The Gift of Sabbath

Editor’s note: please enjoy this guest post by Emily Engelhardt, Brazos Fellow alum (2019-2020). Emily is now studying nurse-midwifery at the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.

I am a year removed and hundreds of miles away from the special time and place of Brazos Fellows, and I am only beginning to understand the impact of those nine months. 

Brazos Fellows provided the opportunity to practice and embody spiritual disciplines in community. Liturgies both spoken and performed day after day and week after week slowly engrained themselves upon us.

2019 Fall Retreat

On our prayer retreat, Fr. Nicholas encouraged us to cross ourselves as soon as we wake up and when we go to bed to remind ourselves of the one to whom we belong. Now, when I awake, before a coherent thought sputters across my mind and the weight of the day’s responsibilities set in, I mark my body and soul with the sign of redemption, and remember that I belong to God, the one on whom all my hope rests. As Tish Warren writes in Liturgy of the Ordinary, when we awake, we should remember that God chooses us before we have accomplished anything. Like a babe washed in the waters of baptism before they can choose to do anything for themselves, so does our God look at us before we accomplish any task and say, “My beloved!”  

A discipline communally practiced in Brazos Fellows that transformed my life was practicing a Sabbath. I still remember the moment Paige Gutacker said that the assigned readings were considered the work for the program, and should not be done Sunday. “Oh man,” I thought. “Not sure yet how I’ll make that happen.” But our cohort was committing to a rule of life together, so for better or worse I was submitting to a decision made for me (and how freeing this was!). 

Little did I know what a gift it would be to start receiving this Sabbath rest. Committing to take Sunday off from work not only began to shape the rest of my week, but my life. Week by week, God loosened my fingers of the tight grasp of control I was attempting to hold on my own life. “Let me take it,” He says. “I have something better for you.” Will I trust that voice? 

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“Closer to me than I am to myself”

On Saturday, August 28, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo and teacher of the Christian faith. One of my favorite lines from Augustine’s writings comes in Book 3 of the Confessions, where he remembers how he wandered from God as a young man: “You were more inward to me than my most inward part,” or, as sometimes paraphrased, “you were closer to me than I am to myself.” (The Latin is tu autem eras interior intimo meo.)

It’s a remarkable statement. Who could be closer to me than me? What is more intimate to me than my own self? The answer, according to Augustine, is God. The One who made us, the One who is beyond us, also dwells within us. God is more inward to you than your very self.

It’s fascinating to read these words some sixteen hundred years later, at a time when there is great confusion about the self. We cheer “authenticity” and encourage each other to “be your true self,” presumably at any cost. We celebrate those who “find themselves” by breaking free from the constraints of culture, family, tradition, and even biology. We (mis)represent ourselves through social media, carefully curating a digital self that others will like. Much of our energy, much of our attention, is given to our own self-construction; as W.H. Auden put it, “each of us prays to an image of his image of himself.”

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