today. I will leave it in God's hands. I will trust God to be present to me and provide for all of my needs."
Because in the end, just as Corrie Ten Boom said in her book, Clippings from my Notebook: "Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength" we've all got a lot of holy encounters waiting for us in life. And we truly don't want worry keeping us from them. Do we? So, for me, for today, I am choosing to let go and mean the words when I say them, "I Surrender All." What about you?
Luke 1: 57-66 (CEB)
57When the time came for Elizabeth to have her child, she gave birth to a boy. 58Her neighbors and relatives celebrated with her because they had heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy. 59On the eighth day, it came time to circumcise the child. They wanted to name him Zechariah because that was his father’s name. 60But his mother replied, “No, his name will be John.”
61They said to her, “None of your relatives have that name.”62Then they began gesturing to his father to see what he wanted to call him.
63After asking for a tablet, he surprised everyone by writing, “His name is John.”64At that moment, Zechariah was able to speak again, and he began praising God.
65All their neighbors were filled with awe, and everyone throughout the Judean highlands talked about what had happened. 66All who heard about this considered it carefully. They said, “What then will this child be?” Indeed, the Lord’s power was with him.
Earlier in Luke chapter one, we read that Zechariah was serving his tour of duty of a lifetime in the temple making the offering in the Holy of Holy place. And, it was in the temple that he heard the word of the Lord that was unthinkable to him: he was going to have a son.
According to Jewish tradition at the time, it was expected that the first-born son would carry on the family tradition by receiving the surname of his father.
But, this would not be; for, as unusual as the circumstances of the birth were (Elizabeth and Zechariah were well past childbearing years), the name would be just as unusual. The angel Gabriel said the baby would be named John which means "God has been gracious." And, nine months later came this babe.
So, according to Mosaic law, on the 8th day of life, when the circumcision was to take place, this surprising name choice was made known in the neighborhood too. For when Elizabeth said the baby's name was to be John and Zechariah affirmed the choice, the neighbors who had come to celebrate with them in this ritual practice were surprised. Probably saying something like: "What are they thinking bucking tradition in this manner?" as verse 61 (NSRV) records the response of the onlookers probably spoken in an accusatory tone to this new family of three, "None of your relatives has this name. [John]."
And not only was the actual community surprised at Elizabeth's childbearing abilities and the name given, but the prophecy declared over this newborn child's life.
Verse 66 says about the babe, "for the Lord's hand was with him." And, at this time in scripture history, you just didn't say that about anybody.
For even more than usual, God was in this birth as answer to prayers like none other. Baby John was called out to play a crucial role in salvation history though the details of it all would be determined over time.
So with the surprise of all of this intact, what does the story say was the response? Seems like a silly question doesn't it because surprises usually make people happy, make people want to go out of their houses skipping, or make one break out into song like they are living in a musical, right?
But if we consider the full context of Zechariah, this fellow had every reason not to be joyful about this surprise.
Sure, it was great that he finally held that son in his arms that he'd be hoping for. But, in his elder years, if his left brain was turned on, he knew that he probably was not going to live long enough to see his son do all the things every father hoped to experience with his child. It might have been too old to watch John learn how to throw or chop wood or say words from the Torah by himself much less gotten married. And so Zechariah, could have said, "God if you had just brought me this blessing just a little bit sooner, THEN, I could be happy about it. But, now, I just can't."
Also, Zechariah could have been a poor looser about the choice of name. He finally gets the son he had dreamed about having for years and he doesn't get to name him after himself. John would not be "marked" as his according to culture, no one would have automatically known he was Zechariah's child. And, so Zechariah could have barked at God saying: "Ok God, don't expect me to happy about it."
And, furthermore, Zechariah, like any proud dad, could have refused celebration because his son was not THE one, God's choose servant-- the Emmanuel God with us that they had all been hoping and praying would arrive. Just like any baseball coach dad or soccer mom, whose son is good but not that good to play on the all-stars team, Zechariah could have complained: "I am glad John is here, but I am not going to thank you for him because, you could have given me more. If you were going to all the trouble to bring about this one miraculously, why could not have my boy been the Messiah?"
But instead of being so uptight and self-seeking in exactly what kind of blessing that God needed to bring him, Zechariah took the path not so widely traveled called joy.
He accepted what he has been given as good. He didn't cling so much to the lost dreams of the past so that he couldn't take in this blessing. And, ultimately he allowed God to bless him so that there was nothing left to do but to sing for joy.
As I read and re-read the words of this Psalm known formally as the Benedictus which follows, what I couldn't help but notice is that the description was not about Zechariah. It wasn't about his son, funny name or not.
And it wasn't about the neighbors who came to coo and woo at the baby. This song of proclamation of a birth was not about any of the typical things you'd expect a first time dad to shout about.
Rather, the joy that Zechariah just had to proclaim was about God.
It was about how God had remembered a people who long thought they were forgotten.
It was about how faith in God could connect the past to the present.
It was about being so full of thanksgiving for God's presence that he just couldn't be held back.
How easy it is this time of year to think that joy comes in packages, that joy comes in the perfect holiday parties or the perfect family memories, but what if we allowed ourselves like Zechariah to be surprised for how the ways of joy led us too?
No matter what we see on the surface of our lives, joy can find us. It can find us if our Christmas tree is big and beautiful or if it looks like Charlie Brown's.
Joy can find us if we bake cookies or we eat store-bought ones.
Joy can find us if we watch "It's a Wonderful Life" for the 20th time or boycott tv altogether.
Joy is not about this season and all its gifts, joy ultimately is about God: the One who gives us hope that our life is greater than just what we see or can even understand right now.
So where are the corners of joy in your life that need to be uncovered? No matter what is going on in your life. No matter how difficult some circumstances are. No matter how out of hope you feel, I know deep down somewhere there is joy to be let loose for God is with us. And so, surprise, joy can find even you!