Sabbaths, Retreats and Holidays

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We’ve just got back from five days holidaying in Mid Wales. It has been a great time, just me, Angela (my wife) and our six year old foster child exploring and walking the forest paths above Cwm Einion, marveling at the wildlife, playing on the beaches and in the rivers, making memories together that will hopefully last a lifetime.

Unlike those memories, holidays themselves don’t last forever, and already after just one day back I’m beginning to feel slightly overwhelmed as I catch up on news and events that largely passed me by whilst away.

Whilst away I remembered a phrase I’d heard some months back from Phil Togwell at the Joined Up Conference in Sheffield, he offered some advice to pastors and other church leaders to: “Pause daily ….Sabbath weekly ….Retreat quarterly …. Holiday annually”. It is indeed a good disciple to follow I am sure – making time every day to be still and with God seems the easiest and most available, surely each of us whatever our circumstances, however busy we may find ourselves can find that few minutes (even as we settle down to sleep) to let ourselves become consciously aware of the personal link between us and God. Likewise finding a weekly Sabbath space where we stop and rest from our labours means so much more than “the day we go to church”. Sabbaths are resting times, they are days to take breath and know that life itself is good.

Finding time for Retreats whether quarterly or not, is indeed valuable as I have increasingly found. Trevor Miller writes this description of Retreat for the Northumbria Community: “In its simplest form ‘Retreat’, means ‘to withdraw, to drawback.’ Throughout the ages, the Christian tradition has understood Retreat to be an important part of spiritual formation.  That is, time consciously set aside for God, a change of focus, a deliberate act of stepping outside of normal routine by withdrawing (not running away) from the noise and pressures; the immediate and insistent claims of our social, domestic and workaday responsibilities in order to be in a quiet place where all our senses are open and ready to listen to God.”

And so back again to holidays – or Holy Days to cite their origin. I feel really fortunate to have been able to enjoy five days away with my family; before I left I was strikingly aware of how many of those families I work with and minister alongside in North Sheffield do not always have this same opportunity. I met someone during a food bank session the other week who told me it had been “five years since [she had] been away with the kids”. In the past the Church knew how to celebrate Holy Days within the local communities and neighbourhoods they served – it created festivals and feast days that all could enjoy. Holidays (just like Retreats and Sabbaths) are about rest and time out, but they are also about celebration and enjoyment. On the last night of our holiday in Wales, the three families holidaying on the site, joined with workers and volunteers from the permaculture eco-project in which our accomodation was located, and the farm owner (just out of hospital that day) gathered all together around a fire. As we sat around the open fire pit sharing food, conversation and watching our children play together this sense of Holiday as celebration was real, it was tangible – and amongst it all, at the centre, whether recognised or not was Godness.

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