Renewal as testimony

Posted Jun 19, 2013 | Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Project

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By Callie J. Smith


Callie SmithRest, renewal, and sabbath have suffered immensely at the hands of Western individualism. In some spiritual traditions, these related practices had the ethical gravitas of not killing, not stealing and not lying (e.g. note the presence of sabbath practice in the Ten Commandments). Yet, many of us now actually feel guilty about making time for them.

“The observance is a theological act,” Walter Brueggemann reminds us in Reverberations of Faith. He identifies the impulse to “redefine human society in terms of production and consumption.” Sabbath’s orientation to another value system, he explains, “provides a visible testimony that God is at the center of life—that production and consumption take place in a world ordered, blessed, and restrained by the God of all creation” (181).

Sabbath practice testifies to a divinely-sanctioned story of human worth apart from production and consumption. Renewal habits like days off or sabbatical leaves enter a realm beyond the benefit of only a few individuals. They become habits that individuals enact on behalf of more lives than simply their own.

“During the Sabbath, we …. consecrate our day as an offering for healing all beings,” explains Wayne Muller in his book Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (10). He likens sabbath time to a sanctuary which nourishes our wholeness, releasing into the world qualities such as generosity and wisdom. His book offers a compendium of practices that have marked rest-, renewal-, and sabbath-related times, practices which set a mindful pace and connect humans with God, our fellows, and the rest of creation in reverent and attentive ways. 

Many of us may be on board with the idea that we are intricately connected with one another. Still, to name sabbath observance a form of testimony takes relational perspectives even further. Brueggemann’s sabbath-as-testimony challenges us to build regular rest and renewal into our schedules as active expressions of the gospel message. Just imagine: what could sabbath-as-testimony look like in your life? For your community?

Congregations have shared poignant stories of pastoral renewal leaves sending ripples of insight and health into their communities. Newspapers have sought pastors for articles about slowing down in the midst of a harried culture. Congregation members have deepened their senses of ministry agency, developing new and collaborative relationships of service in their neighborhoods. Congregations have lived into new visions of calling with their communities, citing those months of pastoral sabbatical as the time of those ministries’ birth. Creating space for even one leader to step away has invited others to pause and listen to their own lives and world with new attention and a fresh sense of grace. 

Participating in one of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs can provide significant opportunity for congregations and pastors to give a particular kind of testimony. A leave can enact the idea that human beings are made in the image of God (a God whose creative cycle happened to include rest). It can announce human worth beyond productive and/or consumer activities. It can picture Christ’s embodied grace which lives, breathes, blesses and heals in this world, inviting us to notice. From early brainstorming through proposal crafting, imagining a clergy renewal leave provides occasion to share a message that is highly-relevant in many of our communities today.

Rev. Callie Smith is administrative assistant for the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary. She is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

The Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) seek to strengthen Christian congregations by providing opportunities for pastors to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection. To request permission to repost this content, please contact clergyrenewal@cts.edu.

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