On Sabbath and Sanctuaries
Last month, during Storyline’s community-wide Sabbath day, my family and I were able to spend the weekend camping in the RV spots at Camp Lutherwood down outside of Eugene on Highway 36. This last summer during COVID was one of the rare summers of the past 15 years that I didn’t spend time at camp. No one did. The cabins, the fields, the trails…. They’ve all kept vigil for months now, empty of retreat groups and outdoor schools and campers and counselors and families. Like so much of our world in COVID, camp came to a sort of stop. An unintended, unanticipated, extended time of Sabbath rest. Lying fallow and waiting for the horizon of whatever comes after this.
I walked the familiar curve of the forest trails, showing my son the place that has been a sort of sacred home for me for so many years. I stopped. I breathed. I remembered what my body felt like walking these trails before. Before COVID. Before wildfires. And then I began to re-member, my body feeling free to breathe the forest air and rejoice in the dappled sunlight dancing on the trail before me. I put parts of myself back together that haven’t felt together in quite some time. As my muscles started to re-member what it feels like to drop the weight of the world as I trod those trails, I noticed a couple of things. First, I noticed how the quiet of camp (and the lack of cell phone coverage, if I’m honest) was once again creating a space for that work. Even when camp isn’t literally quiet and is full of cabin calls and the ringing of the meal bell, it has created that space. Second, I noticed how much I had denied myself sacred space since the pandemic began. Which is embarrassing a little because, well, I’m a pastor.
As I kept walking, the re-membering continued. Further on down the trail as I entered the stand of forest that used to be called the “lower clear cut” and is now anything but, I re-membered how much change that this land has borne witness to; its own change…and the change and transformation of so many lives; campers, staff, volunteers…. Me. This trail, this land, these trees… they are sacred and holy ground. They are sanctuary. They are cathedral. And in that moment, I could think of no better space to pass a Sabbath rest than there at that accidental creekside altar of stones and ferns. One thing that COVID has asked of us as society is to consider what is essential. I’m beginning to realize that at the heart of our church sanctuaries is a call to deep Sabbath. And that it may not be our sanctuaries that are essential…. But Sabbath most certainly is. If Sabbath and sanctuary are meant to be a container for our transformation as beloved children of the Holy One…. Then these trees have always been my container.
As I stood there on the part of the trail that overlooks the creek that itself has changed shape before my eyes over all the years I have known it, I remembered suddenly our summer camp theme from 2011. “Adventure is Everywhere! HERE is good!” began with the story of Jacob who awakens from a dream wrestling God to declare exuberantly: “surely the Lord was in this place, and I was unaware of it!” (Gen 28:16) And he gathers stones and builds an altar and calls it Beth-el, which means house of God. You see… GOD IS HERE. That is the lesson that Jacob learned. That is the lesson that I found myself re-membering out in the woods by the creek. So I gathered some stones, and my toddler gathered some too, and we made a pile there in the fall leaves on the hill by the creek. And we called it sanctuary. And we breathed the air. And we said thanks be to God.
What we need is HERE. God is HERE. HERE is good. Whatever HERE is for you. HERE is the container for your transformation. In the unseeable yet very real space of Sabbath rest. In the sacred pause where you let the weight of the world be shaken from your shoulders for a moment. In the breathing room created when we take time to stop our work and let a change of rhythm take hold. So friends, Sabbath. Rest. Re-member.
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