Better is one hand full of quietness
than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.
It’s good to be back among you after two months of sabbath time rest. Thank you for the warm welcome in worship this past Sunday. What a joy to be together after another pandemic hiatus in live-streaming land! My favorite part was greeting the children up front during Children’s Time. I pray we can continue to come back together in person in “old, normal and familiar” ways, as well as many creative, new ways in the coming months.
Many of you asked on Sunday, “How was your time away? Are you feeling more rested? Where did you go? What did you do?” Here are some answers…Yes, I am feeling more rested and rejuvenated. And my hope is that I have developed some new habits for incorporating Sabbath rest into working life. It took me time to slow down my body to soul speed.
In January I was in Fort Collins, resting at home, due to the pandemic and to the kind of rest I needed. I read books, novels and non-fiction, that I had been hoping to read. Three of them were for the Spiritual Direction training that I started in November: Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer, The Discerning Heart, by Wilkie and Noreen Au, Owning Your Own Shadow, by Jungian analyst, Robert Johnson. I highly recommend all of them and each of them would make a good Plymouth adult book study. I watched all the Harry Potter movies again and some fun TV series. I took many naps. I did as much yoga as I could with online helps since it did not feel safe to be at the gym. I did a lot of reflection – on my own and with therapists and my spiritual director. I journaled a lot about the past five or so years of my life, dealing with the challenges of my beloved’s cancer journey and the loss of my son, Colin, to suicide in 2018.
By February, I felt rested enough to travel and the covid numbers were starting to go down. I spent six beautiful days on a yoga retreat with other Fort Collin’s women at the Trailwinds Eco-Lodge just outside San Francisco (“San Pancho”), Mexico, about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta. This exquisite place is situated in the jungle on the side of mountains that go down to the beach and the Bay of Banderas. The accommodations are partially open-air. Under my mosquito net, I drifted off to sleep to the sound of the waves, the insects, and the wind in the palm trees. During the day we swam, did yoga in a palapa overlooking the beach, sailed and whale watched and enjoyed each other’s company. It was definitely a wonderful break. I returned to the snow of Colorado for three days then headed to Guilford, CT and New York City to visit with my “sister” friend, Tina, my sister and brother-in-law, Julia and Jerome, and my son, Dylan for six days. This time was very precious. I had not seen my friend and sister for over two years or Dylan’s new brownstone apartment in Brooklyn. Lots of visiting, some museum and movie time just being together.
Once again to Colorado in snow, just in time to be in Denver on 2/22/22, for the celebration of the mini-documentary on the Meow Wolf Denver installation that my son, Colin, and his friend, Pepe Apentanco, designed before Colin’s death. In the worst of the pandemic (late 2020 through fall of 2021) Pepe and many of Colin’s friends in the Denver DIY art community made, “Aquakota,” a nightclub run by alien space lemurs and featuring Colin’s best dance music, a work of art! 222 was Colin’s favorite number. It signified to him movement and getting things, art, done and out in the community. Thus we celebrated in the installation space on that auspicious day, 2/22/22, with a concert by two of Colin’s music colleagues, Ben Donehower and David Castillo. If you go to Meow Wolf in Denver (and I suggest you do! You have never seen an art installation quite like Meow Wolf!) check out “Aquakota” on C Street. It’s down the little alley next door to the movie theater. You can find the Westword article from 2/21/22 that launched the mini-documentary here. After all of that excitement, I came back to Fort Collins for more snow and painting the family room in our house as a way of returning to a work schedule! LOL!
I had a lot of good fun, some very meaningful times with dear ones, and good rest. As I think back, did I learn anything to share from my sabbatical time?
I learned it took much longer than I thought to unwind, to be rid of the “shoulds.” Early in January, I found myself asking daily, sometimes more than once a day, “Shouldn’t I be doing something productive?” This prompted the more important soul question, “Well, what is ‘productive?’ Is productive getting all the tasks that I have assigned to myself for this day done in record time so I can do even more? Is productive meeting everyone else’s needs before I find time to meet my own call of the soul? Is productive being so busy you don’t notice how the snow is falling so beautifully or how the dog is rejoicing, literally jumping and racing and rolling, in the falling snow?”
What I learned – what I am continuing to learn, for learning is practicing ¬– is to remind myself to move a little slower through life so that I can take in moments that I often raced through with anxiety. God is in these quiet, connective moments. As our Lenten devotional poet tells us in her poem, From Here in the Sand,* God stands with us in all moments, the relaxed oasis moments and the fiercest sandstorm moments of the desert wilderness called Life. God has been there all along, way before we got to any of our moments. And God stands with us singing songs of water in the desert even during the most stinging winds.
I invite you to find some Sabbath moments with God this Lent whether life is coming to you gently like a breeze through palm trees or like the blast of a storm. God is with you in all moments, inviting you to notice the wonder and/or bleakness of the scenery. Inviting you to notice God’s steadfast presence as the fleeting glimpse of an exotic butterfly or a long drink of cold water. Don’t let the “shoulds” of life overtake you! Notice who you are in God’s presence, where you are, and what gifts are being given in every moment.
Blessings and with you on the journey,
*Rev. Sarah Speed | A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, Associate Minister, is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. She is also the writer of sermon-stories.com, a lectionary-based story-commentary series.
“Remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy…”
I’m back! Catching up on email, helping two new staff members get up to speed, trying to remember the deadlines for getting in staff reflections, bulletins, Overview announcements, etc. And connecting with you one by one through email, phone, rare chance encounters in the office. Leading worship yesterday through our yearly practice of Instant Sermons was great fun and I loved hearing the questions. They always help me feel so much closer to you.
As I left in July, I wrote to you that I hoped to encounter the Holy moment by moment even in the midst of the nitty gritty – “taking out the trash, picking up puppy poop, doing the dishes, etc.” I thought of that hope several times and wondered, “Am I accomplishing my mission? Am I letting go and living in the moment?” Isn’t it amazing that even when we set out to rest, to just be, we find it so hard to set down our accomplishment mindset? The voices in our heads that say, “What did you do today? Did you move any farther in the building of your life? Did you get better at what you want to accomplish?” are tyrannical! I did have moments of “being”, in play, in reading, in laughing with Hal and friends, in three wonderful trail rides at Ring Lake Ranch. I did not have quite as many quiet meditation moments due to an active puppy. These will return, in time.
Anne Lamott, a wonderfully funny, poignant and deeply thoughtful writer, has a book titled, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. I have yet to read this book, but the title is right on. (And having read other Lamott books I can highly recommend her writing.) “Help,” “thanks,” “wow” are three ways to stay in the moment in life and in prayer. I know I had these moments on sabbatical. “Help” me be patient with this puppy, with myself, with our government! “Thanks” for the wonder of growing my own tomatoes and eggplant, arugula and pumpkins in our backyard, for the antics of puppies that make me laugh, for a week in a beautiful place where someone else cooked delicious food and I reconnected with old friends! “Wow, Holy One!” Creation is astoundingly and inexpressibly beautiful! “Wow” - that sky and those clouds and those multi-colored cliffs that surrounded me as I road horseback through the wilds of the Wyoming’s Wind River basin. “Wow!” as I gazed at 1500 year old petroglyphs made from the prayer images of indigenous people who lived on this same land that was welcoming me with open arms as it had welcomed them.
So as I return to ministry with you in this strange fall of 2020, I say, Help and Thanks and Wow! “Help” us learn more together, and learn more deeply, what it means to be the people of God in the midst of pandemic, protest and political elections! “Thanks” for the beloved community of Plymouth as we learn to connect in new ways in the midst of social distancing! “Wow, Holy One!” You are Love and Love is with us always! In times of darkness and in times of light. You accompany us moment by moment. Even when we are not watching.
Blessings to you my fellow travelers as we journey together,
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, Associate Minister, is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. She is also the writer of sermon-stories.com, a lectionary-based story-commentary series. Read more
Petroglyphs from the Sheep Eater people and view of the Absaroka Mountains from horseback.
Sometimes I think that the Commandment we Americans break with the greatest frequency is observing the sabbath. Honestly, do you set aside a day for rest, regeneration, and focus on your relationship with God? I don’t imagine that more than a partial handful of us at Plymouth actually take a sabbath day each week. Sabbath, of course, is Saturday (hence “Sabado” in Spanish and “sabato” in Italian), and our Jewish siblings observe it thus. Most Christians opt for “The Lord’s Day,” the day of Jesus’ resurrection, as our holy day. Going back as far as the Didache in the 2nd century, believers were to "Gather together each Sunday, break bread and give thanks, first confessing your sins, that your sacrifice may be pure."
But sabbath is not just about worship; it also concerns a rhythm for the week. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work.” (Exodus 20.8)
Do you refrain from your professional work, volunteer work, household chores, errands, and so forth on the sabbath, even if you observe it on Sunday? To be sure, that is still the case for schismatic Presbyterians (the “Wee Frees”) in the Hebrides of Scotland, and our Puritan and Pilgrim ancestors in the Congregational tradition also were strict in their observance of sabbath each week. (We still had “blue laws” in Connecticut when I was growing up.) Isn’t it strange that as we developed a strong “Protestant work ethic,” we seem to have let go of sabbath-keeping?
I’ve just returned from a week of retreat at Ring Lake Ranch, an ecumenical study center in Wyoming, which has deep associations with Plymouth its members, especially the Petersen-Myerses, the Hoyers, the Schulzes, the Dilles, and others. I was meant to be doing a course with Diana Butler Bass this summer, but all presentations were cancelled due to the coronavirus, but they kept the Ranch open at 50% guest capacity for retreat time. I am really grateful that Plymouth allows for sabbatical (and for having Jane Anne at Ring Lake for part of hers) as well as continuing education time for its pastors. Ring Lake Ranch’s motto is “Renewal in sacred wilderness,” which is spot-on. Both Jane Anne and I had a time of renewal…as did Mark Lee, who was taking a break from his new congregation in South Dakota! I encourage you to try Ring Lake Ranch next summer for some great seminar presenters. (Go to ringlake.org for more info.)
The past six months of pandemic have been taxing for all of us…learning to adapt to new ways of worship and being church, working and educating kids from home, resisting the urge to hug or even shake hands with our friends. And it has taken a toll on many of us: on our social, psychological, and spiritual lives. (Racial crises and desperate presidential politics don’t help our sense of well-being, either.)
So, how do we find resilience in the midst of this marathon that we hoped would end with the first sprint? Sabbath may be the part of the answer. If you can find a way to carve out and set apart a time each week or get away for a few nights of camping or a trip to the mountains, I endorse that as a pastoral recommendation. Thomas Keating used to describe prayer time as “a hot date with God,” and I commend to you some time of contemplative restoration of your soul, whether in the wilderness or in your backyard.
May you be blessed by the discovery of inner strength and faith this week.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.