A Time to Rest

A Time to Rest

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
Deuteronomy 5:12-15

One sabbath he was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.’ Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.’Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand.They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Mark 2:23-3:6

Good morning, friends of St. Luke’s. I’m very happy to be with you in worship once again. I have great admiration and affection for you, and for your rector, Jessica, who is such a wonderful colleague and friend to many in the diocese, including me, and a leader among her peers. I also remember vividly the last time I worshiped with you at the height of Covid pandemic. We were on Zoom, as everyone was in those days. What struck me was the creativity and joy of the online worship experience, a tribute to both Jessica and Sarah’s leadership and characteristic of St. Luke’s.

It’s sometimes said that preachers preach the sermon that they most need to hear. That is certainly true for today, for the topic of the sermon, as you might surmise from the Scripture readings this morning, is the spiritual practice of Sabbath, a day of rest each week. I wish that I could tell you about my well-established Sabbath practice, but I can’t. But I can tell you what I’ve learned, and am learning, about the need for rest, and also, as Jesus’ example from the story read in the Gospel of Mark, how Sabbath practice, like spiritual practices, are intended to be life-giving rather than a burden, yet another example of how we fail we to measure up.

Sabbath practice was enshrined in ancient Judaism, as recorded in the earliest of biblical texts. The idea behind it couldn’t be more simple or obvious really: all human beings—indeed all of God’s creation—need to rest, just as God rested after the work of creating the heavens and the earth. And not only do we need to rest (as evidenced by our bodies’ need for sleep each day), but without it, we lose sight of the greatest joys of being alive: savoring the beauty of creation, having fun, being present to those around us.

You don’t need me to tell you that in this country and culture, the inability to rest is pervasive. Years ago, when the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, suggested that all members of The Episcopal Church adopt a common spiritual rule of life—seven spiritual practices to help us live a Jesus-centered life, I asked people across our diocese which one they struggled with the most. One of the seven practices is rest and nearly everyone who responded said that rest was the most difficult. “I’m not good at resting,” one confessed. “I was raised to work,” wrote another. “I’m not sure I know how to rest.” More poignantly, in workshops we’ve held across the diocese on the topic of elder spirituality, many people in their seventies and eighties acknowledged how hard it is to let go of an identity predominantly defined by accomplishments or productivity. Resting can feel like giving up, or like loss. “Don’t ever stop working,” my 92-year-old mother said at the time. “Life becomes so empty.”

Because so many of us are work and productivity oriented and because our lives ask so much of us—and truth be told, many of us (myself included) are accustomed and even dare I say addicted to a 24/7 life—we tend to think of our need for rest as what we need in order to be more productive at work, which, by the way, is true. But there are other, far more life-giving ways to think of the role of rest in our lives. Of course I’m sure some of you already know this and are not driven by work in the way I’m describing. If so, bear with me, and continue to be a beacon of hope for the rest of us.

On occasion, the synagogue closest to Washington National Cathedral invites me to take part in its weekly Shabbat or Friday night sabbath service. A few years ago, the senior rabbi of that synagogue and I were involved in a district-wide organizing effort in response to some horrific event–a shooting, or an incident of Islamophobia, I honestly don’t remember. What I do remember is what the rabbi said to me at the end of a long, heartbreaking week. He said, “Hang on Mariann, Shabbat is coming.” I realized that for my rabbi friend, Shabbat wasn’t a forced interruption from work in order to comply with some religious obligation or to get a good night’s sleep in order to get back to work the next day. No, the sabbath was the highlight of his week. He looked forward to it for the gift that it was.

In the words of the great Jewish mystic Abraham Joshua Heschel, “The sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of the sabbath. …The sabbath is not an interlude, but rather the climax of living: the last day in God’s creation; the first day in God’s intention.”1

If you’ve ever experienced Shabbat in a Jewish home, you know that it begins on Friday evening with a lavish, celebratory, candlelit meal, complete with prayers, song, and laughter. Then all the next day, Saturday, for practicing Jews there is a restriction against work of any kind. It’s a day for joy, for family and friends, and as Heschel writes, “to mend our tattered lives.”2

My Jewish friends who practice Shabbat are quick to tell me that they’re not rigid in their practice, taking to heart the old rabbinic teaching that Jesus himself quoted when the Pharisees criticized him for healing on the sabbath: “The sabbath was made for humankind; not humankind for the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) If the call to rest becomes one more obligation to fulfill—and an impossible one at that—or one that keeps us from acts of compassion, or makes us feel guilty when we must work on a day of rest, then it is no longer the gift that God intends but yet another way we berate ourselves for not being sufficiently spiritual. Sometimes what is needed to be done overrides the call to rest. It is not kind to chide parents of infant children, for example, that they aren’t getting enough rest. The same is true for those with unforgiving demands at work or school, and those carrying a heavy load for others.

There is also provision in Jewish sabbath practice for breaking the call to rest, particularly when a person’s life is in danger. In Jesus we see someone who clearly embodies this principle of the primacy of life, for he never shirked when called upon to do good on the sabbath, even if it involved work. Story after story in the gospels tell of him healing on the sabbath, in direct violation of the strict enforcement of Jewish teachings. As we heard in the Gospel account for today, Jesus sometimes deliberately violated sabbath teachings in the presence of religious leaders, who were quick to criticize him, as a way of demonstrating the sabbath’s true meaning. Jesus could barely contain his anger at the religious leaders’ hardness of heart. How could he not heal the man’s hand on the day meant to restore human beings to fullness of life?

But the Gospels are very clear that Jesus also took time to rest. They describe how he would go off to quiet places by himself or with his closest friends. There he would pray and restore his soul. When his rest was interrupted by a presenting need, true, he almost always set aside his own needs in order to serve others. But when the work was done, he would return to his practice of rest.

You may recall the story in the Gospel of Mark that tells of the time when Jesus and the disciples had been hard at work, teaching and healing throughout the Galilean countryside. It had been so intense for so long that they hadn’t even had a chance to eat. I have had times like that; I suspect we all have. It was also, according to the text, around the same time when Jesus learned of John the Baptist’s brutal murder at the hands of King Herod. Thus, he was also deeply grieving.

“Come away to a deserted place,” he encouraged his disciples, “and rest a while.” They got into a boat and set sail for the other side of the lake. But a large crowd saw where Jesus and his disciples were going. They hurried on foot and somehow managed to arrive on the other side of the lake ahead of Jesus and the disciples. When Jesus saw the desperation in the crowd, he put aside his need to rest and spent the day teaching and healing. Without complaint, the disciples worked at his side. At the end of the day, when the disciples were at the limits of their strength and energy, they wanted Jesus to dismiss the crowd so that they might go and find food to eat. Instead, Jesus told them to feed the hungry crowd. They only had a few fish and some bread to offer, but Jesus asked for what they had and from that offering that Jesus’ blessed before God, the multitudes were fed to satisfaction, with food left over.

The lesson for us is this: God consistently and compassionately gives us the strength to carry on when we are at or have surpassed our limits, so that we can show up when we’re tired and be present for those who need us. There’s something deeply restorative in that experience, even restful, knowing that God can accomplish in us, as St. Paul writes, far more than we can ask for or imagine. But the story doesn’t end there. After Jesus dismissed the satisfied crowd, he allowed himself at last to feel his exhaustion. Dismissing even his disciples, telling them to go on without him, he went to the mountain alone to pray and restore his soul.

The person I met for spiritual counsel once offered me a bit of wisdom regarding the tension between the presenting needs of others or of work and the spiritual imperative to rest. I was telling him about the work I often feel I must do on my weekly day off. The work feels important to me, I told him, and I don’t mind doing it. In the case of emergencies or unexpected opportunities, it doesn’t feel that there is a choice involved. Often projects require more time than I can give during my work week, and like so many, I feel the pressure to work during a designated time of rest. Generally I don’t mind, but I am aware that rest remains elusive.

My spiritual director suggested that I bring the matter to God in prayer. When I feel compelled to work, called to put my own needs aside for the sake of other obligations, could I acknowledge before God both my need to rest and my sense that my work priorities should come first? I might ask God, he said, not only to give me strength but to gift me with sabbath rest in the midst of the demands before me.

He then spoke a word of warning: “Pay attention to the pattern of your life. If the response to choose work over rest becomes habitual, you risk losing perspective and responding as if every call to work were urgent and necessary.” Sometimes we need to choose rest, even when the call to keep working is urgent, for we are mortal. Our souls and bodies can only do so much. Moreover, there is the risk of forgetting our place. “Be still,” God says through the words of the psalmist, “and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

My spiritual director’s warning got my attention. I habitually choose work over rest without giving much thought to what I am doing, making me susceptible to what some have called “the tyranny of the urgent”. That habit, while fruitful at times, is costly to myself and others. I make poorer choices when I’m tired. I can lose perspective and operate more from adrenaline and anxiety than is healthy. Those closest to me often pay the price for my commitment to work. And I miss many opportunities for joy.

What would change in my life and yours if we dared to believe that in God’s eyes, our need for rest, and indeed, the gift of rest, is a priority for our own sake? How differently might we live?

One way that I’m trying to live differently is to accept opportunities for rest when they arise. They may not come on a fixed schedule, but when they do, I try to accept them without anxiety or guilt, lay aside what is left undone, and relish the gift of rest and renewal.

I’ve also become more aware of my need for sleep. For years, I prided myself on needing only five to six hours of sleep per night. As I’ve aged, however, I recognize that I don’t function well without at least seven hours of sleep. In those luminous times as I fall asleep at night and as I wake up in the morning, I try now to savor the transition, mindful of God’s presence.

My spiritual director also reminded me that a sabbath mindset is one that I can bring into my work. “Think of sabbath as resting in the presence of God,” he said. “In a work situation, it’s wonderfully restoring to assume a restful, attentive posture, asking for God’s illumination. In that way it’s possible to rise from your work rejuvenated.”

One way to think of rest is through the lens of time, and how we experience time. So often we speak of time as our task master, or as a commodity which is always in scarce supply. In times of rest, we sometimes speak of passing time, even killing time. Rest and true sabbath, in contrast, are about the spaciousness of time, what Rabbi Heschel describes as the redemption of time. “Time,” says Heschel, “is the heart of existence… there is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to subdue but to be in accord.” “The higher goal of spiritual living,” he reminds us, “is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments.”3

Rest brings us into spacious time—not time filled to the brim with endless work, nor lingering in boredom, nor killed by mindless activity, but the fullness of time, where we can be fully present to ourselves, to one another, and to our Creator.

I cannot yet speak to you from the experience of weekly sabbath as I imagine it—a full day of rest that I hope one day to have as part of my spiritual practice. But I can speak of the restoring, restful smaller practices that help me redeem time and restore my tattered soul.

I know what some of those restful moments are for me. One can be as simple as lighting a candle before an evening meal, taking a deep breath, and savoring the moment of friends or family gathered at table. Another is to find rest in a quiet walk and or an invigorating bicycle ride. It is restful and restorative for me whenever I can allow time to drift, when I can let go, even for a moment, of the need to be productive.

It’s been said that there is more to life than increasing its speed. We intrinsically mean more to God than what we feel we must do. To realize that for God rest is delight without distraction surely has the power to shift our perspective on the balance between our work and rest—even if only a little bit. Perhaps we can trust that what the Book of Common Prayer encourages us to pray is actually true: that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength.

We are entering the summer months now; the days are longer, many schedules are more forgiving. It is, for many, a season with more opportunities for rest while others, truth be told, must work harder. I invite you, as my spiritual director invited me, to bring to God your need for desire and desire to live with greater awareness of your intrinsic value as beloved. Ask yourself, and God, what rest practice is most life-giving for you, and see what possibilities there are for you to engage them. As you do, know that your bishop is cheering you on as she tries to do the same.

1Abraham Joshua Heschel in The Sabbath: It’s Meaning for Modern Man (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2005), p. 14.
2Ibid.
3Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: It’s Meaning for Modern Man (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1951).

Claggett Clergy Retreat 2023

Claggett Clergy Retreat 2023

We invite you to find respite at Claggett. Join fellow clergy from both dioceses to connect, rest, and renew.
There will be no formal agenda to this retreat. We invite you to come and be still.

Rest, relaxation, and connection with peers from the Dioceses of Maryland and Washington, and enjoy a special 1-hour presentation where we will share Claggett updates, including new equity offerings during summer camp, wedding details, and preparing for the opening of The Delaplaine Barn.

Clergy may register for free, and spouses and partners are invited to join ($132 for a plus one.)

Taking Sabbath

Taking Sabbath

Jesus said to them, “Come away with me. Let us go alone to a quiet place and rest for a while.”
Mark 6:31

Dear Friends, Clergy and Lay Congregational Leaders in the Diocese of Washington,

Blessings to you in these early February days.

As promised in my address to the Diocesan Convention on January 29, I write to encourage all congregations in the diocese to consider granting every employee an extra week of paid sabbath leave, not counted against vacation or personal days.

This request comes as a pastoral response to the deep fatigue many of our congregational leaders and staff are experiencing as we enter the third year of the Covid pandemic. This is not mandatory, but it is a strong recommendation on my part. The request first came to me from our regional deans, those in our diocese who work closely with our clergy. Others in our diocese and across the wider church have expressed the same concern, and it is one that I share.

I recognize the diversity of life experience and circumstance among our leaders and staff, as well as differing capacity among our congregations to give those in their employ a time of rest. Thus I leave it to you to determine if and how best to make this offering.

Clergy leaders, I ask that you tend to your staffs’ needs first. Vestry members and wardens, I ask that you schedule a meeting with your clergy to ask how best they might find time of rest. And we all do well to monitor congregational expectations for our volunteer leaders, given the sustained increased demands and pressure of their lives.

I’ve asked all the on diocesan staff to look at their calendars and propose to their supervisors when they might take their sabbath rest. We will stagger their time away so not to unduly disrupt our ability to serve you. I plan to take a few extra days surrounding the President’s Day weekend.

As I said in my address, I wish that I could extend this offering beyond the church, so that all in our weary world might have time and space to rest. What I can do is encourage us all to be kind to one another, and to those with whom we interact as we go about our lives.

I also know we aren’t always granted rest when we need it. In those times, it helps me to remember that, right after the passage I quoted above from Mark’s gospel, crowds descended upon Jesus and the disciples. In their fatigue, they labored on for an entire day of ministry that culminated with a meal for multitudes from what little they had–a few loaves of bread and some fish. Yet in the economy of grace, what they offered was more than sufficient. May it be so with us when rest seems elusive.

That said, even Jesus rested after that long day, and so must we, or rest will be forced upon us in other ways. So please take good care of one another, and if at all possible, give one another the gifts of rest.

Faithfully,

Bp. Mariann

Tomar Descanso

Tomar Descanso

Jesús les dijo: “Vengan, vamos nosotros solos a descansar un poco en un lugar tranquilo.”
Marcos 6:31

Estimados amigos, clero y líderes congregacionales laicos en la Diócesis de Washington,

Bendiciones para ustedes en estos primeros días de febrero.

Como prometí en mi discurso a la Convención Diocesana el 29 de enero, escribo para animar a todas las congregaciones en la diócesis a considerar conceder a cada empleado una semana extra de vacaciones pagadas de sabático, no contadas contra vacaciones o días personales.

Esta petición viene como una respuesta pastoral a la profunda fatiga que muchos de nuestros líderes y personal congregacionales están experimentando al entrar en el tercer año de la pandemia de Covid. Esto no es obligatorio, pero es una recomendación firme de mi parte. La solicitud vino primero a mí de nuestros deanes regionales, aquellos en nuestra diócesis que trabajan estrechamente con nuestro clero. Otros en nuestra diócesis y en toda la iglesia en general han expresado la misma preocupación, y es una que comparto.

Reconozco la diversidad de experiencias y circunstancias de la vida entre nuestros líderes y personal, así como la diferente capacidad entre nuestras congregaciones para dar a aquellos en su empleo un tiempo de descanso. Por lo tanto, les dejo que determinen si y cómo hacer mejor esta ofrenda.

Líderes del clero, les pido que primero atiendan las necesidades de su personal. Miembros de la junta parroquial y guardianes, les pido que programen una reunión con su clero para preguntarles lo mejor que pueden hacer para encontrar tiempo de descanso. Y todos hacemos bien en monitorear las expectativas congregacionales para nuestros líderes voluntarios, dadas las crecientes demandas sostenidas y la presión de sus vidas.

He pedido a todo el personal diocesano que mire sus calendarios y proponga a sus supervisores cuando puedan tomar su descanso. Escalonaremos su tiempo para no interrumpir indebidamente nuestra capacidad de servirles. Tengo previsto pasar unos días más en torno al fin de semana del Día del Presidente.

Como dije en mi discurso, deseo que pueda extender esta ofrenda más allá de la iglesia, para que todo nuestro mundo cansado pueda tener tiempo y espacio para descansar. Lo que puedo hacer es animarnos a todos a ser amables unos con otros, y con aquellos con quienes interactuamos, a medida que avanzamos en nuestras vidas.

También sé que no siempre se nos concede descanso cuando lo necesitamos. En esos momentos me ayuda a recordar que, justo después del pasaje que he citado arriba del evangelio de Marcos, las multitudes descendieron a donde estaban Jesús y los discípulos. En su fatiga, trabajaron todo un día de ministerio que culminó con una comida para multitudes de lo poco que tenían, unos pocos panes y algunos peces. Sin embargo, en la economía de la gracia, lo que ofrecían era más que suficiente. Que sea así con nosotros cuando el descanso parece difícil.

Dicho esto, aún Jesús descansó después de ese largo día, y también nosotros, o seres forzados a descansar de otras maneras. Así que, por favor, cuídense unos a otros, y si es posible, dense los unos a los otros el regalo del descanso.

Fielmente,

Obispa Mariann