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Sleep for God’s Beloved

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“A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.’” –Acts 20:9-10

“For [the Lord] provides for his beloved during sleep.” –Psalm 127:2b

I do not normally preach from a manuscript, so I have plenty of opportunity to watch my congregation as I deliver the sermon. When I look out into the rows of people before me, I see faces stern with concentration, some laughing at a joke or whispering to a neighbor in explanation, most people caught up in contemplation of the words I am speaking, following my hands, watching my lips to understand and my eyes to get the sense of my expression. Always, too, I see at least one person who is nodding off. He may have his Bible open before him in an attempt to look as if he is “reading,” or she may jerk suddenly awake every now and then only to sink slowly back into a shallow slumber. I am not offended when I see people falling asleep during my sermon. In fact, I usually smile to myself, gratified that my parishioners are at rest. Read more

Love the One You’re With (Er… Yourself)

I hadn’t meant to not take a day off. It just happened. What with a diocesan convention here, a religious arts festival there, some pastoral care emergencies, Lenten planning, and of course, the weekly parade of bulletins, committee meetings, and sermons, it had just been easier to keep going. For me, taking time off sometimes feels like one more thing on the never-ending to-do list.

The local Barnes and Noble is just waiting for people like me—poor little overworked professional white women, desperate for guidance. There are a myriad of new self-help resources that could be used to justify why any of us should love ourselves by doing things like taking some time off. However, a desire for ways to take care of ourselves doesn’t have to take its cue from an increasingly individualized, consumerist culture. Though I’m certainly not above leafing through O magazine (ahem), I try to think theologically, too.

My own rationalization theology of self-care, of doing things like taking time off, when I’m actually able to do it, that is, stems from “the greatest commandment”:

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (NRSV, Matthew 22:36-40; Leviticus 19:18).

In other words, love of God and love of neighbor are inextricably intertwined. These verses are most often read as a call to curb the self-centeredness that seems to plague humanity; I know sometimes I need to hear it that way. However, some people, often women, are socialized to put others’ needs and wants first. Self-annihilation rather than selfishness is occasionally the default. Read more