On vacation, or, the role of sabbath in racial justice

My spouse and I are going on vacation, driving to the mountains and then on to New Orleans. Now sure, I still like to learn. When we travel, one thing we love when we travel is to check out the cultures, races and history of the place. There are almost always museums, or tours or art installations… in different ways, local folks telling their story. We learn a lot. And we delight in God’s people.

But a sabbath spirit is simply a spirit of curiosity. It’s different time than work time. No plans, no goals… I let myself be amazed by the diversity and beauty that God has created.

Vacation, or weekly sabbath, is a significant broader part of any prophetic journey towards justice. Activism without sabbath eventually leads to burn out, because it demands a lot of our own emotions, efforts and energy without restoring them. When you and I let God lead us into the death and pain and chaos of our world, it will lead to prayer. Prayer is not primarily asking God to fix things. Of course prayer includes that, but primarily it’s a conversation with God, with Jesus, an opening of our lives and ourself to God’s presence and patterns of work in the world. One of God’s patterns is rest.

Sabbath is the Judeo-Christian practice of taking one day a week, to simply rest. It’s rooted in the earliest origin story, that God created the world in six days, and on the seventh day, God rested. Even God… rested, and said His or Her work was good. Jesus kept sabbath, and went to synagogue on the appointed day. So I keep sabbath. Because I’m a pastor, I have to pick another day than Sunday. But I know that on sabbath, my purpose is to do nothing. There is no work. No ‘to do’ lists. I ignore chores. I ignore computers and cell phones and social media. I rest.

I may read or garden or listen to my favorite music. I may go for slow walks and do yoga. I look at clouds and trees and flowers. I sit around. I take naps. I eat dinner and talk with my spouse, but I don’t cook or do dishes afterwards.

On the one hand, sabbath keeping (and vacations) are simply restorative. We human beings are limited and need to take a break. Cross-cultural relationships are hard work and tiring. Race and racism challenge us. But I also believe there are actually spiritual powers and prinicipalities, forces God set up for good, underpin these vast systems of inequity. All this is bigger than we are. My sabbath keeping, my vacations, have actually stretched my capacity to trust that God is still at work, when I am not.

However, even on the topic of race, sabbath has a lot of space for delight. In so many ways God’s creation and human cultures are amazing: the food, the music, the art, the beauty of all God’s people. In sabbath time, or vacation time, I turn away from the pain and brokenness of the world, trusting that God holds it, and I get to rest from my limited attempts to repair and comfort. I turn away, and I turn towards delighting in the world as God has created it.

The mountains and New Orleans, I think, will be the perfect places for that.

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