I spent some time at the Art Institute in Chicago the other day.
It is no secret that it is one of my favorite places in all the world. This is so in spite of the fact that I know very little about art. Even with that, however, I do know just enough to get caught up in the stories behind the images. This was so again this week.
So it was on Saturday morning I paused for a moment before this beautiful painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The note beside it said he had painted it in 1881 or 1882. The explanatory notes also offered this: “I just let my brain rest when I paint flowers,” Pierre-August Renoir remarked. “I don’t experience the same tension as I do when confronted by the model. When I am painting flowers, I establish the tones. I study the values carefully without worrying about losing the picture. I don’t dare do that with a figure piece for fear of ruining it.”
“I just let my brain rest when I paint flowers.”
Again, I am no artist. However, I do understand what Renoir was getting at when he spoke of ‘letting his brain rest.’ Along with him and along with all of you, I know what it is to be so intent on getting the ‘picture’ — which can be more challenging with human interaction — ‘correct’ that my brain, along with all the rest of me, often simply yearns for rest.
Indeed, as of this writing, I am mere days away from my first sabbatical. For a variety of reasons, after nearly 31 years of ordained ministry, this will be my first real extended rest of this sort. Oh, it is not as though as with the man who is healed in the sabbath story before us now that I am exactly crippled or paralyzed as a result of these many years of ministry. At the same time, in the last year the losses have especially seemed to pile on, leaving little time or space to grieve before moving on to the next one. It is also so that in my experience it has not become easier to be a pastor in the decades since I was first ordained. The expectations are surely higher. The need is as great as ever. And the workings of the world have meant that the one who steps into the pulpit, up to the hospital bedside, into the community meeting room, is simply not granted the same automatic respect a pastor apparently once was. We still carry all the ‘baggage’ of the role, but fewer and fewer of the cultural advantages. And so yes, after these many years, I am a little tired. And while it is so that some would take this as a sign that it is time to move on, I do not believe that this is so for me. For all the weariness I have been feeling of late, I know myself to be serving a congregation which is rich in so very many ways — rich with possibility, with energy, and yes with resources to be about God’s Good Work. My own deep sense of call tells me there is still wonderful work left to be done in this partnership. And sabbath rest. Yes, “sabbath healing” promises to be the ground on which we will stand in order to be able to ‘pick up our mats’ and go on once more.
As for what we see of Jesus in the story before us now. We know, of course, that criticism ran rampant whenever Jesus healed on the sabbath, for this was considered ‘work.’ I can’t help but wonder, though, whether this was not really ‘work’ for him at all. Indeed, I expect what we see before us now came as naturally to him as ‘painting flowers’ did to Renoir. Oh, I imagine that as he participated in such as this it gave him a chance to simply stand still in the midst of the very best of what God has to offer: Healing. And Wholeness. And Life. Which is, of course, what sabbath was meant to be in the first place!
So over these next two months I am hoping for the chance to ‘paint flowers.’ The chance to simply stand still in the presence of all the best of all that God has done and continues to do. There will be some travel, some long over due time with family, the chance to see some new sights, to learn some new things, to think some thoughts I have not thought before. I am planning on more and more frequent walks and rides on my bicycle. Simply put, I am yearning in this time to simply ‘be still’ a little longer. To breathe a little deeper. To, in a very real way, be ‘healed’ in and through this time apart. And while there will be time, perhaps, to write, I intend to do so without the weekly pressure of a sermon or yes, a blog. So it is that during June and July you will continue to get weekly notices of posts on this page. The writing shared will not be new, however. I have gone through old blog posts and pulled out some which still somehow speak to me. I pray that they will be blessing to you as well.
- What does sabbath healing mean to you?
- I offer above that perhaps Jesus healing on the sabbath wasn’t really ‘work’ for him, it was so much a part of who he was. Does this make sense to you? Why or why not?
- What would it mean for you to have the time and space to ‘paint flowers?”
I do hope you will have time to ‘paint flowers’ in the coming months as well.
May you be richly blessed to all that you are called. May these coming days and weeks and months also afford you the chance to ‘stand still’ in the midst of the best of what God is doing.
I will look forward to ‘seeing you’ in August.
—- Pastor Janet