Please click here to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this sermon.
The week before Christmas, my wife tested positive for “the corona,” as my kids call it. She was positive for COVID-19. She moved down into our finished basement and locked the door. The rest of us—me, our almost 16-year-old foster teen, our 7-year-old twins (both of whom had been sent home from school to quarantine the successive three weeks before), and our youngest, who is 3—all tested negative within the next few days.
The five of us stayed upstairs away from the heart of our family, the extrovert, the fun social outing planner, the one never likes to be alone. She described her time in isolation as torture. She said she felt like a leper.
The upstairs was full of frustration, fighting, yelling, and overall unkindness. Fear can be so ugly and unsettling.
We all wondered: What would Christmas be like without her?
We cancelled our between-Christmas-and-New-Year’s planned trip, which was when we were to go to a North Carolina beach to be with friends. After about six days, Robin tested negative twice, and we were able to convince her that she could—masked—emerge from her isolation late on Christmas Eve. The next day and the next week and a half, we didn’t go on the trip to North Carolina. But Christmas and the next week were full of well received gifts, good food, day trips to the New Jersey shore, to the western part of NJ for hikes, to the Grounds for Sculpture. And there was much less fighting and yelling, and the 3-year-old telling everyone “Happy birthday!” each day.
We have moved past solstice, and the nights should be getting shorter. We have moved past New Year’s Day and the future “should” feel brighter. Yet here we are with more pandemic to deal with, and perhaps another variant, or the “flurona” to deal with. More fear, more frustration, more crazy climate weather on top of our anxious, exhausted state of mind.
More death. More illness. More sheltering in place. More virtual learning, more school closings, more not being able to work. More of each other, on each other’s nerves.
I want to talk about Sabbath. About how I promised myself to take a day of rest every week. Maybe just a few hours?
Another New Year’s resolution was to walk each day for at least for 30 minutes. I have done that. But Sabbath?
Rest, a day of rest, calls out to all of us, doesn’t it?
From this month’s Touchstones Journal:
Be Still, Rest, Shalom
Occasionally we reach the end of a day, a week, a season, or a year and find ourselves overwhelmingly exhausted. Be Still… Rest… Shalom.
This is not simply the exhaustion of the body, which sleep might restore, but the exhaustion of the soul. Be Still… Rest… Shalom.
How hard to praise life’s gifts when we are haunted by such incredible burden. How difficult to recognize joy or possibility, to experience contentment or purpose, to consider self-care a necessity rather than a luxury. Be Still… Rest… Shalom.
At times like these, sleep becomes an escape from such weariness, but not its cure. At times like these, we continue to sleep while we are awake. We call this sleep depression, the physical, emotional and spiritual numbing that masks our pain and suffering at such great cost. Be Still… Rest… Shalom.
To reach this state, whether by overwork, stress, fear, doubt or loss, is to also realize that an essential balance in our life has been lost. There is no quick fix to such spiritual dis-ease. Be Still… Rest… Shalom.
In times such as these, let us pray for salvation, not for a superficial religiosity, but for the healing and wholeness that is our birthright and our destiny. Be Still… Rest… Shalom.
Let us not surrender to despair, but to Life itself. Be Still… Rest… Shalom.
Let us enter Sabbath time, that respite of prayer, meditation, stillness, and quiet that can restore our soul. Be Still… Rest… Shalom.
Be still, that you might become mindful of your sorrow and your joy. Be still, that you might come to know the deepest longings of your heart. Be still that you might become open to the healing possibilities in you and around you.
Rest. Set your burdens aside that this time might bring you deep renewal.
Shalom. In stillness and rest may you come to know a peace that passes understanding.Source: Touchstones
This month’s worship theme is renewal. It is hard to move forward into a period of renewal, when it feels like we are instead returning to what we had hoped we were done with.
But, oh Lord, we need it. We need renewal. We need Sabbath, an intentional day of rest, of waiting, of making space… time to listen to the spark of the divine… the spirit of the holy.
Taking time for Sabbath is how we renew our sense of purpose. That can start with waiting. The prolific author, civil rights leader, and theologian Howard Thurman had this to say about waiting:
Waiting is a window opening on many landscapes. For some, waiting means the cessation of all activity when energy is gone and exhaustion is all that the heart can manage. It is the long, slow panting of the spirit.
For some, waiting is a time of intense preparation for the next leg of the journey. Here, at last, comes a moment when forces can be realigned and a new attack upon an old problem set in order. Or it may be a time (for) reassessment of all plans and of checking past failures against present insight.
Waiting may be the long moment ahead when the landscape stretches far in many directions and the chance to select one’s way among many choices cannot be denied.
For many, [though], waiting is something more than all of this. It is the experience of recovering balance when catapulted from one’s place. It is the quiet forming of a pattern of recollection in which there is called into focus the fragmentary values from many encounters of many kinds in a lifetime of living. It is to watch a gathering darkness until all light is swallowed up completely without the power to interfere or bring a halt. Then in that darkness, to continue one’s journey with one’s footsteps guided by the illumination of remembered radiance. This is to know courage of a peculiar kind, the courage to demand the light to continue to be light even in the surrounding darkness. To walk in the light while darkness invades, envelopes, and surrounds. This is to wait on the Holy. This is to know the renewal of strength. This is to walk and faint not.Howard Thurman
My friends, let us not be afraid of the darkness. Let Sabbath guide us to a remembered radiance, to a collecting into focus, as we demand the light to continue to be light.
This our prayer. This is our strength. This is our faith.