“This Present Moment”

May 17, 2020

Rev. Maddie Sifantus


“The past is not to be taken seriously… nor the future…, but only the present instant.” ~W. H. Auden


READING  “X”                      Wendell Berry

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.

When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.


REFLECTION     This Very Moment        Rev. Maddie Sifantus

Here we are now, this very moment, this Sunday, this Sabbath day. Wendell Berry writes, “When we work well, a Sabbath mood rests on our day and finds it good.” What is a Sabbath mood? For that matter, what is this concept of Sabbath? And what does it mean during this “different time” that we have been experiencing since mid-March?

Our theme for this month of May 2020 which comes from our subscription to the theme based ministry resource, Touchstones, is Sabbath. Sabbath—or “taking time” as I have called it in the past—is a theme that I like to come back to at least once a year since I believe that it is so important for all of us in our usual hurry-up, keep busy all the time world, to know how to step back, to breathe, to re-center to what actually is most important to each of us, not just what are the loudest voices calling to us. To keep the Sabbath, as our Jewish friends might say. I am reflecting today on our theme in “This Very Moment” and again on May 31 with Pat English in “A Gift of Time”, Sabbath—the Sequel, if you will. And next week is there will be another reflection on time: “Memorial Time” when we think about those who we hold in our memories. It’s about time! It’s all about time. And it is all about time in this different time.

One of the things we are about here at the Universalist Unitarian Church of Santa Paula is building Beloved Community which we do through our Mission Statement which is: Practice Inclusivity, Seek Justice and Foster Spirituality. We are about it when we are in our building and we are learning about it in our changed world. One dimension of building Beloved Community is time, both mundane, day to day time and sacred time, a time out of time. The Greeks called these two kinds of time, Chronos and Kairos. Mundane time or Chronos is the work of the world, those tasks, schedules and responsibilities that call us or even the schedule of your favorite program on NPR or Hulu and when you plan to take your walk around your neighborhood or venture out to the grocery store. Chronos is a necessity and, when it’s done well, it makes so much more possible. Sacred time or Kairos time is the work of the soul or going deeper, going within and beyond. Without it, we are a human “doing,” not a human “being.” The task of Beloved Community is to honor both kinds of time.

The work of “Community”, or the work of our congregation like making a new Directory or wiring up the Sanctuary to do Zoom worship, is part of Chronos, while Kairos/Sabbath time falls under the umbrella of “Beloved”, the first part of our phrase Beloved Community. Without “Beloved Time,” our lives would be diminished. The Sabbath is a state of being, as well as a state of heart and mind. Sabbath time is the time to make a priority of rest and renewal. It is not the renewal offered by sleep, rather it has the quality of prayer, of meditation, of stillness, and of depth. It seems to me that this “different time” we are in is a perfect time to go within or be more reflective. We can be in Kairos time.

Wayne Muller writes in his book named “Sabbath”, “At our best, we become Sabbath for one another. We are the emptiness, the day of rest. We become space, that our loved ones, the lost and sorrowful, may find rest in us. Whenever two or more are gathered, there am I in the midst of you. Not fixing, not harming, not acting. Quietly empty, we become Sabbath, where the sorrows of the world are safely poured and gently dissolve into the unfathomable immensity of rest, and silence.”[1] And here we are being Sabbath for one another this morning, in this new way, through our Zoom screens or on Facebook. How can we be Sabbath for each other in this new time? And how can we use this time to find a time of rest and deepen into ourselves?

As I started thinking about this, I have asked folks I have met with on other Zoom meetings this last couple of weeks—our Caring Committee and the folks who visit with me Tuesdays on Sip and Check In (you are all welcome, by the way) what Sabbath means to them and how they may be finding it during this time. One theme that came up for many in an answer to my question to them of what is bringing them rest, peace or calm is being outdoors. Our newer friend William has planted many different kind of veggies in his garden. Donna has an arugula forest she is tending at her house. Ken is enjoying working in his garden and Sharon Zooms in from her backyard where she has got her fountain working. Jyl Atmore tells me that Alan spends the days in their beautiful gardens. And Sushila posts pictures of her family exploring the Creek. The sights, sounds and smells of our outdoor world can bring us back to ourselves. I know that I have been enjoying sitting on my hanging chair in my courtyard, watching the birds and butterflies fly through and seeing my tomatoes take hold…and being at home so much more so that I can pay attention to when they need water. I certainly think being outdoors is a wonderful start as each of us find our way through this time.

Donna Hamer has been listening to as much choral music and enjoying having a TV for the first time in many years. Mary Nelson has been watching London theater online. I hardly ever watch TV myself but even I have finished the most recent season for Grace and Frankie and discovered a quirky British mystery series set in Scotland, Hamish MacBeth, that I missed back when I was in seminary. And I have been checking in online with my longtime meditation teachers and Kirtan leaders. Are you catching up on favorite shows or discovering new ones? Are they enhancing your Sabbath mood? How are you balancing your Chronos and Kairos time?

Just a few words about Sabbath from its traditional Biblical basis. You may remember the story of Creation in Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew Bible or Torah. God was busy creating everything for six days and he was exhausted and declared the seventh day God’s day of rest. Here is the actual text from the NRSV version in Genesis 2: 1-2: “And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that [God] had done in creation.”

Since we come from the Judeo-Christian heritage as UUs, we too have set aside Sunday, the seventh day, for our services. When I was growing up in Massachusetts, not much happened on Sundays. Stores were not open due to what were called Blue Laws. There were no sport leagues for kids. At least in my family, we went to church, we might visit the cemetery where family members were buried or go for a drive. We were on the down-low. There were no malls open, liquor stores, grocery stores, banks…nothing! It was in the inheritance of the puritan Colonial days when the Sabbath was mandated. That all changed somehow 30-40 years ago but there are still some things that don’t open there or there are shorter hours than the weekdays.

In the Jewish tradition, the Sabbath actually forms the center of Jewish life and thought. Francine Klagsbrun wrote a book named Sabbath—The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day. In it she tells that the Sabbath is not just part of the weekend. Instead it is the essence of the entire week. In Hebrew it is the only day of the week which has a name—Shabbat…”  Klagsbrun also tells that the Sabbath is unique, because, until the Hebrew Bible, there had never been another day like it. It was not tied to lunar cycles or sun rotations. Rather it was set aside as a sacred day and became the source for the seven-day week, a time period unrelated to planting or harvesting Its emphasis was on rest and sanctity for every person.[2]

So here we are in this time, when many of us are taking rest, whether we signed up for it or not. Many have lost their jobs or have been furloughed. For some, if the illness has not touched them or someone close to them, it is a time of great frustration and a feeling of a lack of control, of change that is very scary. There are philosophical differences and we note the uptick in racism, ageism and more. As we Seek Justice as part of our mission, we still need to pay attention to our community and world, even as we may make a practice of resting from our labors and looking within.

Of course, at first, we were thinking this different time might just be for a month or two, or maybe until the summer, or maybe until it is time for school to return in the fall. Others want to rush to get back to so called “normal”. This Sabbath time has gone too far!

But what if we look further in the Hebrew Bible to the book of Leviticus (25:3-5), not a book we do not often quote in our congregation. But listen with the ears of now:

Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land.

It is now looking, if we listen to the Guidelines that came out of the UUA this past week, that it might be another year before we are able to gather as a full community. A Sabbath Year! How will that work? We let our metaphorical fields lay fallow for a year or prune our metaphorical vineyards? We don’t get to hug folks for another year? On so many levels that makes we want to run screaming down Main Street! But what if the year of complete rest for the land brings about a new normal that actually has some pluses for us as an interconnected world and each of us who now have the opportunity to perhaps reflect on what is most important to us.

That’s been what I have been trying to do when I have not been attending Zoom meetings. My walks around my neighborhood have become walking meditations. I have upped my spiritual practices, now sometimes delivered on Instagram such as these yesterday:

Jack Kornfield: “No matter what has passed, we can begin again. We can only begin now, where we are, and it is this now that becomes the seed for all that lies ahead. In our relationships, in our community, on this earth, we may not live to see all the changes we work for—we are the planters of seeds. Mindfulness and compassion are genuinely undertaken one step at a time, one person, one moment.”[3]

And Sharon Salzberg responds: “We can always begin again. No matter what happens, no matter how long it’s been, no matter how far from our aspirations we may have strayed, we can always begin again.”[4]

Lama Surya Das posted, “Don’t just seek a secure harbor. Build an oceangoing vessel.”[5]

How do we build an oceangoing vessel for this unsought for Sabbath time? How do we begin again in this now? For each of us as individuals….but also for our Beloved Community? How do we create a nurturing meal for each other, as in our Time for All Ages this morning? How does this vessel continue to Practice Inclusivity, Seek Justice, and Foster Spirituality? How do we use this Sabbath time?

I am grateful for this community that allows and encourages us to think together about vision and planning as we continue to reach (virtually) for those we love, as we are about to sing in our final hymn this morning.

Blessed be. Amen.


[1] Muller, Wayne. Sabbath.

[2] Klagsburn, Francine (2002). The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day. NY: Harmony

[3] Instagram, 5-16-20.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.