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Hope in the Midst of Pandemic: New Forms of Sabbath

Hope in the Midst of Pandemic: New Forms of Sabbath

By Rev. Dr. Christopher Wilson

When we began the “stay in place” in March we were all scrambling.  Where can we go?  How will my job situation be adapted?  What will happen with school?  How will church work?  With whom can I be in contact?  Why isn’t everyone wearing masks?  What is safe and unsafe?

Rev. Dr. Chris WilsonWe all went through various adjustments to come up with what we often called the “new norm.”  Being in the house trying to be family, work, and school was an interesting mix.  The lines of what and when you were doing things got a little fuzzy.  Aside from rituals in the house, we were all trying to get used to new forms of technology to help us connect and do all were doing outside the house while we are now inside the house.  Zoom was not a word many of us knew before the COVID-19 pandemic.  Zoom is now a household common word we all know.

I think something happened in the midst of all the chaos of adapting and figuring out how to function during this pandemic.  The lines between home and work dissolved.  The lines between home and school became unclear.  The lines between family, work, school, and faith became a jumbled mess. 

I know for me the notion of a “day off” became a memory.  I still got all my time in for work, but I found myself working some everyday rather than on days I typically went into work.  It became easier to just work because my home office was just a few steps away.  I said, “It will be easy enough to get this item done rather than waiting till the next day.”  I realized after multiple weeks that I had not had a real break from work.  I had fused work, home, school, and faith into a knotted ball of yarn.

The other realization I reflected on was that the rhythm of my life before the pandemic may not be the rhythm I want to return to when the pandemic is over.  With every challenge comes a new perspective by which to see the world anew.

One of the faith-based rhythms that is important for people of faith is Sabbath.  The need to truly rest.  This is not about a day off or a time of doing nothing.  It is a full appreciation for life and all the gifts God has given to us.  Sabbath is the observance of those gifts and finding ways to celebrate those gifts fully in the moment and cease from the demands of the world.

I, for one, became quickly entrenched in the adapting to the changing world around me that I was failing to appreciate those God-given gifts and blessings.  I had gradually squeezed out Sabbath due to my busyness and seeking some sense of stability in the chaos.  All I was really doing was forming a life that was devoid of renewal.

After these realizations I went back to two books that have been so helpful in my thinking and practice when it comes to Sabbath:

In order to be the full person God created me to be I felt called to embrace an experience of Sabbath that was less about time and more about delight and embrace.  Sabbath is the one of the gifts to the world by God that is offered to humanity through scripture many times.  We read many times in scripture, “Remember the Sabbath…”  Outside of our invitation to love God, love others, and loving ourselves, I think the practice of Sabbath is a close companion to the love invitations.

As the Hebrew people were traveling through the wilderness.  The observance of Sabbath was mentioned 16 times in the book of Exodus.  The Hebrew people were experiencing their own pandemic with a wilderness time.  God’s primary response to the people then was “remember the Sabbath.”  God’s invitation to us in this time of pandemic is essentially no different – remember the Sabbath.

The practice of Sabbath is a form of spiritual resilience equipping us to strengthen our present moment and giving us courage for the days ahead.  We all need resources to aid us in responding to tough moments in our personal lives and in our community life.  Sabbath practice is a real opportunity to reclaim our spiritual fortitude and claim what God has already embedded within our soul to experience in the world.

You may be wondering what Sabbath practices I am grafting into my life these days as I navigate through this pandemic.  I can share some of them.  All of them are ones that feed my soul, give me energy and vitality for my life, and help me long to practice them again.

Some of those practices are:

  • Listening to music that reaches down into the fabric of my being and gets me inspired about life. I had let music get away from me and it had almost become non-existent.
  • Holding my wife’s hand more often. I can be in the house all day with my wife but am I really “with” her. Holding her hand is a reminder that she is my full attention in the moment.
  • Going into my children’s rooms just to talk. I wanted to be intentional about going into their space in the house and spending time with them. I wanted them to feel me going to them rather than them coming to me.
  • Taking more walks in the neighborhood by myself or with family. I needed to be outdoors and taking notice of the world and relationships around me. Some walks may be silent while others include conversations with neighbors.  Walks are good for my heart and good for connecting with others.
  • Lighting an oil lamp in my home office while I read or in prayer. The act of lighting the light reminds me the time with the light is God dedicated time.
  • Calling a lifelong friend each week. I have loved connected to friends that have been in my life a long time. We often don’t connect with those friendship enough.  A weekly call to one of my friends lifts my spirit and helps me remember we are connected across distance and time.  I try and bring joy to my friends across the country in this crazy time.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not something I would wish on anyone.  We have lost too many lives in our country and in our world.  The pandemic has forced us to look at the world and our faith in new and creative ways.  My changing perspective on Sabbath has enriched my soul and I hope I will continually re-evaluate Sabbath throughout my life to keep it as a vital rhythm in my life.  A healthy practice of Sabbath translates to a healthier faith.  I am no longer pining for “going back to the way things were” but rather “hoping for the new that God will bring.”  Reclaim Sabbath as an ally in these days of need for spiritual resilience.

Rev. Dr. Christopher Wilson is the senior pastor of St. Andrew Christian Church in Olathe, Kansas, and the chair of the CBP/Chalice Press Board of Directors.

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