Last Wednesday, at a few minutes before 11 a.m., a canoe slipped into the water of Kentucky Lake without ceremony.
This non-descript event may not sound like much to you, but it was the inaugural launching of the wooden boat Jerry and I have been building off and on for the last 2 ½ years. What we began from a kit the week after Christmas in 2006 is now a (mostly) completed project/plan/dream.
When I say “Jerry and I,” in this case I really mean “mostly Jerry.” Though we worked equally on the initial project of putting the pieces together and the many hours that required, he has spent many more hours than I in the finishing phases of sanding, epoxying, sanding, epoxying, and sanding. It’s been a labor of love, especially for him. His father built boats when Jerry was very young, and he’s always had this dream of building one himself. And though there’s a fair amount of sanding and epoxying left to be done (are you catching a theme?), that’s the part he loves. He absolutely loses himself in the joy of working on the canoe. Many evenings when I come home after work, he’ll be in the shop sanding just a couple of feet of wood on its way to perfection. It is how he unwinds, watching the project come to life. It’s one way he finds a little Sabbath in the midst of the busyness of the day.
Sabbath is a word with many variations of meaning, not least of which is resting from work. The problem is, we tend to glorify the working, but rarely do we allow ourselves and others to glorify the resting. In our work-obsessed culture, we like to brag about how many hours we work in a week. Few of us feel comfortable telling others how rested we feel after a good night’s sleep. Instead, we tell the stories of how we awakened early to start working and have had a full day of appointments since then. We tell about the number of work days in a row without a day off, but are embarrassed to admit how much we enjoyed a day in the woods, or at the zoo, or reading a novel in the hammock.
Time is valued in our culture, but not in itself. Time is often seen as something to be filled up, blank spaces on the daily planner waiting for appointments. Our importance as people is often judged by how full our time is, and how efficiently we schedule it.
Marjorie Thompson, speaking to the 2002 triennial meeting of the National Association of Presbyterian Clergywomen on the topic of time and Sabbath rest, encouraged pastors to remember that the biblical concept of Sabbath is not just rest for rest’s sake, but rest in order to experience and enjoy more fully the things God has made. The early church fathers, says Thompson, believed in the idea of “holy leisure”. They defined work as “non-leisure,” rather than leisure as “non-work,” the way we usually think of things. To rest in God is to critique a culture (even the culture of the Western church) preoccupied with work. According to Thompson, leisure is not given to us for the purpose of making us work more efficiently. On the other hand, the more we find ourselves capable of giving some of our time to God for pleasure and rest, the more we may find ourselves able to spend our time of labor wisely.
Can you remember the last time that you had a true Sabbath—a day of rest which was so renewing it changed you? Can you remember one in which you left all your work behind and did something for no other purpose than to renew your soul?
For me, nearly any outdoors activity is renewing. I love to hike, garden, sail, canoe. Even so, I am embarrassed to realize how little I take advantage of the things I love, because there is always some work to be done.
When we fail to renew our sense of time in the presence of God, we find ourselves overwhelmed by the demands on our time. It is as though our bucket full of time and energy has been turned up and the last drops are being drained out of it. Sabbath is about keeping the bucket balanced between what is being poured in and what is being poured out.
When was the last time you spent a rainy day reading a book for fun, or a sunny day in the park? When was the last time you visited with an old friend for several hours, not just for a quick lunch between appointments? When was the last time you took a real, honest-to-goodness day off and did nothing but play? When was the last time you did something with family that wasn’t task oriented?
I’ve just returned from a week of vacation that was filled with lots of play: launching the canoe we’ve been building for the past 2 ½ years; walking; jogging; reading; cooking; taking photos; sleeping late. It was just the Sabbath I’ve been needing. I wish for you the same.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2009