In a chapter on “Sabbath” in her book An Altar to the World, Barbara Brown Taylor confesses to “holy envy” of how the Jews practise the Sabbath, beginning with a proper Friday evening Shabbat service and the lighting of two candles, one for each of the Sabbath commandments in Torah, both of which call God’s people to be more like God.
From the creation story, she notes that while God, after six days, took pleasure in the earth as “very good,” he took the seventh day to rest, making it a “holy” day. She laments the fact that in this age of consumerism Sabbath is anything but holy—its desecration evident by keeping up our fast pace of living and actually suffering from what medical doctor Sandor Ferenczi, a Freud disciple, has labelled “Sunday neurosis.” When forcing themselves to “shut down” on this holy day, many persons suffer headaches, stomach aches and attacks of depression.
My employer, Canadian Mennonite Publishing Service, has graciously given me a four-month sabbatical—based on Sabbath—to rest from my labours after five years of service as editor and publisher. Since the conventional definition of sabbatical is a rest from work, the expectation is to engage in some sort of study or travel. I hope a series of headaches, stomach aches and bouts of depression don’t set in!
It has been telling, too, to hear my friends ask what I am going to “do” on my sabbatical. While the question is well-meaning, it implies that I will be engaged in some kind of activity different from my normal work routine. While that is partially true—and actually required by my employer’s sabbatical policy—I am looking forward mostly to rest: deliverance from the bondage of the computer, keyboard and phone; to meetings; to deadlines; to the drumbeat of the dreary 24-hour news cycle.
For the Jews, the second candle of Shabbat is a reminder of their ancient delivery from Egyptian slavery, from bondage in a land that was not home. The candle announces, says Brown Taylor, that “made in God’s image, you, too, are free.” The Sabbath symbolism and the practice, based on Leviticus 23:3-7, was not only God’s gift to those who have voices to say how tired they are; it is also a gift to the tired fields, the tired vines, the tired vineyard, the tired land.
“Sabbath is the great equalizer,” she continues, “the great reminder that we do not live on this earth but in it, and that everything we do under the warming tent of this planet’s atmosphere affects all who are woven into this web with us.”
How instructive and how wonderful a reminder, even though this ancient divine wisdom is agrarian-based. Much of what I want to do during my time away is to gather new perspective; to gain new appreciation for family, friends and the faith community; to commune with nature and to observe the birds of the air and the beasts of the field—how they “toil not,” Jesus said, “yet your heavenly Father feeds them”; to spend time doing nothing, enjoying the silence and meditating.
In short, to take a break from “doing,” switching over to “being.” It won’t be easy. It will take discipline to wind down; to change pace; to talk less and listen more; to write poetry, not editorials; to chase away the demons and invite the angels; to focus on blessing and not the curses of a world in turmoil.
Pray with me that it will be a true sabbatical—resting, restoring, renewing and resisting motion.
Interim editors named
Ginny Hostetler, web editor, and Barb Draper, editorial assistant, have been appointed interim co-editors during editor and publisher Dick Benner’s four-month sabbatical, beginning Oct. 1 through Jan. 30, 2015. The two staff members will carry on the day-to-day duties of managing production and editorial matters, and either write or assign editorials during this time. All circulation (subscription) and financial matters will continue to be handled by Lisa Jacky, administrative assistant in circulation and finance.
--Posted Sept. 24, 2014
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