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July 18, 2021  New Bridges : to Self Care, by Pastor David

Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

I never get tired of the invitation to breathe and slow down for a moment. I can always use it. So let’s take this minute to listen to our breath in a moment of silence.

July 18, 2021 New Bridges: to Self Care

Thank you for taking the time to breathe and to pray - to take care of yourselves in this moment and through this summer. Thanks for giving me permission to breathe and to pray, to take care of myself this summer. Our lives have been extra stressed over the last year and a half. Though there’s still plenty to worry about and stress about, this time of summer relaxation is the best time we have for slowing and self-care. I care about each one of you, and I want to encourage you to be good to yourself. 

As you know, I’m on the board of POWER, the interfaith community group of which we are a part, and they are closing for the next three weeks for vacation. Last week I interviewed a new lead organizer. We hired Edwin Robinson whose picture I’m showing. One thing he said in his interview that almost didn’t get him hired was that he believes in self-care - in encouraging organizers to work 40 hour weeks. 

After the meeting, Bishop Royster, our executive director, said he really liked Mr. Robinson and was in favor of hiring him, but he wondered what he was going to do about his habit or working 70 hours a week. When he said that i realized that I hadn’t taken Edwin seriously. That I had assumed he would mostly work longer hours, but hold the 40 hour work week as a kind of ideal. I had to re-evaluate and consider that he might be serious.

There have been times in my life when I fairly regularly got sick. I didn’t recognize it very well at the time, but looking back on it, I realize that I pushed myself past limits that my body could manage. Not all sickness is caused by stress and a lack of self-care, but I can tell you from personal experience that it makes a big difference.

I have to wonder as I read this passage if Jesus is the best model for self care. He clearly wants and expects the disciples to take care of themselves, and he himself goes off on retreat and time for prayer often. He says to the apostles: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” As we see in this passage though, people are so desperate that they find him and his disciples wherever they go. And Jesus does not send them away. Jesus “had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” He also feeds them. The section that is missing from the assigned reading today is the feeding of the 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish. 

In the rest of the passage, Jesus’ intention of finding a quiet place to rest seems to have been forgotten. I think we tend to admire leaders who get by on little sleep and push themselves hard to be of service, even at personal cost. Our new bishop, Bishop John Schol, has a reputation as a kind of workaholic, and he has done very well because he works really hard. 

Even though the intention of finding a quiet place seems to drop out of this passage, it is not the last time that we read about Jesus looking for a time and place to retreat or to pray. I think it’s safe to say that it was part of his routine. I certainly recommend this routine for us. We may also model ourselves on Jesus’ unending and deep compassion.

So here’s what I want to say today about new bridges to self care, as we look forward to next week’s cookout with pictures from the last few years. It is possible to find a good balance in our lives between work and rest, between care for others and care for ourselves and our loved ones. And I would recommend a way to find that balance for yourself through the practice of contemplative prayer. I don’t think you will be very surprised that I recommend this practice, since it has been a very successful practice for me for the last 4 years or so in particular.
Richard Rohr, one of my favorite teachers of contemplative prayer defines prayer as “the umbrella word for any interior journeys or practices that allow us to experience faith, hope, and love within ourselves.” So that definition could include both activity and rest, the balance of care for community and care for our own. Rohr goes on to say “Despite what Christians have often been taught, prayer is not a technique for getting things, a pious exercise that somehow makes God happy, or a requirement for entry into heaven. It is much more like practicing heaven now by leaping into communion with what is right in front of us.” 

A pastor wrote in a The Christian Century this week about her journey with prayer. She said that when she tried practicing the written prayers of the church or listened to the seemingly long written prayers in the service, they didn’t do anything for her but put her to sleep. She tried evangelical prayer where the rule seems to be the word “just.” “We just ask you to hear us today God. Just tell us what we need. We’re just listening, Father. And she tried labyrinths and quiet and it was all frustrating for her, til she tried a body prayer with a counselor.

She had just given birth to a baby and the counselor invited her to close her eyes and ask her body where its story was. And immediately she said, “My abdomen.” She was surprised. And the counselor said, “What is the emotion there?” and again a response came quickly, “Tenderness” “Whose?” the counselor asked. Without thinking, the pastor responded, “God’s” overwhelmed by the sense that God was offering God’s own nurture and tenderness in the places where her tired body had nurtured life. She blinked open her eyes, startled. “What just happened? she asked. “Prayer.” the counselor responded softly and the pastor says she cried for a week. [Mindy Roll, p. 10, Christian Century, June 30, 2021

That would have been a good sermon title today, wouldn’t it - practicing heaven. I love that. or practicing resurrection as Wendell Berry says.  Prayer is a form of simple communing, of living in connection with the divine, practicing heaven.  As part of the 25th anniversary of ministry here, I enjoyed remembering Kathy Taylor, another prayer teacher for many people here. There were so many ways in which she reminded one that prayer made life better for everyone, because you could tell that she made time to pray. She didn’t question it. She just took the time for prayer, and she let you know that the compassion she showed for other people came out of the time she took to commune with God, to connect with God and her highest self. 

She would visit someone just at the time that they needed it and she would casually mention that she felt led that way through her morning prayer. She would be upset with herself if she missed the prompting that she recognized in hindsight when she was not there for someone who might have needed her. What a model of caring and grace!

She knew the meaning of the word compassion - with passion or suffering with. God suffers with those in need, is present with all of us in our need. We know it when we take time to slow down. We know it when we practice heaven by being there for each other and for ourselves. Take time to commune with God this summer, so you know that compassion. 

Come away with me to a quiet place apart from the world with its frantic pace, to pray, reflect, and seek God’s grace. Come away with me. Come away.

Responsive Hymn. 2202 Come Away with Me