We know it’s autumn when the leaves on the trees along the Isar slide from green to yellow to orange to, finally, a blaze of fiery red before falling to the ground and leaving its branches bare. We know it’s finally autumn when the temperature cools, when you get your tweed jacket out of storage, and the markets start displaying pumpkins, apples and chestnuts. And we all know it’s autumn when Peace Church starts planning for its annual fall spectacular, the African Harvest Festival.
For farmers around the world, the annual harvest season means long hours in the fields, working from sunup to sundown to bring the harvest into the barn before winter comes. In his poem, the American farmer, conservationist and poet Wendell Berry writes of the “ten thousand days of work” necessary so that the harvest will fill the barn. A rich harvest isn’t brought into the barn without work: “The hand must ache, the face must sweat.” He reminds us of the backbreaking, physically exhausting labor traditionally required to fill the barn and the storage cellar before the long, cold winter.
We don’t have any traditional farmers at Peace Church (that I know of), although most of us have probably hoed a garden, picked fresh fruit, or pulled weeds at some point in our lives. But all of us know hard work, and in autumn, the pace picks up, and there is always much to do. The children are back to school, and some of our young people are starting university or training programs. After the summer break many of our jobs and professions pick up speed again, leaving us to face a tall stack of projects on our desks and too many long days in the office. Some of us are working hard in other, sometimes-overlooked ways: hunting for jobs and apartments, taking care of toddlers, running busy households. And here at the church, our fall programs are kicking off and the church is in full swing, adding many additional work hours for our pastor, lay leaders and many precious volunteers. For all of us, autumn is a season of long hours in the fields for a harvest of productivity, learning, providing for our families, and improving our communities.
But Berry’s poem reminds us to appreciate the delicate balance between work and grace. Yes, God needs “workers in the harvest” (Luke 10:2), but God doesn’t need workaholics. When we over-eagerly respond to God’s call to work but ignore God’s call to rest, we end up burnt out, stressed out, and resentful. Instead, God calls us to enjoy the twin gifts of productivity and grace by taking a break from all of our work and allowing ourselves to be restored and refreshed by creation and by the Spirit. After all, God actually planned rest into the very fabric of creation; and on the seventh day, even God rested! One way to join God in rest is by observing the Sabbath with God, basking in God’s beams of restoration, soaking up the Spirit the way a plant soaks up the light.
Keeping a strict, 24-hour Sabbath may not be an option for you. Maybe you’re thinking: “a whole day off, with no obligations or labor of any kind? Yeah, right!” Many of us are in the (metaphorical) fields 7 days a week. Maybe you’re juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet; or you may not have access to the resources that you need to take time off. With young children, mouths to feed, a dishwasher to empty, and busy jobs, few of us can afford to observe a strict Sabbath. But still, each of us can (and must!) find ways to weave Sabbath rest into our lives, even if only for shorter mini-Sabbaths, rather than a whole 24-hour day. Sabbath is finding rest for our bodies and our souls, but it may look different for each of us. Sabbath could be a meditative hike in the woods, an hour of prayer and reflection in the mountains, or a leisurely Sabbath dinner with your family with the TV off, eating fresh, local products with fellowship and joy. I love that in his poem, Berry invites us to live in “a Sabbath mood.” To me, living in a Sabbath mood means being on the lookout for moments and pockets of rest and grace that arrive in the midst of the chaos. And I’m not sure it matters whether moments of Sabbath rest happen to arrive on a Sunday, the traditional Sabbath day, or just on a random Wednesday afternoon. Maintaining a Sabbath mood may help us to find time for rest and renewal in our lives, no matter how full the calendar gets. Let’s keep our eyes peeled for glimpses of grace, little patches of sunlight and rest that we can bask in when they appear, tiny moments when God comes to rest with us in our lives.
As the seasons turn, the barns fill, the kids are off to school, the workdays are long, and you’re starting to feel the squeeze around your head that means a tension headache: my prayer for you in this season is that you will be open to God’s call to grace and rest. I pray that you will be blessed with an autumn season full of mini-Sabbaths and time-outs, with a heaping serving of fellowship, friendship, and grace. I pray that you will bask in the changing light, get out and take a hike, enjoy the crunch of new apples, eat many delicious pumpkin pies and fried plantains, and join us at Peace Church for our African Harvest Festival. And most of all, I pray that your days will be rich in grace and full of rest.
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.
– Wendell Berry