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Today is my last day of work before holidays. I’d like to introduce you to “Holiday Nancy.” (image of a woman sitting in the sun with a fancy drink in her hand, palm trees in the background and a stack of novels in the foreground) “Holiday Nancy” is actually a soul collage card I made a number of years ago. For those of you unfamiliar with soul collaging, it’s a process for tapping into your subconscious by selecting images you are drawn to from magazines and other sources and creating a collage of them on a 5×8 inch card. Once you have made your card you “read” it by asking it a series of questions like “who are you?” and “what do you want me to know?” You can also consult the cards to access your own inner wisdom about life decisions and difficult situations you might be going through.
I meet monthly with a group of friends who make and read soul collage cards together. Some of you have participated in similar groups we have offered here at the church.
Last month as I was scrambling to get ready to meet with my group I grabbed “Holiday Nancy” to bring with me. Although I made her several years ago I had never done a reading of this card and these images but for some reason that day I was drawn to take her with me.
We always start our soul collage gatherings with a poem or a prayer. This month, my friend Lori began with a beautiful prayer that made several references to being fully alive through our relationship with Christ. The entire time she was reading the prayer I was distracted by my thoughts about what Holiday Nancy was going to have to say to me about such a serious topic. When the time came for us to ponder what we wanted to ask our cards I decided I may as well just ask Holiday Nancy “what do you have to say to me about being fully alive?” I was astonished at the words of wisdom she spoke:
“You must take time for yourself to be renewed. You need to find your joy again. When you don’t rest, you lose your joy. You need to be intentional about finding your joy and creating situations that fill your joyful spirit. To be fully alive you need sabbath time to remember who you are, to remember the goodness in which you were created and the goodness of all creation. In order to be fully alive, you need to observe sabbath.”
I was amazed that “Holiday Nancy” had such wise and reverent things to say.
Like many of you, I grew up in the era of no shopping and no sports on Sundays. We still went skiing and played pick up sports in our backyards and many people mowed their lawns and did yard work on Sundays but it was mostly a day of rest. My father grew up in the era of absolutely no activity on Sundays except reading your Sunday school papers after going to church in the morning.
The laws around Sunday shopping changed in Canada back in 1985 but it still took time for it to catch on. Today, Sunday for most people is pretty much like every other day of the week, at least when it comes to retail and leisure activities. Even Father’s Day isn’t enough to make a Sunday sacred anymore. Apparently, last week Highschool graduation ceremonies began at 11 am with no regard towards brunch plans for poor old Dad.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against Sunday shopping and sports activities or even Sunday graduation ceremonies for that matter. I am often at the grocery store on Sunday afternoons. The problem is that once we abolished the legal obligation to set Sundays apart as a holy day, we lost sight of the original purpose of keeping sabbath. On this subject, I believe that “Holiday Nancy” is right. Keeping sabbath was never meant to be an oppressive rule for us to follow. Keeping sabbath is a spiritual practice meant to root us in our deepest joy, to remind us of who we are and to honour the absolute wonder of being alive on this planet. It is a day for counting our blessings, for tending our souls and for rest and renewal.
The creation story, in which God rests on the 7th day is meant to remind us of the wisdom of building a regular rhythm of sabbath practice into our lives.
For those of us whose work is not seasonal, summer is usually the time we set aside to slow our pace, recharge our batteries and recreate. One of the things I’m noticing this year is that as we move further out of the Covid years when we had no choice but to slow down and rest, the abundance of opportunities to “re-create” are beginning to overwhelm me. Already I have plans in place to visit people I haven’t seen in the last several years due to Covid restrictions and to catch up on various activities with my family that we’ve been missing out on. If the month of June has been any indication ,these opportunities to get together and make up for lost time are not going to end any time soon. Once again, we are being oppressed by opportunity. It’s a privileged place to be for sure in but it is the reality that many of us find ourselves in.
So this summer I wonder if in addition to taking advantage of all the opportunities we have for rest and re-creation we have before us, we might also take the time to reflect on how we might reclaim a practice of sabbath in the regular rhythm and flow of our lives. That way, instead of hanging on by a thread and waiting for sabbath time to come to us, we might come to the practice of keeping sabbath with a bit more intention.
To be clear, by keeping sabbath, I don’t just mean coming to church on Sunday although for many of us, coming to church on Sunday is part of our regular sabbath practice. By keeping sabbath I mean intentionally setting time aside in our lives to rest, to appreciate, be kind and show love to ourselves, to others and to nature, to be creative, to do things that give us the kind of joy the refreshes our soul. To do these things, not so we will have the energy to start being busy all over again but because we were meant to savour our own goodness and the goodness of life itself and because we were meant to be fully alive. The bonus is that when we do this we become more grounded, calm and focused people who are more able to give to others and serve the world.
A while ago I was introduced to the work of Wayne Muller who has written a lot on the subject of Sabbath. He says that in our day and age our accidents and illnesses are what create sabbath for us. These are the times when our bodies seem to say to us if you aren’t going to rest, I am going to make you rest and it’s no way to live our lives. Ronald Rohlheiser says that hurry is actually a form of violence exercised upon time. It is an obstacle to holiness. Which is ironic because often in our haste to get more done and get more out of life we end up living less.
Often, one of the first things we have to do to create a practice of keeping sabbath is to explore our own thoughts about sabbath. For example, did the family in which you grew up practice the discipline of keeping sabbath not just in the summer but regularly throughout the year? If they did, was it a positive experience? Were there any negative associations with rest in your family? Were you ever forced to rest due to an accident or illness? What were the positives and negatives of that experience?
If sabbath keeping has been a positive experience for you in the past, you might want to set some time aside to recall those positive experiences to help you create new ones. If your past associations with rest are negative, it’s just good to be aware that those associations might be subconsciously be blocking you from giving yourself sabbath experiences now.
I’ve talked a lot over the years about how many of us believe we are only of value when we are actively contributing to society in some ways. Yet, one of the best ways to remember we are of value is to take the kind of sabbath time in which we value ourselves by reminding ourselves of the value that is inherent in each one of us.
And then, to create a sabbath plan for yourself, schedule it into your calendar. Some of us may actually be able to take an entire day a week for rest and renewal. Some of us may be able to take an hour each day of the week. Some of us might be able to take a day a month. Others might take a month a year. Take what you can and be intentional about it.
You might want to communicate your intention with someone who will hold you accountable to your sabbath practice. Create a ritual to make the beginning and ending of your sabbath to help establish it as a regular pattern.
Whatever you decide to do for your sabbath time and I do hope you will decide to do something, make sure it’s something that gives you life, makes you feel fully alive and brings you joy. Sabbath time is a gift we have been given, let’s claim it.