Slideshow image

Sabbath Rest and "Good Enough"

An interview with Pastor Joy Banks about her sabbatical experience

(Questions by Kim Woody)

Kim: Where did you go on your sabbatical? Where did you not go due to COVID?

Joy: Some of my time turned out to be “stay-batical” as most of my plans quickly got up-ended. I didn’t do any travelling or big outdoor adventures as I thought I might. But, in the end some other destinations opened up. I spent a month on a farm in South Surrey. I spent some time on Bowen Island, and also did a bit of camping in the Gulf islands.   

Kim: What were some things you had hoped to do on your sabbatical? Were you able to do these things in some way despite the limitations of COVID? (E.g., You were supposed to go on the Ignatian retreat in Colorado.) 

Joy: My number one hope was rest and restoration, and yes, I’d say that happened. Maybe the Covid shutdown meant it took a bit longer for me to wind down, but it also probably meant that I rested more because there wasn’t much I could go “do.” I had also hoped to have a 30 day focused spiritual retreat, as you said. That fell through, but thankfully an opportunity to have a silent retreat at a cottage on Bowen Island opened up along with my spiritual director, who lives on Bowen, offering to meet with me over my time there. I went back to Bowen two more times and in the end had about 30 days of retreat total. The point of the retreat was to have an extended time of silence to listen to God and I was kind of blown away by how I was met there by God’s tender presence.

Kim: Did God surprise you with anything in your time away? If so, how/what/where? 

Joy: Oh yes. I ended up in a circumstance where I didn’t know what to expect at all so everything was kind of a surprise, really. Of course, not all of those surprises were fun, but early on I felt invited to actively practice gratitude anyway. I think that practice of gratitude, along with the opportunity to slow down, opened me up to see the gifts of every day surprises from God that I often miss. For example, one day on the farm I opened the curtains and was amazed to find a hummingbird nest right outside the window. Another surprise was when I discovered I could weave a little basket out of the annoying bindweed (morning glory) vines that love to take over my garden (that gave me lots to ponder). I was also surprised by the simple ways God kept meeting me during this time without my striving. It was like God dropped daily manna in my yard which fed me during the sabbatical months. 

Kim: You mentioned in the Zoom service that you were given the words “good enough.” Can you tell us more about that? What does that mean to you?

Joy: Early on I listened to a podcast which talked about how in our culture we are inundated with the message that we need to have the best, or be perfect, or strive for the ideal  The podcast suggested that we miss a lot of joy by not celebrating what is good and what is enough. Though the podcast was not Christian, they mentioned that in the Genesis story of creation, God didn’t say at the end of each day that it was perfect or complete but simply that it was good. And, of course, scripture is full of the stories of God providing what was enough (Manna in the wilderness is one example. God provided enough food for each day.). My sabbatical wasn’t what I had dreamed of in earlier years, but it was “good” and it was “enough” and for this I’m really grateful. (And, to be honest, what I dreamed of in terms of a sabbatical in the past was not what I needed at this time for rest and restoration.) 

Kim: For your sending before you left on sabbatical, the liturgy explained sabbatical in this way: Sabbatical is a practice that takes seriously the call to rest. This ceasing from work is rooted in the God who rested after creating and who called God’s people to the rhythm of Sabbath after their exodus from slavery in Egypt. The Sabbath reorients us to God’s time and God’s ongoing work in the world. We extend the sabbatical gift to pastors as an opportunity for vocational revisioning and personal refreshment.

In light of this (and your own previous understanding), what did you learn about sabbath rest, for yourself personally and maybe also for the Church in general, during your time away? 

Joy: One thing I began to learn was about receiving all of life as a gift from God rather than something I have because I have achieved it. Letting go of the pressure to produce for a season, helped me to become re-oriented to God’s gift economy, which is so radically different from our capitalist economy. I felt anew an invitation to find my sense of well-being in God and the gifts that God gives, rather than relying on the broken world of my own making. Slowing down and stopping my striving also opened my eyes anew to the hidden labour of others and of creation that I rely on to prop up my way of life. It would take longer to unpack all of that but the practice of sabbath rest (which usually comes in the form of a sabbath day each week rather than in a sabbatical), is both deeply releasing as we acknowledge that we live by God’s gifts of mercy and life, and also sobering as it can open our eyes to the ways that we block that goodness and mercy from flowing to others and to all of creation. I do pray that we will all be able to live more deeply into this practice of sabbath-keeping in the season ahead. And I invite you to hold me to this weekly practice.

Kim: You are coming back to Grandview in a very different world than you left it. What are some pastoral hopes/dreams/prayers you have as you re-enter your shepherding role amongst us? 

Joy: Boy, is it ever different!! My prayer is that we will embrace this season, as challenging as it is, as a liminal time and be open to the particular formation work that Spirit may do in us during this time of uncertainty. A liminal time means a threshold time or an in-between time when the future is uncertain—think of the Hebrew people in the wilderness for 40 years after Egypt and before settling in the Promised Land. Truth be told, it is difficult for a community to journey through liminal seasons. There are many pitfalls that we must be cautious of in this time. But throughout Scripture we see that liminal seasons can be an incredibly transformative time for the spiritual life of a community if we seek God’s help and don’t try to prematurely escape the season. My prayer is that we will seek God’s help in the turbulence of the pandemic, God’s mercy for deeper healing that is needed in our community, God’s comfort in the on-going grieving, and God’s hope to continue journeying together even as so much is unknown about our future.