Valuable as the concept of sabbath time may be, I’ve been paying a great deal of attention lately to another metaphor: that of space. Sabbath days and renewal leaves set apart a certain kind of time in the rhythm of our lives. They also set apart a certain kind of space.
“One of the most precious gifts we can offer is to be a place of refuge, to be Sabbath for one another,” writes Wayne Muller in Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (119). Whether it is the roof providing protection from a storm or the biblical “cities of refuge” providing asylum from blood vengeance, a refuge offers space apart from the current flow of things. Particularly when the current flow involves destructive momentum, a refuge offers safe space with life-nourishing qualities. Sabbath could be described as a refuge from artificial urgencies and destructive cycles of progress, productivity and work, work, work. And, as Muller suggests, this kind of sabbath place is a gift that we human beings may offer each other.
I think of Mary and Elizabeth. After receiving the angel’s strange news in the gospel account of Luke, Mary rushes to Zechariah’s home in the hill country of Judea. She finds there what the angel told her to expect: that Elizabeth has indeed conceived a child in her old age. What is more, Mary finds in her cousin’s home a place where she is called “blessed.” An unwed mother-to-be could have expected to be called any number of names, “blessed” not among them. Yet, that home offered Mary a place set apart from the suspicion and shame that she could have expected elsewhere. With Zechariah and Elizabeth, she found a place of refuge that renewed and strengthened her for what was ahead.
We can be sabbath for one another. The companions we seek during intentional spaces of rest and renewal may very well comprise part of the sabbath blessing. In their book Clergy Renewal: The Alban Guide to Sabbatical Planning, A. Richard Bullock and Richard J. Bruesehoff note the significant role that well-selected companions may play during a renewal leave. Holding space open for engaging mentors or spiritual companions during sabbath experiences like a renewal leave can help one maintain focus, metabolize insights, and shape that experience “for the deepening and renewal of one’s relationship with God” (28).
We can be sabbath for one another. We can offer in our presence a place where others’ lives are recognized as “blessed” whatever their doubts, questions, struggles or pain. Our lives can create gentle space that enables others to pause for reflection, explore their relationships (human as well as divine), and steep in the God-given grace of their days.
The sabbath blessing of our companions, in fact, may well extend even beyond particular days or periods of leave. The Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs, for instance, invite congregations to set aside a portion of their grant budgets for pastors’ post-leave activities, including counseling or spiritual direction. Planning and implementing, working and resting, journeying and returning—the fellows we choose to help us create spaces of nurture and renewal can help us continue claiming that transformation for which sabbath experiences (like renewal leaves) lay a rich groundwork.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.