In September I’d only been back from my holiday a week and it already felt like I’d never been away. People asked me ‘Was it a restful time?’ and I’d say yes, but then think ‘I could do with another holiday, though.’ Taking time out from all the busyness of life, whether it be an hour, a day or a week, is an important principle to build into one’s regular routine, and something we British are very bad at. We’re brought up on the Protestant work ethic and phrases like ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’.
The Bible calls time out ‘Sabbath rest’ and it’s enshrined in the story of creation with God ‘taking a day off’ after creating the universe in six days. Not many people nowadays believe the creation story to be a literal explanation of how the world and humans came into being, but they often end up throwing the theological baby out with the literalist bathwater. Just because God might not have created the world in six days doesn’t mean there aren’t important truths to be gained from a less literal reading of the story. One of those truths is that humans are made to enjoy rest as part of a work–life balance.
The Jews over the centuries developed Sabbath rest into a fine art, surrounded with so many rules and regulations that you couldn’t even carry a mat on the Sabbath. Jesus’ response was to tell them to get real and do good on a Sabbath rather than follow all the rules. But Jesus also appreciated time out. Many times he would go up a mountain to be alone and pray. So Sabbath rest is not about keeping Sunday special, but about taking time out regularly to stop doing and simply be (as one friend put it: ‘We are human beings, not human doings’).
As a vicar, I am fortunate that the Church of England suggests that every seven years a vicar can and should take a sabbatical, three months of rest and recuperation. Next summer I will have been here 10 years so I’m well overdue that Sabbath rest!
What will I be doing for three months? I know you’re dying to ask, so I’ll tell you. During the month of June I shall be walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostella. This is a pilgrim walk that stretches across the north of Spain and I will be walking about half of the route. Then in July and August, my family and I will be travelling in China for six weeks. Before I became a vicar I worked for four years teaching English as a foreign language in China and for years I’ve wanted to show my children some of the places Debbie and I visited during that time, including the Tibetan village in which we got engaged.
Taking time out of the normal routine, whether that’s for an hour, a day or three months, is an important aspect of a healthy mental, physical and spiritual discipline. It brings perspective, recuperation and strength for the future. I encourage all to do the same.