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.
he 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.