Spring, Sabbath, and the Hesitant Hermit

Yesterday I had to stop walking and take off my sunglasses to gape at the amazing colors in front of me – a hot pink tree in full flower, set against a backdrop of emerald green grass meeting a cloudless rich blue sky with a garden of dazzling yellow and vivid red tulips in between. Everywhere you look this unusual year, spring is in full force. The dead landscape has reignited and the shoots are pushing up out of the ground into the bright sunshine.
            I took my first 24-hour completely solo retreat last week.  They called me “the hermit” when they showed me to my tiny cottage off the beaten path and delivered my meals in a picnic basket.  I spent the time wandering the woods, sitting on a tree suspended over a rushing stream, reading, writing, drinking hot tea and listening to the sounds of the forest all around me – owls, squirrels, birds of all kinds, the clacking of 160 foot tall trees as their tops leaned and bumped, greeting each other in the wind far above the forest floor.  I rattled around my hermitage and struggled to quiet myself.  I tried to be in “Sabbath time”; I worked hard to rest.  I brawled a lot with “should” and argued back and forth with “how,” and desperately sought the patience to tolerate the incessant chatter in my head that drowned out the silence.  And I remembered again that Sabbath-keeping is hard
Finally, I settled into the realization that whatever I did or didn’t do, whatever it is supposed to look like or ought to be didn’t matter.  Really. What mattered was that I allowed myself to be. To be in the present. To be with myself. To be however I was and not to judge it, not to squash it into a certain shape, or trade it away for some other, better way of being.  Just to be me.  What mattered was that I paid attention to how I was, and allowed myself to simply be.  There are so many layers on top of who I am as a person, as a human being: job, family, expectations, tasks, ideals, goals. These things dictate me; they direct most of my time and actions. I am addicted to the adrenaline of always going; I am a great do-er. I am a lousy be-er.  I watched chimpmunks and wild turkeys race through the trees, butterflies land on leaves in the sunlight, and thought about what a gift it was to be there.  Just to eat, sleep, walk, and not to do anything.  And the hardest and best part of the gift was the time and space to recognize how difficult this is for me.  What did I accomplish? What did I produce during that time?  Did I spend the hours wisely?  Those questions are utterly irrelevant in Sabbath time. 
The purpose of Sabbath time, the reason to keep sacred space, is to return to the ground of our being.  To be.  That this is difficult reveals how very necessary it is.  The fact that we will most often wonder if we are doing it right indicates how addicted to doing we are.
There is no one right way to keep Sabbath time.  There are lots of great suggestions and ideas for what to do with the time, (and I am happy to share some with you if you are finding Sabbath-keeping as hard as I sometimes do).  But the important thing is not what you do.  It’s that you stop doing long enough to just be.  To be you.  To be before God and with your own self the way that you really are.   To pause and take off the sunglasses to see the colors.  To listen to the sounds both outside and inside of yourself. 
I took home a few surprises from my retreat (other than the large birch branches outside the church building).  I came home grateful – deeply thankful for my husband and kids and amazed at them and the astounding gift of sharing life with them.  I came home feeling more settled inside – I did not work for or expect this, it just happened.  I came home feeling renewed energy, hope and joy in what God is doing in and through our congregation, and more deeply connected to each person that makes up this lovely and quirky little part of Christ’s body.  And I felt more humor and patience, and aware that in all my doing, God has humor and patience for me. 
May your Sabbath time be blessed.

Photos from Tonya Hansen Toutge - taken out her window at work today...
This post appears as an article in the LNPC May-June Newsletter

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