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Sabbath Day – The Bronx River Watershed

July 21, 2015

Sabbath practice lies at the heart of my spirituality – one day in seven set aside to resist the push and pull of every identity not rooted in my responsibility, before God, for my life and the life of the world. To paraphrase folk artist Charlie King – who I got to hang out with this week – sabbath is a reminder that “My life is more than my work, and my work is more than my job.”

I have learned more about sabbath practice from Ched Myers than perhaps anyone else. I encountered his activist-academic tome Binding the Strong Man: A Socio-Political Reading of Mark’s Gospel in seminary, and it transformed my life by presenting the original gospel as a revolutionary tract. By the time I entered parish ministry I was using the pedagogically adapted version of this work, Say to This Mountain: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, as the basis for my confirmation class, while simultaneously being nurtured by his first world liberation theology, Who Will Roll Away the Stone: Discipleship Queries for First World Christians.  Every chapter of his much shorter The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics became a sermon in my last congregation and made sabbath practice the core of my spirituality.

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Last week I participated in an intensive study with Ched called Denial or Discipleship?: Bioregional Theology in an Age of Ecological Ultimatums. I first preached on watershed discipleship last fall in a sermon called A Watershed Year, my “River Sunday”contribution to the Season of Creation. This week deepened everything I have been learning and added new passion and urgency. It was a great gift to hang out with Ched as well as Rabbi Arthur Waskow, two men whose writings have influenced me for more than two decades. It was a very rich week.

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In terms of my commitment to use each week to organize reading multinational literature, I gave myself over this week to dozens of articles on bioregionalism, including several essays by philosopher of place, Gary Snyder, from his collection The Practice of the Wild. Snyder won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his collection Turtle Island which I read last summer during our Davy Crockett/Tennessee adventure. A practicing Buddhist, Snyder reminds us of the local, beautiful, and simple life we reject everyday and of the hard work it would require to reclaim it.

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Sinking more deeply into my own watershed, I re-read The Bronx River: An Environmental and Social History by Maarten de Kadt as well as the brand new book by Stephen Paul DeVillo, The Bronx River in History and Folklore. The latter was a treasure of information on this place I call home. Stories of my watershed will trickle out all year long.

But to top it all off, this week of study and re-creation took place at the Maryknoll Mission Institute in Ossining, NY. Not only is this a beautiful and restoring place, but what a pleasure to study in the presence of these amazingly strong women, the Maryknoll Sisters, who have given their lives to build a world of justice, love and peace. Their work around the globe, in Japan, Indonesia, East Timor, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Zimbabwe, Zaire, etc., made this a simultaneously local and global week. I am looking forward to having them as guests at the White Plains Presbyterian Church.

Happy sabbathing…

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