An Unexpected Sabbath

Having already written posts about social distancing and self-isolation and the importance of maintaining a welcoming attitude in times of pandemic, you would think I had said quite enough COVID-19. Probably I have, but yesterday I was struck by the number of people who are troubled about the prospect of being cut off from everyone and everything familiar and are struggling to make sense of what, at the moment, looks like total negativity. Perhaps that is the problem: seeing everything as negative. Would it help to look upon the limitations imposed by the spread of this new kind of coronavirus as providing us with an unexpected sabbath? The cessation of travel, the staying home, the curtailment of work to what is strictly necessary, the rediscovery of the joys of solitude and family life — aren’t these elements of sabbath we can find positive?

For us in the monastery the increased physical silence caused by less traffic on the road is already a blessing, reinforcing as it does the inner silence we cultivate as a means to prayer. Not everyone experiences silence as a blessing, of course, not at first anyway. It has to be learned, but perhaps the new circumstances in which we find ourselves will provide us all with an opportunity to discover why silence matters and to practise it in a way we’ve not had time for before. Call it an unexpected sabbath or making a cloister of the heart and we reclaim all that is positive about the experience of social distancing and self-isolation.

At the beginning of Lent we were invited to go into the desert with Jesus. The desert is a place of silence, demons, strange contests, immensely important to the monastic tradition as an image of the spiritual quest on which we are engaged. It is the place where Israel learned to love the Lord, where the Covenant was made, where the sabbath was given and where Jesus triumphed over temptation. The ‘new normal’ of COVID-19 takes many of us further into the desert than we ever expected. Let us go into it with faith, hope and joy, knowing that where we go, the Lord has gone before.

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A Friday Prayer

Fridays are important to all the children of Abraham. For Jews, tonight marks the beginning of the sabbath and its rest, ushered in with joy and thanksgiving; for Muslims it is a day of prayer, and after the call to prayer has sounded, also a day of resting from work. For Christians it is a memorial of the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ, a reminder that we cannot save ourselves. For us too it is a day of joy and gladness, but it is a sober, plain joy, for it is lived in the shadow of the Cross. For all the children of Abraham this is a day of prayer. What might the world be if we all, individually and collectively, lived what we believe?Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Preparing for Sunday

Trinity Sunday is our patronal feast, so there will be special preparations in the monastery today: mainly, I suspect, additional polishing in the oratory and some baking in the kitchen! Life, as we often remind ourselves, is not all liturgy and loveliness, but we need our highs as well as our lows and Sunday is the great feast of every week. It is our sabbath, and everything about it should have a sabbath quality of joy and blessedness. That doesn’t happen without preparation. So, if you would enjoy your Sunday and make of it a true sabbath, you need to do a little preparation today, especially since rest is an essential part of sabbath blessedness.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

The Importance of Sabbath

Sundays are very busy days for monks, nuns and clergy. That doesn’t mean that they lose everything we mean by ‘sabbath’: sacred leisure, silence, joy in the Lord. We have the custom of saving the best of what we have for Sundays, so even the food we eat marks out this day as special; and because Benedictines often work in solitude at their appointed tasks, we try to make this day one on which we share something as a community — a walk, perhaps, or that most British of institutions, tea at four o’clock.

I wonder whether many Christians have lost the sense of the importance of sabbath. We are so busy with all the multitudinous activities that fill the week-end that Sunday can end up being just another day with church on top. If so, it would be a good idea to think again about how we keep the Lord’s day holy. ‘The sabbath was made for man’: we are meant to have time to enjoy it.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail