Sabbath, Part the Second: Wendell Berry Poems

Since moving to Burundi, we have come to enjoy the in-country presence of the Miller family, who live in the capital and work with the same medical school as we do.  They are extremely gracious hosts, who continue to house us when we visit, but always in a way that we never feel like we are being a burden.

Joel and I enjoy talking books.  Several months ago, he loaned me “A Timbered Choir” by Wendell Berry, a poet/author from the American South who, for decades now, has spent his Sabbaths wandering through the rural hills around his farm and occasionally writing poems.  These are bound into a couple volumes.  He’s an old man now, and the aging process comes out in the progression of his poems throughout the years.  But with that kind of ritual, Sabbath walking for over 30 years, he has a lot of wisdom to share.

He speaks of trees, friends lost, the passing of time, birds sitting on high branches, invisible in the “at-home-ness”.  He speaks of the songs he hears all around him, and his own song that he tries to sing.  He speaks of rest, and his attempts to practice it.

Sabbath observance often feels frustrated by the imminent demands of parenting.  But Rachel and I usually understand one another’s need, and try to carve out a little time for solitude each Sunday.  

So lately, that’s where one could find me during that brief interlude, sitting outside on a log with a copy of the psalms and Wendell Berry’s “A Timbered Choir”, slowly reading, savoring the words, watching the branches move in the wind, trying to embrace the image of a day to come, when our rest is made complete, thanking God for the way he continues to transform and lead our lives.

“And I, through woods and fields, through fallen days,
Am passing to where I belong:
At home, at ease, and well,
In Sabbaths of this place
Almost invisible,

Toward which I go from song to song.” (-W.B.)


Sabbath, Part the First: Resting and Rhythm

Never is the routine of normal life more appreciated than after traveling overnight abroad with three small children.  We are back from Greece, where we had a wonderful time working on credentialing, seeing friends, and enjoying my parents’ company.  And now, the quieter, steady life here at Kibuye has returned.  Obviously there are lots of challenges to life here, but lack of routine is not currently one of them.  

Walk to the hospital, walk back.  Each day of the week has a set program, and they roll by reliably.  The kids know the routine for the most part, and that helps.

My enjoyment of this sort of surprises me.  Ten years ago, I would have feared that such a pace would be boring.  There are probably lots of reasons for that, and I imagine the greatest reason is that our phase of life includes three small kids, which certainly makes a quiet steady life schedule more desirable than the alternatives.

But there is another thing, which is my growing appreciation of the role of Sabbath.  I guess it began when Janet Tang gave us “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly” by Marva Dawn, back when we were in the US, and I read it around the time we arrived in France.

I think, prior to that, I would have said obedience to the Sabbath meant 1) having enough days off from your regular job and 2) going to church as often as possible.  Dawn challenged this by defining “rest” a lot more logically, as “not working”.  Shocking, I know, but to stop from all that is work (catching up on emails, catching up on housework, running errands, reading preparation for work or some other commitment...) meant something that I think I had rarely experienced, which highlighted how much of my identity rests on what I accomplish.

So we rest.  We stop.  And we celebrate.  Our family watches a movie together every Sunday night, while eating popcorn, pickles, and assorted luxury foods for an informal dinner.  The kids love it, and it separates this day out as special.

It’s been about a year and a half since we started this, and I think another element that Dawn mentioned is starting to come to pass:  the rhythm of life.  She argues for the importance of every seventh day, that it is a rhythm for which we are created, and that it’s observation will ring true.  As with any discipline, this grows with time, but more and more I’m coming to appreciate this.  Throughout the week, the sense of the Sabbath gone and the Sabbath coming inform the emotions of the moment.

More to come...