Yes… yes. I needed this. Today would have been my father’s 66th birthday. It is a rock-em-sock-em day… but in the midst of it, I will remember him.
God, I am rushing, just brushing by, passing
my life on the street without greeting,
breathless and ceaseless,
skimming my life without taking it in,
distracted and fractured and shallow.
Be the lead in my life,
the molasses, the waist-deep snow.
Be the awkward weight, the icy walk,
the dark room with rearranged furniture
that forces me to go slow and pay attention.
Give me a weak heart, a breathing condition
that makes me pause now and then
and begin again, slowly.
Be my fine print, a foreign language
so I lean forward, listening to each word.
Be the unseen voice for which I look around,
the smell of baking bread
that makes me back up to an open door.
Be my stillness, my Sabbath, my stopping,
the Enough that it is to be here.
Even as I go, give me courage to give up,
to accomplish nothing,
to get deeply, truly nowhere at all
We have a practice at Tiny Church of “blessing the backpacks” at the end of each summer. Children and youth bring their backpacks to church and we have a short ritual (usually a responsive reading) in which we send them into the coming school year. We pray for their teachers and their parents; we pray for their friends, their bus drivers, their cafeteria helpers; and we pray that the children would learn and grow into the people God has created them to be.
Sometimes we add on a “blessing of the tools.” People bring in various tools they use in their jobs, hobbies and volunteer work, and we say a prayer for them too. We get everything from iPads to gardening gloves.
The idea is that Christian vocation is not limited to those things we traditionally think of as “religious.” We bring our whole selves to our work, and are called to live our faith through the way we treat clients, co-workers, bosses, shareholders, and the earth’s resources.
Both of these ideas have come from friends and colleagues. (Remember, I like to imitate and innovate.) Now that I’m doing a lot of workshops on Sabbath-keeping, I’ve adapted the blessing of the tools to focus specifically on cell phones. There’s always a bit of ambivalence about cell phones at retreats. As a speaker I don’t forbid their use; in fact, I like it when people tweet while I’m speaking. Such activities can pull us deeper into the experience. But it can also pull us away from the moment. My hope is that a cell phone ritual helps people be intentional about the use of technology during a retreat.
I’ve used some variation of this at the beginning of Sabbath workshops and retreats. It’s a way of acknowledging the many roles we play and the constant pull to be connected, to be relevant and useful. That impulse to connect can lead to many life-giving things. And it can also leave us scattered and overwhelmed.
First, I have people trade phones with someone they’re sitting next to. I have them cup the person’s phone in their hands, and I say something like this:
We hold in our hands these tools of connection.
They ring and we answer; they buzz and we respond.
For some of us, this is our tether… our calendar… our means of expressing ourselves… our means of reaching out, being heard, caring and being cared for, and exploring our world. We have more information at our fingertips, more data on demand, than any generation in the history of the world. That is a weighty thing.
Sometimes these possibilities excite us. Sometimes these connections bring light and joy to our lives.
But sometimes they feel like a burden. There is always another article we could read, always another website to peruse, another message to respond to, another person we might call.
We pray for the person whose phone we hold. We pray for the many roles they play, their connections to parishioners, to family, friends and loved ones. We pray for their responsibilities, their ministry. We pray for the heaviness and the lightness of those relationships and responsibilities.
We pray a silent blessing for this fellow traveler. O God you hear our prayer, Amen.
In one particular retreat, I had asked people to bring things from home that helped them create restful, Sabbath spaces in their lives. People brought photo albums, knitting, books, cooking tools, and so forth. After talking about them with one another we had piled them in the middle of the table. So at that retreat I closed the cell phone ritual by saying:
Before you give the phone back to its owner, hold it in your hands once more and look again at the centerpiece on your table. This is the tension in which we live, this is the push and pull of our lives, oscillating between work and play, toil and rest, connection and solitude. We pray for ourselves and each person at this gathering, that they would navigate that push and pull in ever more faithful ways, always remembering the command to love God, love neighbor, and love ourselves.
Can you believe this is my 108th Link Love? That’s about 2 years of collecting bits and pieces of stuff. Like a magpie. I should probably go on hiatus at some point. Don’t want to get stuck in a rut. Maybe this summer.
After filling me in on some of the latest and greatest ideas she’s had about the church she leads, she stopped and said, “You know, you’re about the only person I know who doesn’t think I’m crazy when I talk this way.”
“Actually,” I replied with a smile, “I think you’re crazy too. But the church needs crazy right now.”
…My friend is perceived as a little crazy. She’s not content with the same old thing, only better. She wants something new. So she has the youth of her church lead worship and participate in the sermon. She doesn’t do confirmation anymore, but instead finds ways to gather her youth around conversations about faith, life, and life lived faithfully. And this summer they’re not singing hymns at her church, but pop songs. And talking about popular YouTube videos. And other crazy stuff.
On that note… maybe this is an example of the good kind of crazy, albeit from another era:
The First Lutheran Church of Oklahoma City dug up and opened its Century Chest, a time capsule that was buried under the church 100 years ago.
The artifacts inside the copper chest were remarkably well intact. Credit for that goes to the church’s Ladies Aide Society, the group that buried the capsule a century ago. The group buried the chest in double concrete walls and under 12 inches of concrete, according to Fox News.
As my friend Alex Hendrickson said, ”Varsity level church ladies.” Seriously.
My favorite class in seminary was The Preacher and the Poet, so Robert sent this to me with the subject line “MaryAnn bait.”
I read a lot of theology, both for my degree and for my professional track, and sometimes I think poetry, whether or not it’s explicitly religious, is one of the best modes that theology, or talking about God, can take. … Poetry is a form where the language is under so much pressure, and that can really bring about these wonderful surprises and insights in our ways of talking about God or thinking about our faith.
The author describes the experience of having a newborn and always having to think about the next thing. Ohhhh yeah. That kind of extreme time maximization is part of what led us to Sabbath, when we can turn off (or at least mute) those endless calculations:
I was always planning ahead for the next step of the operation. It’s breakfast time. Eat because we have to get dressed! Get dressed because we have to go to baby class! Finish baby class so we can get home for nap! Get nap started so I can have writing time! Hurry, hurry through writing before the baby wakes up! Get ready so we can go to the park! Finish up at the park so we can get home so I can make dinner! And on and on…We were still on that hamster wheel, still always urgently moving forward to the next item on the agenda.
It wasn’t my schedule that was the problem. It was the fact that during every activity we engaged in, my mind was already on the next one.
The whole thing has been surreal and fun and wonderful. (Read more here.) I’m humbled by everyone who’s shared the links with friends on Facebook and elsewhere. And I’m grateful for emails and messages from people I don’t even know—including a rabbi who shared some of his own Shabbat resources. Lovely.
I’ve watched the segment once. If I could watch just the parts with my kids, I’d watch it again. It’s fine, don’t get me wrong. The PBS folks did an excellent job. I just can’t bear watching myself on video. (Me and Daniel Radcliffe.)
But even with a single viewing, one moment from the segment stuck out. Robert and Iaughed and exchanged a knowing look when we saw it:
Do you see what caught our eye?
It’s the lamp. It’s missing a lampshade. You may not have noticed, but for us, it is The Iconic Image of the whole piece. That lamp tells you everything you need to know about Sabbath.
I broke the lampshade in a fit of cleaning. I was sweeping and the whole thing fell over and shattered… requiring me to sweep a second time, by the way, because it’s a cruel cruel world!
The thing is—and here’s the vital piece; here’s what I need to explain about Sabbath—I broke it a good four, five months ago. Seriously, that lamp’s been a bare bulb since… well, since 2012. Turns out it’s stupidly complicated to replace. IKEA doesn’t stock the shade separately. So we’re stuck either replacing the entire lamp (which is wasteful) or hunting around for a lampshade that’s the right size, attaches in the same way as the old one, etc. Which involves time we don’t have. OK, I’ll be precise: we do have time to do that, we’ve just done other things instead.
And I can be all philosophical about that. We choose to carve out some time each weekend to rest and play, which means we are not on top of the home projects. But I’ll be honest. I don’t like that bare bulb. Its glaring light reveals everything that’s unfinished and chaotic about this period of our lives. Life with kids is one long bare-bulbed existence. The stain in the carpet that won’t come out. The perennial jumble of stuff on top of the dresser. The wet beach towels slung over the doorway that don’t ever get put away because after all, swim practice is gonna come around again. And that’s the way life is.
The problem is, we don’t show the bare bulb to each other. We’re embarrassed by the bare bulb. I am. But the bare bulb is real. Maybe the bare bulb is the truest thing about ourselves.
I recently watched a promotional video for a book that’s coming out, written by a wildly popular mommy blogger. Let me say that I will probably buy this book. I like her stuff. The author is wise. And her message is: Let’s get real with each other. And she delivers this message while sitting on an impeccable white couch.
A white couch.
What lunacy is this! I can’t even wear a white shirt without inviting pen marks, chocolate milk and blueberry smears. But white furniture? That is varsity, baby. That is ninja motherhood.
As she talks about how hard parenting is—and it is, and I have no reason to doubt it’s hard for her too—we see some B-roll of her stocking a dresser drawer with a stack of diapers. And I think about the seven years we had kids in diapers and how the diapers never, ever made it into a dresser drawer. They went straight from bag to butt.
I wish her all the best. This isn’t a me v. her thing. This is about packaging. This is about getting caught in that thing we all get caught in sooner or later, between what we allow other people to see and what is authentically us.
So let my bare-bulbed lamp be my truth in advertising, my Good Housekeeping seal. If I ever give the appearance of having it all together, just remember the light bulb. And if I ever resort to superficial half-truths about this wildly complicated world we live in, remind me of the light bulb.
Because yes, Sabbath is a practice that can save our lives. It can help us savor time, to see it as a gift, and not as a thing to be julienned into manageable pieces.
But Sabbath will also wreck your life, because Sabbath is an act of love, and love wrecks your life. Things will go undone—things you care about. Stuff might even break, and be hard or impossible to replace. If you’re lucky, it won’t happen on national television. But if it does, maybe Sabbath will give you the space to laugh and exchange a knowing look with someone who gets it.
So, this book promotion stuff. It’s all an improvisation, eh?
The publisher and I started a separate website when Sabbath in the Suburbs came out, and for several months I divided my time between that site and this one. Most of the Sabbath-themed posts went there, and everything else went here. It was a good experiment and expanded my readership, but several months post-launch, it feels like time to consolidate. The challenge is that you end up feeling splinched, like those characters in Harry Potter who would Apparate from place to place but leave pieces of themselves behind—an eyebrow, perhaps, or the tip of a finger.
At some point I will grab all those blog posts and pipe them over here, but in the meantime, here are the most popular ones: