Today is my rest day! Much to the surprise of the general population vicars don’t just work on a Sunday! Full time ministers in the Church of England actually work six days and as Sunday clearly isn’t an option, another day has to be chosen as a day off and for me it’s Friday! Now don’t worry this isn’t going to be rant about why can’t we have two days off like most jobs allow. I don’t have a problem with the one day off thing – I knew that this was the case when I went into ministry and I am just so happy that God called me to serve Him as a priest.
I have always had a fascination for the concept of Sabbath and I put this down to my upbringing in a dual faith family where Sabbath had both different and similar connotations for my parents. My father was brought up in a strict Church of Scotland environment where Sabbath was strictly adhered to on Sundays with attendance at church and Sunday school occupying the majority of the day and there being no possibility of spending time playing football or on other frivolous leisure pursuits!
My mother is Jewish and the Sabbaths of her childhood were similarly boundaried in terms of synagogue attendance and not being allowed to do things but also steeped in the traditions of family and food. To an extent both rebelled against their respective faiths ( not least by marrying each other!) yet both ensured that I was well versed in the traditions of each faith and this included the practice of Sabbath.
I now find myself, ironically some might say, as an Anglican priest, preaching on the importance of Sabbath but perhaps failing to live that out effectively! As someone who “works” on a Sunday I have found myself reflecting on how best I can incorporate the practice of Sabbath into my life so that it has meaning and brings an added dimension to my ministry, not only through the refreshment this brings but through modelling the importance of balance to those I minister with and to.
These past few weeks of lockdown have made me think ever more deeply on what Sabbath means. In common with many people, I have found that the days of the week become confused, not helped by some unusual bank holidays! While I have continued with my working pattern and tried to put a structure to my days, I have to confess that I have felt out of sorts as many of the pillars on which I build my day have either vanished or radically changed.
I still say Morning Prayer, but alone in my study rather than with others in church. I still lead services but in front of a camera instead of my lovely church families. I still have meetings but as part of an online gathering rather than face to face. I still have pastoral encounters but through phone calls or standing at the end of the garden path.
And what of my Sabbath, my rest day? Well it still happens but rather than spending it on trips to see loved ones, I spend most of it at home and actually there is a real blessing in that. My Sabbath starts at a slower pace, I read more, I journal more, I think more. Throughout the day I am more mindful of what I am doing, I am more outwardly silent but inwardly my conversations with God are deeper. I appreciate my home more and take real pleasure in spending time there rather than rushing from place to place, trying to fit in as many coffees/ lunches/ trips to the shops as possible. Sabbath is beginning to have real meaning in my life and at last I feel as though I am actually experiencing it rather than just talking about it! I still have a long way to go! I am at heart an activist and I struggle not to do and to allow myself to simply be.
As we begin to slowly emerge from lockdown and we make plans for this new “normal” I pray that my rediscovery of Sabbath is not transitory. I pray that I can continue in this rhythm of rest and tranquility and not allow it to vanish in a flurry of post lockdown freedom. And I pray that you too are blessed by Sabbath, on whatever day that be, and that you know the refreshment and tranquility it brings.
I go among trees
“I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.
After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.”
Wedall Barry – “Sabbaths”