Weird Sabbath

This article is featured in the Growing Spiritually issue of Ministry During The Pandemic

On a recent evening, with as much physical distance as we could manage between us, a group of clergy got together to talk about the status of ministry and how we could come together in these strange times.

We worked quickly through plans to host a worship service, stitched together with pastors and leaders recording themselves leading various parts of the liturgy. We talked through the streaming logistics, how we would engage with people to receive prayer requests and how we could help resource parents already feeling the pinch of at-home formation. We discussed options for gathering virtually in smaller groups, to help give people room to share anxieties and to help reduce the disconnection we are all feeling even more profoundly within increasingly extreme social distancing.

As the meeting began to break apart and some of us stopped to have one last round of street tacos and beer together at the corner pub, the conversation shifted in a different direction.

One of us said, “You know, the other day my spiritual director said, ‘What if, instead of trying to control this season and force it to be normal and as scheduled as it can be, you just gave into being present to whatever comes moment to moment?’”

"And I thought,” they continued,” Dang, that might be what’s right for this weird Sabbath we are in.”

Those words, “Weird Sabbath,” just hung there for a moment. Those words feel like the best possible description for the strange, horrible gift of the time that we are in, this season brought on by a global pandemic that has ground economies to a halt and yet has also already brought a surprising amount of attention and creativity to social connection.

By now, we’ve all seen the videos from Italy of socially-distanced people standing on their balconies, singing together and creating music with whatever instruments they have on hand.

We’ve seen people moving their weekly poker games online, and others using the gifts of technology to host video-chat birthday parties and dinner groups.

We’ve seen local restaurants and coffee shops getting creative with food delivery, while independent bookstores are offering doorstep deliveries. 

In the midst of pandemic and social crisis, people are doing some incredibly creative things to minimize the impact, to remain as socially connected as possible, and to keep life as normal as they can.

But what if this season, as strange and tragic as it is, could also be an opportunity to let go of “normal?” What if this season could be a weird Sabbath?

We are daring to suggest that maybe what we need during this season is a greater openness to the weirdness of the time, a letting-go of the desire to reconstruct a normal schedule and pattern of daily living.

We are daring to suggest that what we might need from the church especially right now, instead of attempting to recreate normal worship schedules and group gatherings, is a reclamation of contemplative practices that will help us merely be present to what is, to ourselves, and to God’s grace in this weird Sabbath.

Many prominent church leaders have been calling us back to contemplative practice for years now. And perhaps the irony of where we are now is that we have more time and space than ever before to actually practice them again.

We need practices that will make us present to the time we are in, to our bodies in this time, and to God’s time.

So if we are going to use technology well, which we should, may we use it to create space with one another where we can share in these practices, practices like Welcoming Prayer and Examen that awaken us to pay attention to our reactions and response to God’s presence throughout each day.

We need to practice lectio divina and contemplative silence together – these practices that invite us to listen to Scripture and the silence between the words – to open ourselves to what God might be saying to us here and now.

May we resource one another and our church communities to rest in the moment as best we can with practices like these as we look away from the anxieties of news, email feeds, and stock market updates for just a few seconds each day. We need contemplative gatherings, even digital ones, that will pull us away from the social veneers of Facebook and Twitter.

We cannot deny the very real struggles of the sick and dying, the economic impact on our neighbors and communities, the exhaustion of medical care providers and those still working to keep us safe, or the potential long-term effects for us all. But we must still exercise the muscles of delight and thanksgiving we have, maybe now more than ever.

May we encourage one another to give thanks for small delights even while stuck at home with stir-crazy children, spouses, or furry friends. May we invite one another to pattern our time with the gifts of the daily office, reminding us that God’s care extends across all times and places.

May we encourage one another to take a quiet, solitary walk around in creation more often, when the feeling strikes, with the time given us in this weird Sabbath.

As we have already seen, this unexpected season affords us opportunities to connect in new ways that we could not have anticipated. Let’s lean into that opportunity as best we can. For a fair number of people living in our communities, social distance and isolation have been the norm long before a novel coronavirus came onto the scene. 

Perhaps with Weird Sabbath, we can be more mindful of isolation’s impacts and find ways to reach out to our elders, our sick, and our imprisoned in ways that we have not done so well up to now. Maybe we can equip students home from school to deliver food for high-risk persons who can’t run to the grocery or invite children to create cards for community members facing this isolating time alone. Maybe you bring out your lawn chairs and find some common space between a neighbor’s house and yours, and with a safe social distance between you, take a couple of hours to get to know one another better. Enjoy the sun and a sweet tea, and give into the weird Sabbath we have.

Our point is the same as that spiritual director’s advice: What if instead of trying to rebuild normal schedules, normal practices, and normal lives in this time, we gave in to this weird time we are given? Maybe this is the slowing down we’ve known we needed and forgotten that we asked for, albeit coming in a way we would never want or expect.

May we rediscover the gifts of contemplative rest and contemplative action. May we discover small delights in the midst of difficult struggles and hard choices. May we discover rest and renewed patterns of daily life that are not dependent on calendar events, emails, or carefully ordered coursework. May we find greater intimacy with God, with our loved ones, and with ourselves in this Weird Sabbath.

comments powered by Disqus