Last Saturday I was at war with myself. I was tied up in knots of anxiety as I tried my hand at grading for the first time. The grading process was made more complicated than it needed to be by a number of factors, but regardless… the grading (and the anxiety it triggered) swallowed the day… a day on which I also REALLY needed to grapple with Levinas… I’m a slow reader in any case, but when it comes to philosophy I read painfully slowly… I wasn’t done grading when dinner time rolled around. It was our week to enjoy a meal out at our favorite Mexican restaurant which has no opened up a new place even closer to our home, within walking distance! I spewed my anxiety on the walk there. I spewed my anxiety as we ate. I spewed my anxiety as we walked home. Kev was inordinately patient, as always. God bless him. Part of what I was wrestling with in this dinner hour was whether or not I could afford to honor the sabbath the next day. On the one hand, I NEEDED the rest more than ever (the beginning of this semester did me in… in a lot of ways) and I WANTED to have uninterrupted family time on ONE day of out seven and I made this commitment a year ago… which we have honored more or less faithfully… and which we want to keep honoring. On the other hand, I had so much reading to do and it was pretty clear there would be loose ends in the grading to return to (before the papers had to go back to the students on Monday morning) and I knew Monday morning could only hold so much… What I began to realize as I fought this internal war with a spewing of external words was that keeping sabbath requires more trust on my part than tithing does. And that felt crazy to me. Further, I realized that the work I would be setting aside was JUST READING… not healing the sick, not sitting at the bedside of a dying person, not comforting the bereaved, not putting out fires… JUST READING… and if it didn’t get done the worst thing that could happen would be that I would look like an idiot in class on Monday… a bit of damage to my pride… and as I’ve been immersed in Augustine of late, that seemed like it could probably be a good thing, ultimately. So by the time we got home I decided I would honor sabbath the next day, but that I’d stay up as late as possible to get the grading as done as it could be and get some reading/skimming done to minimize the Monday load. Twas a very late night.
The next morning dawned peacefully. I had space and time before church to post the traveling soldiers piece that had been rattling around in my brain the whole week prior. And then we went to church.
And I realized while sitting through worship in congregation number 1 that worshipping there is neither worshipful nor restful for me… and as it was taking up sabbath time… such hard won sabbath time… this really, really got to me. We went right into worship at congregation number 2 and that was both worshipful and restful for me (and challenging, nourishing, stimulating… so many things, as it almost always is). And then… at 2:30 Kev, Caroline, and I were finally headed home and I said “I’m really wrestling with the idea of continuing at congregation number 1 anymore.” To which Kev, the member and employee there, replied “So am I. What is behind your saying that right now?” And I explained. And then he explained. And we knew what we had to do.
But I’ve never left a church, unless I moved away.
And I know the HELL it was as a pastor when people left, especially young families.
And how unbelievably awkward to leave a church, but continue to worship, etc. in the same building.
But as the week unfolded and we talked and prayed it through and sought wisdom from clergy friends we found a way to say goodbye. Kev shared the news with the pastor on Friday. He responded fairly graciously. We’re going to write a short letter of gratitude to the congregation soon. And, of course, we’ll be contacting the clerk of session (a woman we love and who LOVES our daughter). It is sad, but truthfully… once the decision was made, a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I felt freer than I had in a long time.
And at bottom, it was all about sabbath… we couldn’t really honor commitments to two churches, and honor sabbath, or at least I couldn’t, not now. And not any time soon. And I realized in talking this through with a friend that in a time when I’m wrestling with the dual commitments of motherhood and scholarship, negotiating dual commitment at church as well was just. too. much. Now, we can really engage in congregation number 2- which needs a new name, and will receive one! We can participate in Sunday School nurturing relationships with the congregation outside of worship time. And sabbath can be sabbath. Worship- true worship. And rest. Alleluia.
Today we worshipped with neither congregation. I was filling the pulpit at a church that is currently without a pastor. I recycled a sermon, and life being what it has been… I let a friend (Thank you, Julie!) help with the editing of it… cleaned it up late last night (after reading philosophy, writing about philosophy, and grading… again)… practiced it this morning. I did very little to prepare for this service, very atypical for me… And I fretted little about it. I just prayed a lot… please God, make something of my humble offering… let it be o.k…. let it be faithful. And it was fine. And worshipful. And restful. There is still philosophy to be read. Much other work to be done. But we came home to a simple lunch and an attempted nap… and then walked around the zoo for a few hours, taking advantage of the membership my parents gave me for my birthday/us for our anniversary. And since coming home Kev has been composing, Caroline has been nursing/napping, and I’ve been reconnecting with loved ones. Soon we’ll have dinner… and then enter into a night of rest.
And next week our new sabbath rhythm begins. And I will have to keep praying for the trust to let the work go. But I will keep praying.