Clearing, by Martha Postlethwaite
I am on a mini sabbatical at the moment, taking a ‘Sabbath’ break from the usual rhythm of life. It wasn’t met with encouragement from all quarters: “Is that a fancy name for a holiday?” quipped one, “Gosh, you have it easy!” quipped another.
It seems that what earns respect is nose-to-the-grindstone – until that nose is worn down to the bone! – and don’t reach beyond the culturally accepted few weeks’ holiday a year. There’s little or no encouragement to take leisurely, extended time out just for reflection and rest.
How can we know what Life is inviting if we don’t, on occasion, slow down enough to experience a contrasting rhythm, contrasting delights, to listen to the ‘still small voice’?
Enter this poem, which beautifully advocates for a Sabbath approach:
“Do not try to serve
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there patiently,
until the song
that is yours alone to sing
falls into your open cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to the world
so worthy of rescue.”
~ Martha Postlethwaite
Reading this, something in me relaxes, my shoulders drop, I come into stillness. I am reading it each day as a ‘touchstone’ to check against whatever thoughts and plans I have for my day. The photo is of a space I have been going to in this time, sitting under a giant London Plane, leaning into her wisdom, her stillness, her ‘okayness’.
I recently read Water Bruggeman’s ‘Sabbath As Resistance’, which I highly recommend (and did recommend to a number of my directees before embarking on this break). He paints a vivid contrast between the ‘system of Pharaoh’ characterised by relentless productivity, restlessness and anxiety, and the ‘system of covenant’ offered to the Israelites in the desert after their escape from Egypt. At the heart of the covenantal invitation is the commandment regarding the Sabbath, an invitation to restfulness, non-anxiety and neighbourliness.
This book, together with the on-going COVID crisis, and the reading I have done around the approaching climate (and subsequent social) collapse has convinced me I need to seek a deeper connection with these qualities, to live as much as I can in resistance to the relentless and endemic values of consumerism, constant productivity and busyness that plague our culture. Only small inroads so far, and I haven’t converted yet to being vegetarian or vegan, but I am eating less meat, taking a year off buying any clothes (and if you know me, that’s a BIG deal!), growing potatoes, and using my bath water to flush the toilet (!). On this Sabbath break I am also playing piano more, cycling, sitting under trees, making art, spending time with dear friends …. and writing! I hope to build on these small beginnings.
I’d be interested to hear your response to all this, what the idea of Sabbath plants in you, and how you are responding to the God who invites you into a ‘clearing in the dense forest of your life’, into restfulness, non-anxiety and neighbourliness.
God bless, Annette
Really appreciate this post; thank you for writing it.
I did some work on ‘sabbath’ a few years ago, and it fed me (and my directees!) for a good while. This has reminded me to revisit it. I’ve ordered the Sabbath as Resistance book, and also another by Nicola Slee.
The idea that sabbath plants in me is that it (‘sabbath’, ‘rest’ is the home inhabited by God (the Ultimate Reality), and if I am made in God’s image, that is my home too! Too often I leave home, and live out of suitcases of panic, or anxiety, or ‘oughtedness’ in what turn out to be rather squalid, tacky hotel rooms!
I wrote this at the time I was exploring this before:
Rest – that longed-for break
from rushing life, endless toil,
Is this the rest I seek?
Is this ‘shabàt’ of God –
“Come to rest in ME”?
Less an oasis
than a new geography;
Not to visit
from your homeland of busyness –
A new place to live!
Move in! You’re welcome
here explore its landscape, breathe
deep refreshing air
Live here! And from this
new home take trips to busy
places. Then come home.
Paul Booth : March 2017
Written during the SDE gathering at Minsteracres Retreat Centre,
but inspired by much time spent in recent years exploring the spirituality of ‘sabbath rest’.
Thank you Paul! I really like what you say about rest being God’s home and therefore ours too, and your image of the tacky hotel rooms we choose instead – I can relate!
I have kept your September post open on my phone as it spoke deeply to me, about the need to create a clearing and wait. I’m still waiting. Sometimes the world’s pressure to be doing makes me anxious, but I’m striving to trust and wait. How has it been for you in the months since you posted?
May 2021 be a year of blessings for you,