spacious practices and rhythms that center

By Rev. Anna Blaedel

Growing up, my family of origin never missed church. Every Sunday, we were in the pews, in the sanctuary, in Sunday school, in worship, in collective practice. Even during summers, even on vacation. (Wednesdays, usually, too–for choir practices and community meals and small group studies and such.) I confess, much of this I did not love. But I did enjoy, even then, and far more so appreciate now, the strong sense of Sabbath rhythm ingrained in me early on. After church, after lunch, my dad would take a nap, my mom would get on the phone, exchanging “Sunday calls” with her mom, and siblings, and friends, and my sister and I would be free, released from any expectation other than play. Sunday afternoons were a time of lingering, lazing, sinking into Mary Oliver’s prayer practice of paying attention, being “idle and blessed.” Riding bikes. Making forts. Reading books. Shooting hoops. Climbing trees. Creating games. No TV allowed, and no plans with friends that required our parents to give us rides, which meant playing with neighbors, or by ourselves, or with each other.

My sabbath practices have changed a lot over the years, as have my spiritual practices, and also my practiced rhythms of work and rest and study and play. My sense of sabbath expanded beyond Sunday, and found new rhythms when I was pastoring congregations; and, my sabbath practices expanded to include brunch with beloveds, lingering in bed with a lover, pulling Tarot cards, sitting in silence with the Quakers, potluck picnics with friends, shape note singing.

Throughout the pandemic, solitude has shaped Sunday’s rhythms: a long walk, or hike through the cemetery and into the woods up the hill from our house; time in my basement woodwork shop; sinking my fingers into the soil. I love these introverted sabbath practices, but also crave the connection of collective practice, and long to return, anew and differently, to the magic of sharing space and breath and silence and wisdom and song and ritual with other embodied, enfleshed humans. (The bald eagles and trees and gravestones and prairie grass and deer and squirrels and songbirds and moon and wildflowers and stars are pretty good company, however, too.)

Adapting to life with an autoimmune disorder and chronic illness has emphasized the urgent necessity of finding new rhythms that hold more slowness and spaciousness, for the unpredictable needs of my bodymind. Plenty of spacetime for puttering, sometimes prepping food or space for the week ahead. I try, with effort and intentionality, to minimize my work, my labor, my productivity that isn’t grounded in pleasure. There’s a queer and trans yoga practice that has been blessing my Sunday evenings, led by a Budhhist I met in Brooklyn. Always, always a “Sunday call” with my mom.

It is through practice that we make possible otherwise ways of being, and being together. Practicing rest, practicing love, practicing kinship. The mark of our practices, adrienne maree brown suggests, is our capacity to return to our center. Our spiritual practices, our sabbath practices, deepen and strengthen our capacity to find our way, find our breath, find our center, our grounding, space for our roots to reconnect with nourishment and sustenance. Through practice, we deepen our capacity for aliveness. And in these days of cascading crises and catastrophes, and also of the blessed beauties haunting our “one wild and precious life,” (Mary Oliver) deepening our capacity for aliveness is no small, sacred task.

In this season of life, in this chapter of your own spiritual life, what practices are opening you into sacred rhythms of rest, reflection, and renewal? What practices are bringing you pleasure, and contributing to holy patterns of deepening, rooting, connecting, creating, growing, blooming, and shedding? How are you practicing sabbath? May it be so, and may you be so, too.

Anna Blaedel (they/them) is cofounder and theologian-in-residence at enfleshed, where they tend to the theopoetic intersections of spiritual, academic, and activist engagement. Anna chaplains University of Iowa students, and is a doctoral candidate in Theological and Philosophical Studies at Drew University’s Graduate Division on Religion. Waking before dawn, lingering in poetry, being an aunt, retreating to the woods or their basement woodshop, tending the garden, sharing silence, and feeding people delicious food are some of Anna’s favorite things.

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