Monday, April 11, 2011

day off

I remember having a regular day off last year. It was a nice break to spend 24 hours not thinking about the demands of school, and I felt it was imperative for my overall well-being. This past school year, however, that practice of taking a day off fell by the wayside. Taking on the additional responsibilities of a teaching assistant and facing looming deadlines for numerous large projects, I did what needed to be done, and I did it whenever I needed to do it. This meant that I worked 7 days a week on reading, writing, taking notes, teaching, grading, applying for programs and submitting proposals, as well as attending class. I did take 2 nights a week to participate in gatherings with my faith community, but often rushed home afterwards to complete any assignment I was in the middle of. On occasion I would also go to a movie with Dean, but there was no guarantee of a weekly date.

Since it was only a temporary situation, I had no problem embracing the intensity of those 7 months or so. I do realise, however, that this cannot become a permanent way of life, and it is something I need to guard against becoming the norm as I pursue doctoral studies, which will no doubt be an increase in intensity once again.

I read something this week that made me stop and think about this concept of a day off. It was in Deuteronomy 5 where Moses is reminding the folks (Israelites) that God commanded them to take a day off (sabbath). And the reason? Because they needed to remember that they were not slaves anymore; they were free. As slaves, they worked 7 days a week, no breaks, but as people who belonged to a kind and loving God, they could enjoy rest. So I ask myself: am I a slave to anything in my life? To finishing my degree? To my desire to do well in all my courses? To my love for learning and teaching? To my GPA? To my professors who expect a certain level of academic excellence from me? To my own perfectionism? To an unrealistic schedule? To a system that does not reflect God's values? To the pressure I put on myself never to disappoint people? To an elusive, demanding career?

Anything that keeps me from resting, from trusting God, from living with my hands open to give and receive, enslaves me. Hard work need not be slavery: I work hard because I am FREE to work hard. Slaves can't walk away, can't negotiate, don't have a respite from their labours, don't have a say in how things happen, and for the most part, are resigned to their situation. I am not a slave. Or am I?

It is interesting that there are several words that are translated "servant" in the Hebrew bible. The most prominent one, and the one found here in Deuteronomy (ehbed) is often rendered as slave because it implies a person in bondage. A second, quite uncommon word (sharath) is used of someone who waits upon someone and ministers to them. I would think that trusted and faithful leaders such as Abraham, Jacob and Moses would be referred to as ministers (sharath), but no, they are always referred to as bondservants (ehbed) of God. To our 21st century ears, that just sounds wrong, doesn't it? Slavery implies that I can't walk away, and that is what all these great leaders acknowledged: they would not and could not walk away from God.

It is a strange paradox - being free while being bound to someone. In many ways, I am a servant to Dean, because I have chosen to tie myself to him. Our destinies are intertwined. And perhaps this concept of linked destinies is one of the key ideas that defines my work as well as my day off. Who or what am I tied to? Whose destiny am I invested in? Who or what am I aligning myself with? If I am tied to God, then I cannot serve anyone else. And this God says that one of the signs that I serve him (and am not enslaved to some other person or authority) is that I take a day off.

To identify with God and his way of doing things is to extract myself from the frantic modus operandi of so many environments or disciplines. Instead, it means that I align myself with his ways. By his words, by his breath, by his spirit, something good is made (see Genesis 1). And only when God says it is good is it truly good.

This is a photo I took outside my condo this afternoon. Spring plants!

You might want to check out Bob Dylan's Gotta Serve Somebody, done by Natalie Cole here:

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