The other day, I realized something. I haven’t needed to take my stomach meds for quite a while.
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with a mild hiatal hernia, which essentially just makes me especially prone to acid reflux and heartburn. Over the years, I’ve just been treating the heartburn with prescription-strength Zantac twice a day (as needed), but it’s been interesting to watch how the ‘as needed’ part has ebbed and flowed depending on the situation.
Certain foods will send me looking for relief: not so much spicy food, but a lot of sweets or chocolate. Come Hallowe’en, I may be singing a different song. But stress has also been a major factor.
I don’t want to make it sound like going on sabbatical has been just another name for ‘stress leave’, because a lot of the time, working at the Cathedral has been a less stressful environment than I’ve been in before. In any event, I’ve never been one to get all bent out of shape about stress. It’s a part of life, we deal with it, and there have been lots of stressful situations that have actually brought out the best in me.
However, it’s been interesting to note that since I was granted sabbatical leave, back around the end of May, my overall stress level has gone down. That’s to be expected; it’s one of the benefits of sabbatical. But I hadn’t expected to start enjoying the benefits so far in advance of the actual leave beginning!
I’d be curious to know what might happen in an even longer lead-up to a sabbatical. If I gave myself more time for anticipation, would the same thing happen over a longer period?
Given that the weekly notion of sabbath is so unnatural, what’s really remarkable is that the Old Testament goes even further with it. God commanded not only a sabbath for the people, but also a sabbath for the land.
When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord. For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. You may eat what the land yields during its sabbath—you, your male and female slaves, your hired and your bound labourers who live with you; for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food. (Leviticus 25.1–7)
This was more than just an institutionalized version of crop rotation and fallow years, though. Every seven years, all debts to other Israelites were cancelled, to the point that God had to warn people not to get stingy in the sixth year:
Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near’, and therefore view your needy neighbour with hostility and give nothing; your neighbour might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt.Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account theLord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. (Deuteronomy 15.9–10)
This notion of sabbath years was further developed into the idea of Jubilee: the principle that the land ultimately belongs to God, and therefore could not be sold indefinitely. Thus after seven cycles of seven years, any land sold reverted back to its original owner.
The people of Israel didn’t work for six days in order to have a day off. They didn’t till the land for six years in order to get a year’s vacation. Rather, these were radical concepts built into their society to teach them significant lessons about the nature of time itself, and to keep them from using economic systems and wealth to enslave each other. For a people redeemed from slavery in Egypt, this was a very real reminder of God’s grace.
So it has been slightly jarring over the last few weeks to hear a number of people hoping that I will enjoy my well-deserved break. I understand that they’re reassuring me that they don’t think taking a sabbatical makes me a lazy bum. However, if this sabbatical is to be true to its biblical roots, it has to be something undeserved. It is ultimately a gracious gift.
And so I am grateful to the Bishop for supporting me in this venture (both spiritually and financially). I am grateful to the Parish for supporting me. I am grateful to Mrs R and the Seven-Year-Old for putting up with me kicking around the house more. But I’d never be so arrogant as to assume that this is something I deserve.
You know who’s running the biggest scam? Uncle Owen. Seriously. This guy’s job is ‘moisture farmer’, and he’s got everyone around him believing that it really is serious business. He tells Threepio ‘What I really need is a droid that understands the binary language of moisture vaporators.’ Dude, it’s a big old industrial-sized dehumidifier. Our dehumidifier has a binary language, too. There’s a little light that comes on when the bucket is full. Here’s a translation guide, from binary to English:
0 = Vaporator running normally
1 = Empty the bucket
Another great self-important line, this time to Luke: ‘Harvest is when I need you the most!’ Ummmm… Aren’t those things always running? How can there be a harvest? And doesn’t harvest just mean ‘empty the dehumidifiers’? And yet he struts around the farm acting like a bigshot. If anyone else had a clue, they’d have told him that he doesn’t really need a droid to tell him what the light on his vaporator means. He just needs a droid who can empty the bucket when the light comes on.
Sabbath rest is actually something unnatural. It makes no sense in the ways that other divisions of time do. Days are based on the rising and setting of the sun. Years are based on the earth’s revolution around the sun, and the lengthening and shortening of days. Even months are (more or less) based on the phases of the moon.
But a week is incredibly arbitrary. We’ve come to take it for granted, but there’s not a lot of reason why it should be exactly seven days long. And so the Hebrews were quick to tell stories about God’s rest on the seventh day. Without a sense of awe and reverence attached to it, who knows if the sabbath would ever have caught on.
But without a sabbath, what a crazy world we’d live in! In the weeks when I have had to work without a day off, there is an incredible monotony that starts to set in. One day is much the same as another, and eventually it all collapses into drudgery. The biblical command to keep the sabbath day is about more than giving people a day off: it’s about keeping time fresh and renewed.
But given that it’s so unnatural, it shouldn’t be a surprise that people aren’t that good at keeping it. And in a world where work and constant busyness seem to be the new idols, of course such a counterintuitive idea needs to be commanded rather than just suggested. If we didn’t have to stop, we probably wouldn’t. And that has implications for my sabbatical as well, but that’s another reflection for another day.