BlogPost: Sabbath Retreat

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I’m lucky. As a pastor, part of my job is sitting and contemplating. Yes, the “To Do” list gets longer every day. For every three things I finally check off, six more get put on. But in the midst of the endless tasks of ministry, I’ve made a point of stopping, breathing, and just reflecting on what’s going on in me and around me. Without these little breaks, I would not be a very good pastor. I would be so blinded by busyness (even more so than I already am) that I would have no sense of the Divine presence in my life or in the lives of those with whom I minister.

Art: "Loving Service" by E. O. Ledermann (March 2016)
I often draw or sketch as part of my prayer time. This is my pray for this week, reflecting on power of loving service. Around the pitcher and basin are the names of the elders, deacons, and trustees currently serving at my church. Click on the image to see a larger version of it.
In addition to regular, though brief, prayer times throughout each day (I actually have alarms set on my phone), three times per year I go on retreat to read, pray, reflect, and plan. I call them my Triannual Worship Planning Retreat. I have a friend who has a wonderful cabin in the White Mountains here in Arizona that she lets me use. But right now I’m at a retreat center here in Phoenix—it’s close by and it has internet!

I’m lucky in the sense that my job allows me to do this and that I “get” to do this. But I’ve also come to believe that my job demands I do this, for the sake of my own sanity and clarity of mind, as well as for the sake of the community in which I live and practice my faith. These retreats are a time of renewal and re-connection with God. For three to four days I sit in a room and reflect on the upcoming four months of worship while I also consider what is going on in the life of the community I serve as pastor. I go for walks and spend significant amounts of time in silent prayer. I have a candle burning regularly while I work, reminding me that the light of Christ is with me if I can just clear my mind enough to pay attention (candles are a great reminder for me!).

Photo: Retreat Workspace
This is my workspace at the Mount Claret Retreat Center at the southern base of Camelback Mountain. I love the contrast of the candle in the midst of all the electronics.
Not all my retreats are filled with brilliant light and insights. Often, I struggle. I struggle to understand the intricacies of communal living. I struggle to figure out what a particular text might be saying or inviting me and my community into (sometimes, I just don’t want to hear the message that I am receiving—those are fun sleepless nights!). But I spend most of my time, even while I’m reading and writing, in prayer. I pray for the elders, deacons, and trustees with whom I get to serve. I pray for many in the congregation who I know are struggling. I pray for the many who are experiencing both pain and joy all at the same time. My congregation is pretty high-functioning. That means they are very busy! Even the people who are retired often comment: “I don’t know how I had time to work with all there is to do!”

These retreats are Sabbath for me, as much as they are “work.” I do a lot of planning. But mostly, it’s a time for me to just stop, breathe, and pay attention to God’s gentle and loving nudges, calling my attention to something spectacularly ordinary.

I realize that not everyone has the luxury of stealing away for a few days ever few months, but mini-sabbaths are important. Even just taking a few minutes out of every day to just stop, breathe, and pay attention, can make all the difference in the world! Literally!

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