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.
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?
“There is only one cure for fear–trust in God,” Caryll Houselander writes in her spiritual classic, The Reed of God. What is it that I fear when I itch to get a task done on Sunday? To pick up that textbook and study for my exam, or to check my email? I need the liturgy of Sabbath to help me trust God with my responsibilities. I must learn again and again to surrender and hand over everything to God. A Sabbath reminds me that this was never mine in the first place. My time, my body, my desires: all is a gift! All these belong to God and I can offer it all back to Him. We pray in the Offertory: “All things come from you, O Lord… And of your own have we given you.” (1 Chronicles 29:14). Our worship is offering back to God everything: all that I am and do, because everything is from him and for him.
I learn again to receive from the One who gives me life. “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength’” (Isaiah 30:15). My soul learns again to wait for my God, more than the watchmen for the morning. I remember the purpose for which I was made: to love God, and worship him forever. A Sabbath reorients me towards the one who gave me life: “him whom my soul loves” (Song of Songs 3:1).
As the liturgy we speak and chant and sing etches the living Word of God upon my soul, so does the discipline of receiving a Sabbath rest cultivate space within me for worship. Alexander Schmemman writes in For the Life of the World that the Sabbath is not merely the absence of work, but “joyful acceptance of the world created by God as good,” and “the active participation in the ‘Sabbath delight’, in the sacredness and fullness of divine peace as the fruit of all work, as the crowning of time.” Every other day is transformed by this day. On this day that we celebrate the Eucharist and participate in this heavenly feast, we remember Christ’s death and resurrection as well as look forward to his return and the heavenly wedding banquet. As is emphasized in the season of Advent, the Sabbath teaches us to live both in remembrance and expectation.
It is a day that both belongs to this world and reminds us of the world to come. We get to receive the bread of life, the manna from heaven, who gives us the nourishment we need on this pilgrimage towards the promised land.
Taking a Sabbath is a liturgy of time. Liturgies not only of what we say, but of what we do, shape who we become.
Daily and weekly liturgies orient us again towards God. The day comes to the end, I mark myself with the sign of the cross, and am reminded of the great Shepherd who promises rest for my soul.
I lay my head on the pillow as these words ring in my head: “Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace.”