The logistical preparations for sabbatical are their own spiritual discipline. Last week I wrote about the creative stewardship of finances and professional resources – sharing priests across parishes and raising up lay leaders to facilitate one another’s time away.
The stewardship of attention and anxiety has also come to the fore as an important dimension of the discipline of preparing for Sabbath. Preparing to let go of the ability and the need to do – things, details – reminds me of how closely I hold on to the illusion of control, much of the time, without seeming to or meaning to; not out of (I hope) an inflated sense of authority or competency, but quite the opposite, out of my anxiety that if I don’t do what is expected of me, or needed of me, or do it right, that I will fall apart, things will fall apart, and my inward hollows will be exposed.
It’s not good theology: the idea that I can cover up the cracks in my own creation with artifice. It’s not good theology: that I hold the world together, and send it spinning on its axis. It’s not good theology, that it’s all on me; but it’s an old fear, and one with which I have learned to regard with some sympathy. It’s not good theology, and I know that it is not a true story: that my body and mind tell me superstitious tales born of childhood terrors and that magical thinking that protects the powerless and the very small and young.
It has its uses. The upside of being neurotic about leaving every question answered and every drawer tidy in my desk is that I finally have a tidy desk, and hopefully the endless lists and charts of information will be helpful to those taking care of business while I am gone. It’s knowing where to stop that’s key. Things will happen which I have not foreseen – and they will be taken care of. I will have got some things wrong, and my friends and colleagues will sigh and roll their eyes, and roll with it – and they will still welcome me back with good will. I may occasionally feel needed here, but I am not in control, and I am not in charge. I am not essential. I am not (spoiler alert) God.
That which God has created will not be destroyed nor undone; especially that which is formed in the very image of God. I think of ripples in a pond, diminishing over time and distance, further separating and sinking until no trace of them remains. But the changes they have made, as subtle as they may be, to the surface and to the depths and all that dwell therein; those changes are not undone when the memory of the ripple has gone.
What we do now matters beyond our reach and our imagination, then; which is good and terrifying to know. But in time, as memory fades, our impact, the good and the bad, will be become first anonymous, and finally infinitesimally indistinguishable from the layers of creation, of time, that surround us.
That interplay of significance and anonymity; of responsibility and mortality; of duty and humility: I think that is the balance that is trying to strike its loving note, like a singing bowl or a bell, insisting its echo into this scurry of self-fulfilling sabbatical preparation.