With snow came sabbath time
During the recent snowstorm, like almost everyone in the greater Seattle area, I was mostly homebound. Where I live we had at one point 11 inches of snow.
I wasn’t able to get to church or make pastoral calls Monday through Friday. The best I could do was sit with my computer and phone and work from home. I must admit, I felt guilty at this time of respite.
When one gets stuck being homebound due to weather, it can be both a blessing and a curse. Certainly, the amount of snow we had was a two-edged sword.
For the homeless, for those who struggle to heat their homes, for those whose ability to eat and sleep in a warm place requires them to be working daily, this snow was unwelcome.
Emergency workers, nurses, doctors and others on whom we rely for our well-being surely must have seen this snowfall as a challenge. On the other hand, for the kids who got some unexpected days of play? Pure joy!
As I sat at home, worried I was shirking my duties as priest and pastor, and yet unable to do anything about it, I realized this was an invitation to slow down. Actually more than an invitation, it was a forced break.
St. Hilda St. Patrick, the church I serve, has been busy these past few months, maybe even the past few years. We have been doing much needed facility maintenance, putting necessary good business practices and policies in place, growing our congregation, and we have rearranged our worship space.
Then there were the holy days of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Epiphany. I have been caught up in this busyness, too much so.
So the 11 inches of snow caused me to stop. Meetings that seemed important when they were scheduled couldn’t happen. People in the hospital weren’t going to get a visit.
Phone calls to the church were being left unanswered. And then there was the Sunday bulletins our parish secretary needed to get done. How was all this going to happen with all this snow?
As I stood at my kitchen window lamenting the work that was needing to be done, my eye was drawn to the myriad of birds feasting at our bird feeder. Juncos, chestnut-backed chickadees, puffed up rufous-sided towhees, black-capped chickadees, nuthatches and blue jays were darting in and out under the protection of the tree, vying for a space to gather food. There were so many they drained the bird feeder in two days.
How delightful it was to watch them flit here and there then swoop across the yard to a new place! Even one of the native western red squirrels ventured out and was gobbling up all the seed the birds would drop. Then he ran over and sat on our dog’s frozen water dish, looking like a furry ice-skater.
When I ran out of church work, I picked up a book I’ve been meaning to read for some time. It was a truly interesting book, but I found myself dozing off – in the middle of day! On a Wednesday! This just didn’t seem right, it’s not what I do.
Then it came to me, this is exactly what it means to keep sabbath. Not necessarily the Sabbath Day, as commanded in scripture, but keeping sabbath as a time of rest, away from busyness, away from work, with one’s soul quieted down.
Because that is where I found my soul, quieted down, in contemplation with and about God.
It made me wonder, why did it take a snowstorm to force me to stop? The invitation, even the command from God, is always there before us to stop and pay attention. Listen! God tells us.
How is it that we listen if we are caught up in the worries and the doings of our lives? Listening well to each other and for God in the doings of our lives is absolutely necessary for a healthy and whole life. But what happens when the busyness overwhelms the listening?
Somewhere during the course of the week of the big snow I discovered that in all my recent busyness, the ears of my heart had become a bit deaf. The noise of all the things I “should” do and get done had become like the sound of tinnitus to my soul, slowly drowning out some of the surprise and wonder at the amazing revelations of God.
Do more, be more, have more is a part of who we are, part of our culture and economy. This, like the snow, is a both a blessing and a curse. We are people who are creative and inventive and build good things in our busyness. We can enjoy nice things in life in part because of our economy. These are good things.
On the other hand, when our busyness and consumption stops-up our ears and hearts, when we get too busy to stop and tend to one another, then the life God desires for us is out of whack.
I am old enough to remember the “blue laws” of my youth when businesses were closed on Sunday so that people could enjoy a sabbath time. I miss those days, especially when I hear families in my church telling me about their children’s Sunday morning soccer games that begin at 7 a.m. It makes me sad.
If we are so busy tending to our busyness, then when do we tend to each other, and to our souls? That, after all, is the most important thing we can do.
My prayer is that I will continue to listen and pay attention better to transformational times of sabbath-keeping. Part of that means readjusting expectations of my time commitments and listening more deeply for what is most important in God's economy of the world.It reminds me of the contemporary proverb: No one dies wishing they had spent more time at work.