In her book, This Here Flesh, Cole Arthur Riley observes, “It seems like anytime God is talking about salvation in the Bible, [God] makes a point to name rest. ‘I’ll refresh tired bodies’ (Jeremiah 31:25, MSG). ‘Find rest for your souls’ (Matthew 11:29). And, in Psalm 23:2, we have “He makes me lie down.” What a peculiar answer to the valley of the shadow of death. You might expect God’s response to be to have people rise, to empower them to fight. But God’s answer is unapologetic care for the body. The deepest yet most neglected of needs. What does it mean that in response to the terrors of the world, God would have us lie down? To eat? To drink from still waters? The most enduring yet undermined sentiment of evangelism: ‘Come to me all you that are weary…and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11:28).” (148)
I’ll let you in on a secret: ministers may talk about rest and sabbath. We’re not very good at making time for these life-giving and life-saving practices. I’m so grateful for the thoughtfulness of this church in providing the opportunity of Sabbath Study Leave for its ministers. These times of rest and renewal have always been important, and this congregation had the wisdom and foresight to put plans in place long ago. The pandemic years have heightened the need for rest and stepping away for a time. I am thankful you are giving me the chance to do that this summer.
The focus of my Sabbath Study Leave is “Illuminating Scripture.” As the psalmist says in Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” A lamp, a light: illumination. There are times when we sense the light of scripture directing our paths, and there are other times when the words seem shrouded in mystery and difficulty. The words of scripture sometimes bring us comfort, sometimes give us pause, sometimes challenge our perspectives. We return to the text over and over again: in sermon and song, Sunday School lessons and prayers. Stories and passages we know so well come to life in new ways as we hear them again.
This summer I’m pausing to see and hear how scripture might come to life in my soul in new ways. I’m looking for different perspectives and approaches to the reading of scripture. I’m listening for how the Bible gives shape to ministry in other places. My journey will take me to Nashville to meet with an Old Testament scholar and pastor of a local church. She was the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible studies and has taught and preached for decades. In Kentucky, I’ll learn about the work of Baptist Seminary of Kentucky’s Rural Ministry Program and its Institute for Black Church Studies. I’ll also travel to Saint John’s Abbey in Minnesota to see the Saint John’s Bible and experience Benedictine rhythms of life and hospitality. The Saint John’s Bible is a hand-written, hand-illuminated Bible that brings scripture to life in a unique and beautiful way.
I am thrilled and overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity to learn from people and places gifted at bringing scripture to life. I’ll miss my church family and look forward to sharing together when I return. Thank you for this chance to pursue rest and renewal for my mind, body, and soul.