Lord, my heart has not been haughty...

One of the ideas I am going to "sit with" over the four months I am away on sabbatical, is this: what new/old form of worship/community is needed for our congregation and town at this moment in time?  As I read about and experience the demise of traditional Sunday School, for example, I am aware that: a) contemporary families are more stressed and conflicted about Sunday morning than ever before; and b) everyone says they are interested in more "quality family time together." From where I sit I understand that to mean: Sunday mornings are the only wiggle room many young families still have in a week that is over-booked and already too complicated.  Small wonder more and more people simply stay in bed and do a late "brunch" together. It is their practice of true Sabbath time.

Some colleagues have moved away from Sunday morning Christian formation altogether: they host a light supper and shared youth group/formation events on Wednesday evenings after sports practice but before it gets too late for younger children. Others have completely thrown in the towel and closed their Sunday School ministries. And still others are trying to continue some form of formation but experience poor participation and only modest enthusiasm from all involved. So what I was wondering - and what I will carry around with me for the next 150 days - is something like this: a twice a month late afternoon gathering that includes light refreshments, group singing, a time for discussion and teaching followed by Holy Communion. Say a new/old combination of informality and sacrament that began at 4 pm and ended by 5:30 pm that let people have maximum freedom throughout their only structured day AND gave people a time to return thanks to God in community?

There would be implications for my staff - and I will want their critical input - and it would take some time to get off the ground, too. At this stage in ministry I also know that given the doctrine of unintended consequences, some shit will likely hit the fan even if I have no idea what that is right now! Such a shift would also change how I use the rest of my week, too. But that wouldn't be such a bad thing: I want to give more time to both pastoral care and music-making on the flip side of this sabbatical rather than fritter my energies away on the dead-ends in the wider church. 

My mind drifts back to one of my favorite psalms - 131 - and the comments Robert Alter offers:

Lord, my heart has not been haughty,
     nor have my eyes looked too high,
Nor have I striven for great things,
     nor for things too wondrous for me.
(Alter writes: "strive for great things" literally means "gone about within great things" in Hebrew.)
But I have calmed and contented myself
     like a weaned babe on its mother --
          like a weaned babe I am with myself.
(There is some ambiguity here but the text probably means to quiet oneself like a weaned baby settling down within a mother's embrace. The Hebrew goes on to say "like a weaned babe I am on myself" so Alter suggests that the person is quietly holding/touching him/herself in an embrace of comfort that brings reassuring calm. The Psalmist evokes a sense of beautiful self-containment, an embracing of one's self like a small child.)
Wait, O Israel, for the Lord,
     now and forevermore.

Sabbatical thinking, pondering and wandering is all about the blessings of waiting. Reading this psalm also evokes my main, wee man in Brooklyn whom I will have the chance to hang when our sabbatical begins in NYC.


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