“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.