Thursday, March 3, 2016

Sabbatical – What is it? (Part 1 of 3)

And on the seventh day God finished the work that God had done, and God rested on the seventh day from all the work that God had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that God had done in creation. (Genesis 2:2-3)

Sabbath is rest. It is not only a primary human need it is one of the most ancient commandments of our faith (#4 of the Big Ten if you’re counting) – so important that we see God modeling it for us in the stories of creation.

The punishment for breaking the Sabbath commandment was death (Exodus 31:14)… which, frankly, always seemed a little extreme to me, until I really thought about it.

First off, if we don’t take Sabbath … if we don’t rest … we die. Without rest, our bodies deteriorate, we are more susceptible to life-shortening illnesses and events and our lifespans shrink. Medical science has proven that Sabbath – rest – literally is a matter of life and death.

But even more important (seriously … even more important than life and death) is that ignoring Sabbath leads to spiritual death.

The first commandment is “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of bondage in Egypt, you shall have no other gods before me.” When we ignore Sabbath, when we don’t take time to rest and to let the world go on without us, we are saying with our lives that we are indispensable. We are committing the original sin of Adam and Eve in putting ourselves in the place of God … only worse because even God rested on the seventh day!

When we ignore Sabbath, we are committing idolatry and violating this commandment. We are saying with our lives that God and the world can’t possibly do without us even for a day. It is the first, great step to squeezing out God altogether and constructing a world that is all about – and completely dependent on – us.

Through our time together at Christ Church Cathedral, I have not been good at Sabbath. And it has been an idolatry that has ill-served this Cathedral, my family and myself. From the very beginning, I let my own need to prove myself and my love for this community and the work we share lead me to taking on too much, working through my days off and sleeping fewer and fewer hours a night.

And, predictably, this has taken tolls on those same two levels that Exodus presages.

The first is my health. After seven years, I am exhausted. My blood pressure is creeping up. My capacity for creative thought is waning. I am in deep need of rest and restoration.

The second is an aspect of the spiritual health of this congregation. As I prepare for my sabbatical, I hear voices of anxiety being raised. Voices that question how we will face the considerable challenges before us with me gone for five-plus months. Voices that make me realize I have not done nearly a good enough job of teaching us by my actions that the future and fate of Christ Church Cathedral does not rest in the hands of your Dean, but of God and of one another.

And so, as was announced at the annual meeting Eucharist, starting the day after Easter, I am going on Sabbatical through the day after Labor Day. And I am doing this both as an act of self-care (one that is provided for me in my letter of agreement … though Chapter has, I am grateful to say, recognized that what I am owed contractually is not enough for the restorative task and has expanded it) and an opportunity to do the work of establishing healthier patterns of living for the years to come, but also an act of spiritual leadership as your Dean – to practice what I have been preaching these last seven years and that is faithfulness to and trust in Jesus as the only barometer of our success that matters.

This will be a true sabbatical for me. I will have no major travel or big writing project. When people ask me what I will be doing, I say the primary things will be sleeping and reading. I will be doing some writing not with an end product in mind but as a way of journaling and processing the past seven years we have traveled together. My prayer is that during these five months you all will find time to do the same. To realize that some things that I do will need to be taken up by others but that others will fall by the wayside – and that will be OK.

Over the next two weeks, I will be writing more about sabbatical. Next week, I will write about the opportunity I believe this sabbatical presents not just for me but for all of us. The week after that, I will lay out the plan – worked out with Vicar Amy Cortright, our wardens and Chapter – about how things will run and lines of authority and process while I am gone.

I look forward to this month together as we journey toward Calvary and the empty tomb. And I welcome the chance to talk about these and many other things as much as you like.

In Christ’s love,