Leaving Kildare

Today is my final day in Kildare, and I’ve been using my time to revisit some of the places and people that have been part of my pilgrimage here. After having some morning coffee in my favorite sidewalk café, I spent some time in Saint Brigid’s Cathedral and had the opportunity to listen to the cathedral organist as he practiced for tomorrow’s service. There are a few things as glorious as the sound of a real pipe organ, echoing through the resonant space of a cathedral; so it really was “a grace gift“ to receive this impromptu concert.

After a little more listening, reading, and praying, I went to visit with Paddy, the elderly gentleman who oversees admission to the cathedral’s round tower. I’ve been visiting with Paddy each of the last three days, listening as he has told me about his time in the army, the loss of his wife about four years ago, and his observations about life in a small Irish town. But today I was able to take him a small present—a piece of cake from a local bakery—to thank him for sharing a bit of his life with me.

Finally, I’ve spent a little more time in some of the sites associated with Brigid that I visited earlier in my stay. The first of these was Solas Bhride (Irish for “The Light of Brigid”), a Christian retreat center that seeks to pass along the values of Brigid’s ministry, which include serving the poor, practicing hospitality, and valuing the gifts and leadership of women. While there, I was able to chat with one of the “Sisters of Brigid,” who lives at the center and who leads some of the programming, and she showed me a statue that tells some of the stories associated with Brigid’s life.

  • Top left: Although Brigid had given her heart to Christ and wanted to enter a life of chastity, her father wanted to marry her off to a pagan king. When her father went away to negotiate the arrangement, she was approached by a poor beggar, and she gave the beggar her father’s valuable sword so that he could sell it and buy food. When the pagan king heard about this act of compassion, he told Brigid’s father that she should be allowEd to follow her sense of call.
  • Top center: It was said that no one who came to Brigid in need was ever sent away hungry. According to legend, this was possible because the Lord had given to Brigid a cow that produced an unending supply of milk.
  • Top right: Brigid came to be known as “Mary of the Gaels,” and legend said that she had served Mary as a midwife when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. While clearly impossible from a historical perspective, the legend communicated to Celtic believers a sense of Brigid’s holiness, her compassion, and her deep commitment to serving in Christ.
  • Bottom: The figure of Brigid holds a shepherds staff, a sign of her pastoral authority. According to legend, Brigid was “accidentally“ consecrated as a bishop by a church leader who perceived her exceptional holiness. She came to be thought of as one of Ireland‘s patron saints, the other two being Saint Patrick and Saint Columba.

The other location to which I returned was “Saint Brigid’s Well,“ which is actually two wells, located close enough to each other that they’re probably fed by the same underground spring. In the lore of pre-Christian Ireland, wells and other sources of water were often considered to be “thin places,” where the veil between the sacred and the mundane was exceptionally thin. When Brigid established her ministry center in Kildare, these two wells eventually became associated with her. And legend said that anyone who suffered from an infirmity could come to the well, dip a cloth into the water, cleanse the wounded part of their body with it, and then tie it to a nearby tree. As the cloth deteriorated, their illness or infirmity would also disappear. Although I did not test the legend, I can say that both locations have a deep ambiance of peace and holiness about them, and it was a pleasure to spend some time praying for people who I know are seeking healing.

Tomorrow, I get to undertake the first significant cycling of my journey: a trip from Kildare to Clonmacnoise (site of another ancient Celtic faith community), which is a distance of about 54 miles. If you’d like to lift up a prayer on my behalf, what I’d really like you to ask is for God to guide the shipment of my luggage, which needs to make it from Kildare to the next town in which I’ll be spending several days.

The Hope of Rest

My scripture reading for this morning included some of my favorite verses, which come from Romans 8:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

Romans 8:18-21 (NIV)

In a world like ours—filled with division, violence, warnings of impending catastrophe, and hardships of every kind—it brings me both peace and a sense of yearning to trust that Divine Healing—for us and the world—is on the way. In fact, I’m taken by the way that Eugene Peterson conveys that yearning in the verses that follow:

The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

Romans 8:22–25 (The Message)

I used some of my time yesterday to sit in Saint Brigid’s Cathedral and listen to Requiem, by John Rutter. Now, in my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful pieces of choral music ever written. And one of the texts that’s woven throughout the piece (and accompanied, I might add, by a tune of absolutely haunting tenderness) includes these Latin words, which I offer in both their original form and my “probably imprecise” translation:

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.
Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

(Rest eternal give to them, Lord.
And light perpetual shine upon them.)

It’s telling, I think, that one of the ways the Bible describes our hope for Divine Healing is to tell us, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4:9). And in some sense, I think one of the most important goals of my sabbatical is connecting more deeply with this hope. It’s not that I’m exhausted by life and ministry, or that I’ve lost “the joy of my salvation.” But in the midst of life and ministry, it can be a little too easy to lose sight of the promise that there is a coming rest—a “glory that is not worth comparing” to our present sufferings—and that the only way to be sustained by this promise is to be connected to the Spirit; who prays for us and within us, who empowers us, and who uses us to share with others the peace, reconciliation, and healing that will come in fullness when God’s children are revealed.

Until that day, may the Lord give to you “rest eternal,” and may “light perpetual” shine upon you always. Amen.

Welcome to the Church of the Oak

I arrived yesterday in Kildare, a town whose name in Irish is Cill Dara, which means “church of the oak.” The name was given because the town began when a woman named Brigid (more about her later) established a church on the site under a great oak tree sometime around 480 AD. Over time, the church gave birth to monasteries for both men and women, eventually becoming one of the most important religious centers in Ireland. Unfortunately, because of its importance and associated wealth, Kildare became a repeated target of invaders, and its significance diminished. However, in the 1200’s a cathedral and a Celtic round tower were built at the location of Brigid’s original church, and these buildings—along with other religious sites—remain today.

Most of the day yesterday was spent simply getting here and settling in. My trip from Dublin to Kildare proved to be a bit of an adventure. After leaving my hotel in Dublin, I had to board a local tram service to get to the main train station. However, there was a “disturbance“ along the way, and all of us passengers were told to get off, forcing me to walk the rest of the way to the station with two bags in tow. Thankfully, once I boarded the train, I was able to sit back and watch the countryside transform from urban to rural. And when I arrived in Kildare, it didn’t take long for me to find the B&B in which I’m staying, to grab some lunch, and to set off for some exploration.

The highlight of the day was a visit to the cathedral and round tower that I mentioned earlier. I was able to climb to the top of the tower, which took a bit of doing, because the trip upward is made using a series of rather steep ladders. However, the view of the surrounding countryside is worth it; and as far as I’m concerned, the interior of the cathedral is beautiful, too.

Today began with a trip to the nearby town of Naas to pick up the bicycle I’ll be using for the rest of my trip. To be honest, the fact that I had to go to Naas was a bit of a surprise. When I ordered the bike, I thought that the bike shop was in Kildare. However because of the way in which addresses are written in Ireland, the shop was actually in the COUNTY of Kildare— a little more than 13 miles away from the city of the same name. Fortunately, I was able to catch a bus to Naas, and the guys at the bike shop were fantastic! Then, it was just a quick ride back to Kildare, and I was ready for something else.

My sweet ride for the rest of my pilgrimage.

After getting cleaned up and finding some lunch, I set out to explore some of the other sites in the city. For example, in addition to “The White Abbey” pictured above, there’s also a “Grey Abbey” and a “Black Abbey,” all of which are named for the color of the robes that were worn by the monks who lived there. However, for reasons that I could not find described anywhere, both the Gray Abbey and the Black Abbey are in ruins.

Remains of the Black Abbey, which housed knights who were dedicated to protecting pilgrims who were traveling to Jerusalem.

For me, there’s always something uniquely powerful about seeing the silent remains of a once vibrant religious center like this. On the one hand, I find myself wondering what went wrong. Was the community attacked by enemies from without, or eroded by dissension from within? Did the members of the church become complacent, or did they lose sight of their mission? Are there lessons that we need to learn from a place like this, lest the buildings in which we’ve invested so much meet a similar fate? On the other hand, I’m reminded that even though particular religious communities might come and go, the “Word of our God stands forever,” and His mission endures. Like it or not, the buildings and institutions we’ve constructed may not last. But we can still invest our lives in something that will: the kingdom of God, and the people whom we are called to invite into it.

Finally, today also included an opportunity to learn a little about Saint Brigid, the founder of Kildare. It turns out that there are many wondrous stories about her, some of which are probably Christianized versions of tales that were told about a different Brigid—a pagan goddess after whom Brigid was named. What does seem true is that Kildare’s Brigid was the daughter of a druidic chieftain. She was led to faith in Christ, perhaps through the ministry of Saint Patrick, and she decided to devote her life to prayer and ministry. However, when a visiting bishop was leading the ceremony to make her a nun, he was so awestruck by the sense of holiness about her that he read the words for consecrating a bishop. When a colleague objected, he replied: “I have no power in this matter; this dignity has been given by God to Brigid.” She went on to be an extraordinary leader, who was known for her hospitality and her generosity to the poor; and along with Patrick and Columbia, she is now considered to be one of the patron saints of Ireland.

I have two more days in Kildare. And part of my goal is just to “be” here. Oh sure, there are a few more things to see. But the real gift is simply to have some time in which there are no other pressing demands, and I get the chance to rest, reflect, and renew. I hope that you are getting those opportunities, too! And I will look forward to sharing more with you in the days ahead.

Places Thin (and Not So Thin)

Today, June 28, is a day of preparation for me. Tomorrow, I’ll be leaving Dublin and heading down to Kildare, where my cycling tour of Ireland and Scotland will begin. As a result, I’m using most of today to get some laundry done and to see a few last sights in Dublin before I depart. Yesterday, however, was one of the highlights of my trip thus far—a highlight that included, strangely enough, both great expectations and expectations unmet.

Yesterday, you see, I took a day trip outside of Dublin to visit Glendalough, the site of an early Celtic monastic community that was founded by Saint Kevin in the sixth century. Based on what I’ve read about Celtic spirituality, Kevin probably settled in Glendalough because he discovered there what was often called “a thin place”—a place where the boundary between the world of “everyday, ordinary life” and “life enlivened by the presence of God’s Spirit” was exceptionally thin. And as a result, I confess, I wanted this place to be “a thin place” for me, too. I wanted to have a unique and powerful experience of God’s power and nearness. And yet, since the tour left time for only a brief visit, and since the entire area was crawling with other tourists like myself, it was difficult to settle in and to reflect on the history and the ambience of the place in a way that was very transformative. Nevertheless, I do have these reflections.

First, the valley in which the site is located really is beautiful. In fact, the name “Glendalough” means “valley of two lakes.” And not far from the steep mountain pass pictured here; there are, in fact, two lakes that feed a stream running down near the site of the monastic community. Although the circumstances of my visit didn’t give me much time to appreciate this beauty, it wasn’t hard to imagine how Kevin and other believers would have looked at the landscape around them and would have been constantly reminded of verses like these:

I lift my eyes to the hills;
from where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
Psalm 121:1-2

In addition, I think it’s worth noting that even though Kevin probably settled in Glendalough in the hope of living a solitary life of prayer and contemplation, there soon gathered around him a whole community of people seeking to grow closer to Christ. Scholars say that at the height of its influence, the settlement might have included several hundred monks and as many as a thousand farmers, craftsmen, and their families who lived nearby. And even though there clearly was a sense of separation between these two worlds—the “sacred” and the “secular”—there was also a lot of mutual exchange and influence.

In the picture on the left, you see the gateway to the monastic compound. and just inside this gateway is a “foundation stone,” on which is engraved the image of the cross. Since the monastic community was surrounded by a wall, the only way in and out would be through this gateway. And upon entering, both monks and visitors would be reminded that this was a sacred space, in which an alternate way of perceiving and responding to the world—a way shaped by devotion to God and His Kingdom—prevailed.

And yet, the influence of this “kingdom way” was not restricted to life within the walls. The picture on the left is Glendalough’s round tower, which stands almost 100 feet tall. Since a community like Glendalough frequently faced the prospect of attacks from outsiders, the tower undoubtedly provided a lookout and a place in which to protect the community’s treasures (which for a monastic community like this one would have included its copies of the scriptures). But since the name of these towers in Irish translates as “a house for the bell,” it seems clear that one of its most important functions was to call the entire valley—monks and laypeople alike—to daily times of prayer. In other words, part of the power of a place like Glendalough is the power of Christian community to “spill out” beyond itself in a way that reminds the world of God’s presence and of His constant invitation to enter that presence more fully.

The monastic community of Glendalough, with the Round Tower to the right and church built in honor of St. Kevin, the community’s founder, to the left.

In a funny way, that gets to the heart of why I’m taking the sabbatical in the first place. I want to become the kind of Christ follower—and I want my church to become the kind of community—whose devotion to God‘s kingdom allows His presence to “spill out” beyond us and into the world in a way that invites others to seek that presence, too.

So, does that make Glendalough a “thin place” for me? Probably not. But it does remind me that “thin places“ are all around us, if we are prepared to seek God and to live as those whose lives are set apart for Him. May such devotion on our part lead us to become a “thin place“ for those who are seeking abundant life. Amen.

Finding Sabbath

If I’m calculating the time difference correctly, I’m composing this post just as my church is preparing to start its traditional worship service. Perhaps it’s appropriate, then, that I am currently enjoying what might be the most “sabbathy” day of my sabbatical thus far. Don’t get me wrong. I miss my family and my church family. And since my sabbatical began, I’ve had some very enjoyable days going to Disney World with my family and visiting with my mother. But today is the first Sunday in quite some time but I’ve had the opportunity just to “be.” No responsibilities. Nowhere I have to travel. Nothing to do but to seek out those activities that are restful and renewing.

So, “How have I used a day like that?” you might wonder. Well, I started with morning worship at Immanuel Church Dublin. Conveniently, the church was located just down the street from where I’m staying. And although we might describe it as a “storefront church,” I was warmly welcomed; the message was solid; and even though there are a few congregations that can touch our praise band for excellence, it was fun to sing along without having to think about what was supposed to happen next.

After worship, I set off for Saint Stephen’s Green, a lovely park nestled in the heart of downtown Dublin. Conveniently, the park has a lovely shopping center located right beside it. So after stopping there for a bite to eat, I set off into the park, found a lovely park bench, and spent a couple hours listening to music, reading the scriptures, and watching both people and birds enjoy the afternoon.

This evening, I’m hoping to visit a local pub that is rumored to have excellent live Irish music. However, there have been rain showers threatening for much of the day. And since this pub is a bit of a hike from my hotel, I may have to check the forecast before I make the trip. (I know I’ll be spending some time in the rain before this trip is done, but I see no need to hasten the experience.) Still, even if that doesn’t happen, it’s been a wonderfully relaxing day. And I’m so thankful to God, my family, and my church family for making an experience like this possible.

Tomorrow, I’m scheduled to take a day trip out of Dublin to visit the Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough, the site of an early Christian monastic community. More details to follow…

Deeper into Dublin

My first full day here in Dublin has been largely a “touring day,” focused primarily on delving deeper into places that I only visited yesterday. The highlight of the day has been a visit to Trinity College of Dublin to see “The Book of Kells,” an exquisitely illustrated manuscript of the four gospels that was compiled by Celtic monks sometime around 800 AD.

You can’t take pictures of The Book of Kells. (The ones provided below are photos from the exhibit that accompanies it.) The original is kept behind glass in a room where the temperature and lighting are strictly controlled to make sure that the document doesn’t fade. But even if you could photograph it, I’m not sure that the pictures would do it justice. Even when magnified to a size that is several feet across, as the shots below are, you have to look closely to see the level of detail that has been incorporated into each image. Given the conditions under which the manuscript was created— including the laborious processes that were required to prepare the calfskin on which it’s written and to produce the pigments that were used to illustrate it— it’s remarkable that a work of such intricacy was even possible. But such was the love of these early believers for God’s word that they devoted years of their lives to crafting a copy of the scriptures that would both inspire and educate.

I’m reminded of an observation from Pastor and author Mark Buchanan who wrote:

Curious times, these. There is simultaneously a glut of the Word of God and a famine of it…a drought and a deluge. We have every translation of the Bible you can imagine—the NIV, the NEV, the KJV, the NKJV…the Preacher’s Bible, the Worshiper’s Bible, the Spirit-Filled Believer’s Bible, the left-handed bald gypsy fiddler’s Bible (that last was made up). You can have it in hardback, paperback, leather, or cloth…in pink, blue, red, orange, or psychedelic paisley…with maps and charts and appendices and concordances and holograms of the Temple in the back, and a little sleeve with a CD-Rom that takes you on a guided tour of the Holy Land. The food is out there—and it’s a banqueting table. We’re just picky eaters. Oh, we’re buying Bibles. And sometimes we’re even reading them. But there’s not much evidence that we’re studying them. We’re nibbling, not devouring. And you are what you eat.

Mark Buchanan, Your God Is Too Safe

After visiting The Book of Kells, I went on to take tours of several historical sites that yesterday’s walking tour only allowed me to see from the outside. My visits included “The Long Room,” a historic library at Trinity College that’s packed floor to ceiling with rare books and manuscripts; Dublin Castle, where I was able to visit an underground archaeological site that contains foundations and walls from the original Viking settlement on the site that dates back to sometime around 1100; and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, where I learned that one of its famous preachers (Jonathan Swift, who wrote Gulliver‘s Travels) had a special pulpit constructed that could be rolled around the worship space, enabling him to preach directly to anyone whom he caught sleeping during his sermon! (Maybe I need to talk with Calvary’s deacons about ordering something like that for our church.) 😁

Of course, after all that history, I needed something a little lighter. So on the way back to my hotel, I stopped by to tour the factory where Guinness is made. And I also walked back through the “Temple Bar” district to see the crowds of weekend revelers.

Since tomorrow is Sunday, I hope to make it a genuine the day of sabbath rest. My plan is to find a church with whom I can worship in the morning. And then I hope to spend the afternoon reading, sitting in a park or two, and listening to music. Naturally, I wish you a restful Sabbath day, too. And I will look forward to sharing more with you as my adventures continue.

My Arrival in Dublin

At long last, I am “on the ground” in the city of Dublin, Ireland! Getting here, I must confess, was a bit harder than I thought it would be, because it turns out that some of those “airport horror stories” you’ve heard in the news recently are true. After Teresa and Windham dropped me off at the Raleigh airport around 1 o’clock in the afternoon on Thursday, both of my flights got delayed, with the result that I didn’t arrive at the Dublin airport until a little after 1 o’clock in the afternoon on Friday. Still, I did get here without missing any connecting flights, which is more than could be said for some of my fellow passengers. And in the end, by the time I got from the airport into the central part of the city where my hotel is located, I was able to check in immediately and begin some exploration.

I’m staying at a hotel called Zanzibar Locke, which is located on the banks of the River Liffey that runs right through the heart of downtown Dublin. If you cross over the river using the nearby Ha’Penny Bridge (so named because it cost half a penny to cross it when it was first constructed back in 1816), you find yourself in a part of town called “The Temple Bar.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the area is filled with bars, restaurants, and other night spots. However, the name comes not from the current business roster, but from Sir William Temple—a noted scholar of the late 1500 and early 1600’s—who built a home on the site, which at the time was a strip of land reclaimed from the river by the construction of a retaining wall and called a “barr” or “bar” (and hence the name).

In any case, I don’t imagine that I’ll be spending much time in the bars that are located in The Temple Bar (although I am hoping to find a spot somewhere that plays some traditional Irish music). So I decided to spend some time this afternoon walking around the city to see if I could find some of the other attractions that I do hope to visit in the days ahead. These include Trinity College, Dublin Castle, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

After all the airport drama this morning and quite a bit of walking this afternoon, I’m probably going to turn in fairly early tonight. Tomorrow, I hope to visit Trinity College, where there’s a collection of early Celtic copies of the Bible that are known for their intricate illustrations

I’m Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

A little later today, I’ll board the flight that will take me to Dublin, Ireland, for the beginning of the “cycling pilgrimage” that rests at the heart of my current sabbatical. As I prepare for my departure, I find myself pondering a brief story told by pastor and author Mark Buchanan:

A man in my church became sick and couldn’t shake it. It went on for months. He was usually a man who went full tilt at everything, night and day. One day he said to me, “I know God is trying to get my attention. I just haven’t figured out yet what he wants my attention for. He must want me to do something.” I thought a moment. “Maybe,” I said, “that’s the problem: you think he wants your attention in order for you to do something. Maybe he just wants your attention.” Maybe that’s what God requires most from us: our attention. Indeed, this is the essence of a Sabbath heart: paying attention. It is being fully present, wholly awake, in each moment.

Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God

There are so many things that I’d like to do an experience in the coming weeks. But a part of me recognizes that my plans and my desires could easily get in the way of the more valuable things that the Lord has in mind. And so, perhaps more than anything else, my prayer is that I’ll be able to pay attention—to have the kind of heart that can be fully present to God and that can listen to, learn from, and respond to the whisperings of His Spirit.

To all the members of my family and my church family who are giving me this opportunity for renewal: Thank you! And to all those who will be praying for me in the days ahead: May you, too, be attentive to the Voice that calls us “further up and further in.” Amen.

To Find My “Place of Resurrection”

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8)

“Come, follow me.” (Matthew 4:19)

Faith has always been more pilgrimage than possession–a invitation to journey with God, knowing neither where we’re headed nor what will happen along the way, but trusting that He is with us and that we’ll come to know Him better in the process of responding to His call. It’s no surprise, then, that for the Celtic Christians of ancient Britain, “pilgrimage” was deeply valued. Sometimes putting out to sea in small boats with limited supplies, they often set off into the unknown, believing that God would lead them ultimately to their “place of resurrection”–a place where “new life is coaxed up from the grave of spiritual complacency.” (Thin Places, Tracy Balzer)

Although my sabbatical officially began almost three weeks ago, the pilgrimage that lies at its heart is just about to commence. I’ve spent the last few days reviewing arrangements and packing. And after some visits with family in the coming days, I’ll set off for the UK, where I’ll spend approximately a month and a half cycling through Ireland, Scotland, and England, and visiting several key sites that have figured prominently in the development of the Christian faith in that part of the world.

Of course, my pilgrimage is much more structured than it would have been for an ancient Celtic believer. I know (or at least, I think I know) where I’ll be each day. And I know how I’m getting from place to place. And yet, there’s also much that I don’t know. What unexpected developments might force a change in my plans? Who will I meet along the way? And how will God use my journey’s “wide open spaces” of both place and time to teach me new things about His goodness?

In the end, my prayer is that I’ll find my own “place of resurrection”–a place (or places) where silence, solitude, and prayer renew my spirit and prepare me for the continuing journey of following Jesus.

Thanks to all those who have prayed for and encouraged me along the way.

Let the journey begin…

A Rest from Rest?

My family and I continue to enjoy our time in Orlando, with the last two days having been spent in the theme parks of Universal Studios:

Of course, if you’ve spent any time at Universal, Disney, or similar tourism hot spots, you’ll probably understand what I mean when I say that while visiting these destinations is fun, it isn’t exactly restful and renewing. Once you’ve navigated the crowds, the noise, the walking, the heat, and the frequent waiting in line, the experience can actually be quite draining. And that’s why my family and I will be enjoying a “down day” today, before we go back to Universal tomorrow for one last day of vacationing before we head home.

I’m reminded of some reflections that I read not too long ago in a book called Subversive Sabbath, by a couple seminary professors named A. J. Swoboda and Matthew Sleeth. They observe:

We must distinguish a biblical day of rest from the world’s way of rest—a biblical Sabbath should be distinguished from vacations and “days off,” although even those we are not proficient at. Studies reveal that 37 percent of Americans take fewer than seven days of vacation a year. In fact, only 14 percent take vacations that last longer than two weeks.Americans take the shortest paid vacations of anyone in the world. And 20 percent of those who do, often spend their vacation staying in touch with their jobs through their computers or phones.44 The point? Even when we do vacation, we do it poorly.

But even if we did vacation well and took great amounts of time off for restorative rest, vacations are a poor substitute for a weekly day of Sabbath rest. I think the devil loves taking that which is of God and giving us cheap knockoffs.

Vacations are what Jürgen Moltmann has called the “Coca-Cola philosophy” of Western life. In the 1990s, Coca-Cola had a well-known campaign depicting people doing hard work, then popping open a cold bottle of Coke and taking a swig. We yearn for the “pause that refreshes.” Unfortunately, we try to refresh ourselves with empty calories, or vacations, which are not what we really need. Our souls stir, longing for Sabbath.

As my family and I begin to wrap up our days in Orlando, I’m thankful for this break, for the sabbatical grant that has made it possible, and for the members of my church family who have supported me and ministered to each other during my time away. But I’m grateful, too, that this sabbatical is more than just a vacation or a “pause that refreshes.” Because my heart is still “longing for sabbath.” And by God’s grace, there remains a sabbath rest for me and for all His people.