The calendar has flipped to a new year. Despite the somewhat arbitrary nature of the Gregorian calendar, starting the new year on the winter solstice makes more sense to me, we are now at the beginning of a new year, where a new you is possible and everything seems to be new, new, new…As human beings we like these types of boundary markers in our lives. They can be the catalyst for growth and change, as well as connections to the patterns of our little planet as it spins in space while traversing around the sun with the moon playing its part in the celestial and terrestrial dance. As such we often make resolutions at this time of year that we hope will enhance our lives in a positive, meaningful way. It can be exercise, losing weight, learning a new skill or hobby, or myriad other things. In 2019, I’d love to see people taking the idea of sabbath rest seriously by making self care a priority in their lives. I intend to do so in my own life as well.
True self care is a spiritual practice and is most assuredly NOT selfish. It is a means of staying whole, grounded, present, and when we do those things it is far easier to keep things in perspective when life gets challenging. It also makes enacting the golden rule a whole lot easier. If I am well rested, have gotten adequate exercise, have engaged in my spiritual practices, and eaten well–all aspects of self care for me, then I am much more apt to enact the golden rule throughout my day in my interactions with others than if I were tired, spiritually bereft, and generally unsatisfied with my life. In the 21st century, Jesus’ injunction to love our neighbors as ourselves, can be theologically seen to be advocating for self care. Our postmodern American lives are lived at a frenetic pace. Because of this, it is vital that we see the Jewish commandment to keep the sabbath (Exodus 20:8-9) likewise as prescriptive for self care to just stop the busyness. As Wayne Muller writes in Sabbath, “Sabbath dissolves the artificial urgency of our days, because it liberates us from the need to be finished.” (Muller, 83)
Jesus himself modeled making time for self care throughout the Gospel narratives. In Matthew 14, after John the Baptist’s beheading, the crowds follow Jesus when he leaves for a deserted place to be alone. Being Jesus, he has compassion on them, healed the sick, and then performed a miracle by feeding thousands of people with a few loaves and a couple of fish. After this miracle, he dismisses the crowds and goes off to be alone to pray (Mt. 14:23-24) This pattern of healing and then withdrawing to be alone to pray also occurs in Luke 5:15-16 and in Mark 1:32-33, 35-36. Muller writes:
“Jesus did not wait until everyone had been properly cared for, until all who sought him were healed. He did not ask permission to go, nor did he leave anyone behind ‘on call,’ or even let his disciples know where he was going. Jesus obeyed a deeper rhythm. When the moment for rest had come, the time for healing was over. He would simply stop, retire to a quiet place, and pray.” (Muller, 25).
Jesus taught that the Sabbath was for humanity’s benefit. In Mark’s Gospel, the action moves quickly as Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing begins. In the second chapter, he heals a paralytic, calls Levi to be a follower, expounds on the Jewish scriptures sharing his opinions with tax collectors, Pharisees, and disciples of John, speaks in parables about wedding guests and wineskins, and then makes the following pronouncement about the Sabbath:
23 One sabbath he was going through the grain fields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28 NRSV)
The Sabbath is made for you. It is made for me. It is a vitally important spiritual practice to engage in Sabbath rest, in meaningful self care. I believe that we should engage in self care on a daily basis, as well as setting aside a whole day for it, as taught in the Bible. What it looks like will be different for different people. Today for example, I walked over 5 1/2 miles with my camera to get some exercise and to express myself creatively. Most days, I will engage in contemplative prayer, a form of silent meditation where one simply sits silently with eyes closed, not “trying” to do anything but sit silently. When thoughts arise, as they will, and distract me, I simply repeat the word “grace” mentally and keep breathing. Sometimes self care is simply giving myself permission to watch TV or play Football Manager 2014 without thinking, “I should be…”
This year, I am making self care a priority. That means getting out to socialize more, which is important for an extrovert, and saying yes to more invitations from friends and colleagues. It means taking care of my spiritual well-being by frequently attending worship at both of the churches I go to– a growing, open and affirming UCC congregation, and a small alt-church called Ember Faith Community, where we focus on deeply engaging the Biblical texts one book at a time, by reading a single chapter or portion of a chapter during each service and then discussing it together. Both services meet different needs for me, and are important aspects of my self care. It will also look like getting out into the natural world a lot more often than I have chosen to do in recent times. Being in God’s good creation, experiencing its beautiful sounds, sights, and abundant life is enlivening to me. It will also look like setting healthy boundaries with people, my livelihood, and with social media. What will your Sabbath rest look like? What are important elements of your self care routine? As you live into the new year, I hope you will take time for yourself. Jesus showed us how by following his scriptural tradition and connecting deeply with his Abba. Let us do likewise.
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