Land must lay fallow every six years, left to rest, unplowed and unplanted. All of it, as well as the vines and the olive trees.  Let it all rest, untended, God says.  That will leave enough for the poor to live on.

Likewise, rest entirely every seventh day.  Don’t make anyone else work either.  Laborers and draft animals also get a day entirely off for complete rest.

That all sounds simple enough. Just pause.  Let everyone and everything else pause at the same time.  Stop the whirl of activity. Dare to be nonproductive. Be still. Lay fallow.

Obviously, this doesn’t happen.  Maybe it never did.  That doesn’t mean we cast aside the idea or the aspiration to fulfill the wisdom in this guidance.  We need to consider sabbath, especially if we remember Jesus’ remark that the sabbath was made for humans.  And—he knew what Torah said—animals and all the earth.

We all need fallow time. We need to lay dormant.

We need down time.

We need genuine restoration.

Scripture makes that clear over and over again.

In the rabbinic traditions of Judaism that were beginning to develop during Jesus’ time, sabbath is set aside for prayer, for study of sacred texts, for gentle pastimes, for sharing good company and good food, for making love.

One point of sabbath, and of longer fallow periods, is to regenerate our relationships with the divine, with one another, with the earth.  People have been quibbling over the details of that for two and a half millenia or more, across hundreds of cultures.  In this time, in this place, I’d like to offer a couple questions to consider about practicing sabbath and fallow time.

First, what deeply restores your soul, truly and fully?  Probably not numbing out on television or practicing retail therapy.  Probably not being so frantic and busy on vacation that you need to rest once you’re back.  Entertainment and distraction aren’t sabbath-oriented.  Consider carefully what genuinely enriches your inner life, your life with the Divine, your relationships with the human and more-than-human worlds.  Even folks skilled at practicing sabbath can enrich their practice.

Second, what in your life needs to lay fallow a while?  Is there some area of activity in life that you’ve just been working and working and working at for a while?  Maybe it’s been productive.  Maybe you feel like it has run its course for the moment.  Let it rest.  Let it lie fallow for a time and see what emerges.  Or, to speak even more metaphorically, perhaps there’s a patch of ground in your inner landscape that needs to be given a rest:  a conflict or hurt or issue or internal concern that you’ve worked on for a long time and that doesn’t seem to ever resolve.  Stop efforting.  Stop plowing around in that patch of ground for a while.  Step back and let it rest. Set it aside for now and see what’s there three months from now…or six months from now.  Trust the processes of nature.  Trust the processes of your inner life.  Trust the Divine working within you.

Sabbath and fallow time both ask us to trust what is greater than ourselves, and to set aside fear.  Just as the natural world around us, in this season, falls easily into its time of dormancy, knowing there will be life again.

Let yourself be restored, refreshed, renewed.

Let hard-worked areas of life lie fallow a bit.  New life will follow.

That’s God’s wish for all of us.

May it be so.

Scripture: Genesis 8:22; Exodus 23: 10-12

-Rev. Ruth Moerdyk