Tuesday, July 21, 2009


The word "sabbath" is derived from the Hebrew verb "shavat" meaning to rest or to cease. In the Christian tradition, it is understood to be the seventh day of the week, the day of rest, reflecting God's creation of the world in six days and his rest on the seventh (Genesis 2:2) Going to church, in theory then, would seem to be about taking time to rest and reflect upon the manner in which you live your life.

I grew up attending a Protestant church and have been a member of a Protestant congregation in my city for the past 18 years. Going to service in a Protestant church is relatively simple. You stand up to sing songs; you sit down to listen to the sermon. You don't have to memorize anything or remember any complicated series of events. Stand, sit. Pretty simple. And, to make it even easier, someone even tells you "please stand," and "please be seated."

Mass, however, is a completely different experience. There are responses to what the priest says that you're supposed to just 'know.' Eveyone suddenly stands or kneels without being told to do so. They sing or speak without any instruction. Kneel, sit, stand, sit, stand, kneel, stand, sit, stand. It's a lot of work and you have to really pay attention so that you don't sit when you should kneel or stand when you should sit or... You get the idea.

When you are in such unfamiliar surroundings, it's easy to get so caught up in making sure you're not doing the wrong thing at the wrong time that you miss the message being shared. And, though the message of the Catholic homily is much shorter than the message of the Protestant sermon (about 30 minutes shorter than the messages of my Protestant pastor) it is no less instructive. In this case, the message was "to be a teacher, one must first be a learner, and to learn well you must sit at the feet of the master."

This would seem to imply that a good teacher is a 'master' of their subject matter, certainly. But perhaps good teaching requires mastery of more than a subject. Perhaps it requires a mastery of one's emotions, attitudes, and biases. So, maybe, part of the purpose of a sabbatical year is to learn more about those unchallenged notions under which we often teach, notions about who our students actually are, and what it is they need. The challenge of this, and the challenge of finding a master, is sometimes a dificult thing.

1 comment:

  1. Judy this is another insightful entry in your blog. Love your observations about Protestant versus Catholic services, and the particular homily.

    When I was a pastor 15-20 minutes was the target length of my sermons. One of my favorite quotes is "The mind cannot comprehend what the seat cannot endure." Protestant pastors in my opinion could learn a lot about preaching from their Catholic brothers.

    Knowing ourselves, knowing our audience, knowing a master and knowing our subject matter is an awesome challenge.