At this church year’s first Midday Meeting last Wednesday, we had a learning experience — I hope for me as much as for everyone else involved.
I was hoping that the Chinese students that were visiting me with my friend David, might come, and we could talk about realities in modern day China. But when they arrived Tuesday night, I realized that wasn’t going to work for a number of reasons. So I had to come up with a fallback plan, an option two, and fast.
(Often, folks, our first plans don’t work out. And more often than I really want to admit — because it calls into question the accuracy of my powers of choosing — what or how I thought things would go at first gets scuttled. But here’s a lovely example of grace: after I get over myself and on with what’s next, I often find that the second choice, that which I didn’t want to do at first, turns out to be a much better option than my first idea ever could have been???)
So I decided we would pretend we were just back at school, and the opening question for the Midday Meeting would be “What did you do on your summer vacation?” There was some playfulness in this set up as the average age of folks that come to the Midday Meeting is… well, I don’t know, and I don’t want to guess or get in trouble! Let’s just say that it’s higher than retirement age. So that the make believe of us being back at early September’s beginning of school — sometimes it’s fun to think back of something that was so much a part of your formative years and is now also a long time ago.
People got to report out a whole bunch of different destinations and activities. It would be interesting to report them here, but, of course, everyone’s story is their own to tell, so if you really want to know, you need to ask, Barbara, Meg, Mark, Ellie, Margaret, Jim, Jackie, Gerry, David, Bernie, Carolyn and me. Or you might try this with another group you are part of. Or just start asking other individuals you know. When it comes to reflections, they are almost always as interesting for the person being asked as for the hearer. Reflection works like that.
Next came a longer horizon question: “what, in your whole life, was your favorite, or a favorite vacation?” It was a big question, as collectively, we were looking at over 700 years of people’s lives. Again, people had very poignant memories to share. And have done a lot of things that might surprise you.
Particularly interesting were the couples and how they remembered or valued different occasions. Even more moving to me — and from their desire to keep meeting, those involved in the Midday Meetings as well — is how much having found a venue at church for sharing our lives adds to our fellowship and experience of church as a whole, maybe even to our faith. It’s sort of sad really, when you realize that you can sit right next to someone in the pew every Sunday for years, and hardly know anything about them.
You could also ask a group or someone this second question, about their favorite vacation. There might even be some positive reflective value in asking it of yourself. But one could also kill two birds with one stone by getting more involved at church. Reflection is sort of built into what we do and who were are, and ironically, it happens much more when you are involved beyond worship. Join one of our fellowship or service or leadership groups — not just for the added dates on your calendar, but for the relationships and the sharing that will ensure. It will change your faith.
Finally, after everyone had shared a favorite vacation memeory, I divulged the goal of my line of questioning: “Our annual, summer vacations and our favorite vacations can be pretty powerful. Blessings really. But God never meant for us to enjoy such breaks in our routine or getaways from our daily life just once a year, or once in a lifetime. Our tradition is clear, from the beginning, that God recommends to us a weekly practice of Sabbath keeping that was originally fashioned not for humans, but for the Divine.” (And that’s saying even more than humans were not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for humans!)
I recommended to everyone that they establish some routine of Sabbath keeping. As we are at our Jewish neighbors High Holy Days, I recommend that you ask an observant Jew about their experience of Sabbath as a gift God gives. (If you don’t know anyone to ask, you can seek out the home liturgy for Shabbat, where proscriptions against work are described as God’s gift. Or, I once read, but can no longer find, a beautiful description of personal Sabbath keeping — I think it was a memory of Marc Chagall’s mother or wife. If anyone can help me find this again, I’ll share it with others!)
David and I shared how our former colleague, Geoffrey Black, the recently retired General Minister and President of the UCC, was such an enthusiastic advocate for Sabbath-keeping as a spiritual discipline. And good at it too!
You don’t have to get too radical, I think, to create a meaningful and effective personal tradition. I mean, if you want to not drive your car, or not turn on the stove on Sundays… if that works for you, great.
But it could be simpler, and less demanding. And depends on the rest of your daily life — what you need a break from! So our Sabbath disciplines may be different depending on whether we live alone or in community. Whether we are go-goers or sometimes need more motivation. Sabbath discipline is not taking on something onerous and hard to follow-through on. It’s about finding something that will come to you each week as a relief and with some capacity to renew.
…Asking that the whole family is together for dinner on Sundays.
An hour of sitting still and listening to music you love.
A time when you literally and figuratively put down your “to do” list.
Becoming aware of and watching sunset.
Including your favorite prayer before meals or bedtime.
Taking a nap while it’s still daylight.
Writing a note to someone you’ve been out of touch with, or making it the day you call your out of town folks.
Taking a walk just for a walk’s sake.
Coming to church.
Our Sabbaths will be as different and diverse as our lives and our needs and our selves.
It’s not the activity or lack of activity itself. Rather it is the commitment to offer yourself some break, a rest, a blessing, because that’s how God means for life to be for all of us. And because life changes when we can remember that.
You won’t be perfect at keeping your Sabbath rest or “interruption of routine” traditions. Where to describe us did anyone suggest we’re perfect? Certainly not God! It’s not about following your discipline without any deviation or even failure.
But — here’s the thing — if you never set for yourself such a goal, you’ll surely not know the blessing that God offers weekly in finding a Sabbath. And we risk — in the crush of all modern life prescribes for us to do and in how little time we often feel we have — missing something elemental about how God means for us to experience and enjoy the lives we are given.
Maybe the title of this E-pistle should have been “Making and Keeping a Break to Find a Blessing?”
See you in church,