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Center Reflections

RESTING IN THE SPIRIT: SABBATH AND RETREAT

Submitted by Rev. Dr. Kathy Harvey Nelson

In my life as a Spiritual Companion, several times I’ve helped clergypersons plan a time of Sabbath or Sabbatical retreat. Most often they begin planning by deciding all that they are going to “do” during this time. And many have very good ideas from what they’ll read, how they’ll engage Spiritual Practices during the time, maybe join a group for a work camp, or some even anticipate special conferences or trainings that they would not otherwise have the time to attend. That’s how the planning begins…but then we step back and we consider what it means to live in Sabbath time. And suddenly, the conversation begins to change, we begin to look at the possibility of “being” rather than “doing.”

We’re probably all pretty familiar with the Mary and Martha story – Martha running around serving while resenting Mary who’s sitting, listening. In our hearts we probably even cheer Mary on and feel pity for Martha, without ever really examining ourselves and just how Martha-like we may be!

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to preach on a text from Mark, chapter 6, focusing on verses 30-32. Here’s what the ESV says:

            The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he

said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many

were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.”

I certainly identify with that last part. There have been numerous times in my life when I’ve grabbed a bite as I was rushing from one event to the next, from one visit to the next, from one meeting to the next. After becoming aware of the importance of Sabbath, I was a bit better, but being honest, I still occasionally found myself either eating on the fly or skipping lunch because I “had no leisure even to eat.” When we find ourselves so busy that we end every day exhausted or realize we’ve had no time to spend just sitting chatting with friends or spending time with our family, maybe it’s time we take a page out of Jesus’ playbook and seek a desolate place.

In her book Invitation to Retreat, Ruth Hailey Barton reminds us, “Retreat in the context of the spiritual life is an extended time apart for the purpose of being with God and giving God our full and undivided attention.” (4) As this fall approaches, I’d like to encourage you to consider the importance of setting aside an extended time to rest in your relationship with God. To walk and wonder; to read and ponder; to sing and celebrate; to pray and listen. If you have a Spiritual Director/Companion, engage them in a time of exploration around what it might mean to accept God’s invitation to spend time alone, quietly and observantly. Or you can join a group that is focused on retreat, such as the one that will gather October 18-20 at the Orchard Hill retreat center to practice a silent retreat in the Benedictine tradition. But whatever you do, make a decision to set aside time in your schedule to be with God. Allow God to refresh you, to fill you, to offer guidance to you.

You know, that scripture from Mark is surrounded by busy ministry. It’s proceeded by the disciples being sent out two-by-two on their first journey to preaching and teaching. And it is followed by one of the feeding of the multitude stories. When we take time to draw away with God, it’s not a time of emptiness, it’s a time of emptying in order to be filled. We allow God to enter into our understanding of the work we’ve been about in order to inform the work we’re about to do next!

As you ponder whether a retreat is right for you, consider these statements:

  • Do I feel a need to allow more time in my life in order to notice God?
  • How do I currently order my life and where might I need to do some housecleaning or reordering?
  • Do I struggle to let go of things I know I can’t control? Why?
  • When was the last time I truly listened for God?

Here are a couple of resources you might find helpful as you explore the invitation to spend time alone with God in Sabbath:

Barton, Ruth Hailey, Invitation to Retreat. Intervarsity Press, 2018.

Barton, Ruth Hailey, Invitation to Solitude and Silence. Intervarsity Press, 2010.

Muller, Wayne, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives. Bantam, 2000.

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