This Monday (June 15), for the first time in 10 years, I will be starting a two month sabbatical. Sabbaticals are one of those things that have been encouraged for clergy, and required by some churches, in these latter years. As the name suggests, a sabbatical takes seriously the idea of sabbath, a central concept in Jewish tradition, but one which most Christians have really lost touch with. The idea of sabbath has actually found its way into a number of different cultures and traditions, but the origin of the word really comes down to a single verse of the Hebrew Bible: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy,” (Exodus 20:8).
I suppose volumes have been written about sabbath and sabbath-keeping. It was long a topic of lively debate in the Jewish tradition, something we catch sight of in the New Testament, as Jesus falls somewhat regularly into arguments with the religious teachers of his time about what sorts of actions are allowed and not allowed on the sabbath. The gospels portray the religious teachers of Jesus’ time as being letter of the law sorts of people who were very concerned that the rules about sabbath-keeping be clear and enforced. Jesus, on the other hand, favored a more flexible approach, famously saying that “the sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27), and thus suggesting that the sabbath should not prevent someone from responding to a genuine human need, even if doing so seemed to violate the letter of the law. Jesus almost always favored the more compassionate interpretation when it came to interpreting religious law — something many of his followers have often forgotten. For Jesus, people and their well-being came first.
My approach to sabbatical — to this two-month sabbath — will follow the more flexible approach of Jesus rather than the more legalistic approach of many of his religious compatriots. The only really hard and fast rule I am adopting is to put some distance between myself and my congregation. Not at the level of the heart and spirit, of course — that would be impossible. But physically and virtually. The other hard and fast rule (so I guess that makes two!) is that I will not be updating my blog between June 15 and August 23. I do hope to be writing regularly during my sabbatical — trying to bring into focus a number of thoughts that have been rambling around my brain and my spirit for the past few years. We’ll see how that goes. But, in order to do that, I need to take a sabbath from the blog. It’s been going a few years now, so in the unlikely event that you miss it, you can always review some of my greatest hits (he says, chuckling to himself).
As I stand on the threshold of this intentional stepping away, I return to that Exodus verse: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.” I find myself rather attracted to that word, “holy.” Clearly, the author of this line intended to make a connection between remembering to keep the sabbath and holiness (whatever that means!). So it seems to me that part of what I am going to be about over these next couple of months in remembering sabbath is to also remember the holy — and to remember what is holy about me, about humanity, about this world we share together. Many people have the idea that to speak of the holy is to speak of something other, set apart. But I think that when we speak of the holy, we are speaking of what is deepest and most authentic in all of us. Life has a way of making us forget that we are holy — and sabbath (and sabbatical) is a practice that helps us to remember it, and thus to remember who we are.
I hope that this summer will allow you to include some sabbath-keeping time, some remembering-you-are-holy time. Because when we remember who we are, we remember who others are. And then we can act in the world out of that consciousness — and the world really needs a lot more of that. So I wish you sabbath and a remembrance of the holy, I wish you peace and some time to rest and recollect. And I will see you virtually back on the blog in late August.
Peace and blessing to you all.