Cathedral News, March 5, 2017
The Fifth Commandment, as written in Exodus, chapter 20, reads: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work…for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” While there are some who still keep a strict Sabbath, Orthodox Jews and more conservative Christians, for example, a rigorous observance of the Sabbath has mostly faded from normative practice. The ideal of sabbath, however, remains part of the common lexicon in religious circles.
We speak of maintaining “sabbath time” in our lives. There are a variety of ways in which sabbath time is woven into contemporary living. Some interpret their vacations in this way, as a time away from all work or connection to one’s occupation. Cell phones are turned off, e-mail isn’t checked, and pretty much all life “on line” is put aside. Treating a vacation in this way provides a window into the real meaning of sabbath as a time apart, life lived according to a different rhythm. Others choose to incorporate sabbath time in smaller ways throughout the week. An hour set aside for mediation and prayer, for example, is sabbath time. The day’s walk, without the intrusion of iTunes or Audible, can also be valuable time apart to rest and refresh oneself.
Beyond the biblical understanding of Sabbath as a day of rest on the seventh day of the week, there is also the concept of the sabbatical year. This concept, known as shvi’it in Hebrew, is the seventh year of a seven-year agricultural cycle in which the land itself was allowed to rest. The notion of the sabbatical year has found its way into a number of spheres of professional life. Universities commonly provide sabbatical time for professors after seven years in their positions. The Church, also, has adopted the practice of sabbatical, drawing on the Old Testament understanding that finds contemporary expression in modern Judaism. Indeed, Bishop Vono just returned from his four-month sabbatical, taken after seven years serving in this diocese. In a letter to the clergy, he says this about his sabbatical, “For congregations and dioceses, it is so important to set aside time and funds to allow their clergy extended rest and study…I return from my sabbatical rested, and with a renewed spirit…”
This coming August I will have served ten years as Dean of St. John’s Cathedral. Paid Sabbatical leave is specified in my letter of agreement, one month per year of tenure. In my seventh year here I asked the Vestry for three months of sabbatical time, taken at one-month increments. Recently I submitted a proposal to the Vestry for a four-month sabbatical, and they accepted that proposal unanimously at our January meeting. As required by diocesan policy, Bishop Vono has also reviewed and approved my plan for a sabbatical. I will be away May-August of this year.
There will be four foci to my sabbatical. First will be family. Alexandra will be graduating from OU this May, and we’ll have something of a mini-family reunion around the festivities. James will be completing his Freshman year at UNM, and so we’ll spend time getting him resettled at home and into gainful summer employment. Second will be a pilgrimage that Dawn and I will take in Italy: the Way of St. Francis. We will be walking from Florence to Rome, walking through many places important in the life and ministry of Francis of Assisi. Third will be reconnecting with old friends that I have not seen in many years, some of whom I have known since elementary school. Finally, I will be taking some time to study. One area will be hospitality, an area of spiritual and theological interest that informs who we are as followers of Christ. I’ll be visiting the Lexington Theological College (Lexington, Kentucky) and Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. Another area will be science and faith, a field of particular interest for me and one that I have been pursuing recently as a Sinai and Synapses Fellow. For this, I’ll be spending an extended time at the University of Oklahoma’s History of Science Collection, one of the finest collections in the world and where I’ll have assistance from knowledgeable staff and faculty.
Canon Drinkwater and I have had numerous conversations about this time away. He will be responsible for the pastoral and spiritual aspect of Cathedral life in my absence. In consultation with the Wardens, I’ve asked the Rev. Carolyn Metzler to assist on Sundays, celebrating and preaching, and with emergency pastoral crises. Many will have met her when she was here on the first Sunday in February. I’m thankful that she has agreed to help out over these four months.
I’m grateful to the Vestry for their support of this important time for spiritual renewal and study. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you at the end of the sabbatical. I ask for your prayers as preparations continue and during my time being away from you.
Read the rest of the announcements.