• Dr. Ruth Haley Barton "Embracing Rhythms of Work & Rest" | Episode Transcript

    Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the executive director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Welcome to a new episode of Henri Nouwen, Now and Then. Our goal at the Henri Nouwen Society is to extend the rich, spiritual legacy of Henri Nouwen to audiences around the world. Each week we endeavor to bring you a new interview with someone who’s been deeply influenced by the writings of Henri Nouwen; and sometimes, we bring a recording of Henri himself. We invite you to share the daily meditations and these podcasts with your friends and family. Through them, we can continue to reach our spiritually hungry world with Henri’s writings, his encouragement and, of course, his reminder that each of us is a beloved child of God. 

    Now let me take a moment to introduce today’s guest. Today on this podcast, I have the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ruth Haley Barton. Ruth is the founding president of The Transforming Center, a spiritual formation ministry dedicated to strengthening the souls of pastors, Christian leaders, and the organizations they serve. Ruth is a retreat leader, author of many excellent books, and also a podcaster. I have really enjoyed talking with Ruth before on Henri Nouwen, Now and Then, and now she has a new book out that I think you’re going to find incredibly insightful, inspiring, and challenging. It’s titled, Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest: From Sabbath to Sabbatical and Back Again. 

    Ruth, it’s so good to have you with us.

    Ruth Haley Barton: Oh, great to be with you, Karen.

    Karen Pascal: This book arrived in my hands when I really needed the challenge and wisdom it offers. What compelled you to write this book?

    Ruth Haley Barton: Oh, thank you for asking. A couple of things. You know, I have written on Sabbath in other books. So, I’ve written a chapter on Sabbath in Sacred Rhythms, and I also wrote a chapter on Sabbath in Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. And so, I have really embraced the practice of Sabbath for a long time in my life. Then I received my first sabbatical, and when I came back from sabbatical, I really wanted to write a book on sabbatical. And the publisher said, “Well, yeah, you know, that’s kind of niched. What would you think about writing a book on Sabbath and sabbatical?” Which I agreed to do, and I’m glad that I did, because I realize now more than ever, that sabbatical is really an extension of a Sabbath practice. It’s a part of a whole-life Sabbath practice.

    And so, it’s hard to even know how to engage sabbatical if you haven’t had some experience with Sabbath, because the dynamics are the same. Sabbatical is just an extension of a Sabbath life. And so, that is one reason: because I wanted to write on sabbatical. But then, another reason for this Sabbath book is that what I have been pondering a lot is that I think people today think that Sabbath is primarily a personal discipline. And I don’t believe that it is. And in fact, I think that in many cases, the church is actually working against a real Sabbath practice, because the church lacks an understanding that the practice of Sabbath is supposed to come through the community. It’s given to a community, it’s to come through a community. It’s supposed to be led by the most senior leader, the anointed leader in the community. And so, when I realized in a period of time when I wasn’t on staff at a church and I thought, “Okay, good. Now as just a normal parishioner, I’m going to be able to practice the Sabbath.” 

    And then, there were so many activities on Sundays in that church that we couldn’t even as a family practice Sabbath. Not because of the secular culture or the pull of the secular culture, but because of the way the church culture was structuring itself. And so, I thought, “Man, I really do need to write about the communal nature of Sabbath and how communities can practice Sabbath together and how leaders who are living insane rhythms of work and rest can lead such communities.” So, that’s why now, and why this topic right now.

    Karen Pascal: It’s interesting, because I have always loved what I see in the Jewish tradition. You know, in an orthodox tradition, Sabbath begins at a certain point and the whole family is involved. And I think that’s terrific. You set out to do this in your life. How did your family take to it? I’m curious; what did they do with this? I mean, it’s one thing to say Sunday or whatever day is going to be my Sabbath. Does everybody have to agree and come on board? What happened in your life?

    Ruth Haley Barton: Well, in my life, I came into the sense of invitation to Sabbath when my children – I have three daughters and they were teenagers and they already had their priorities set. And so, I somehow, by God’s grace, determined that I would not impose Sabbath on them, but that I would practice it winsomely enough that they might feel invited, too. 

    So, I began practicing. My husband didn’t have much awareness of Sabbath either, so I didn’t try to convince him of anything. But I shared with my family what I was going to be doing and how I felt invited by God to begin entering into this practice, and then just began to practice, in a winsome and inviting way. And I think that was God’s grace to me. I don’t think I thought about it all that clearly, but I did have a sense that because it was such a gift, it should not be imposed, that people should enter into Sabbath because they feel invited by God and because they sense the goodness of it, they sense their need for it. It’s not a practice to impose on people, even people that you love a lot. And so, I did not impose it. But my daughters began to really appreciate the person that I was on the Sabbath, because I was a completely different person on the Sabbath. And they’re like, “Well, when she’s like that, we want to be around her.” And eventually, my husband definitely felt drawn and we do practice Sabbath together now. And it’s really, it’s really delightful.

    Karen Pascal: You used the phrase, “the gift of the Sabbath.” Why don’t you just open that up a little bit to us? What do you mean, the gift of the Sabbath?

    Ruth Haley Barton: Well, when I was being raised in a pastor’s home, we did practice Sabbath, but we did so in a quite legalistic way, and so a lot of the pleasures and delights and things that we would naturally enjoy in life, we weren’t allowed to do. And because I was a pastor’s kid, our family was busy serving God on the Sabbath and we often hosted people in our home. And so, that meant that we went to church in the morning and then we hosted people all afternoon. Then we went back to church at night. And the women worked really hard to do that hosting, because it was a pretty traditional environment there in terms of the way that the duties were sort of sliced up. 

    So, I did not experience the Sabbath in that way of practicing it. I did not experience it to be a gift. I experienced it more like an obligation and more like drudgery. So, I kicked that practice to the curb. I was practicing many other practices, but I did not want to practice Sabbath. 

    But then, in my early forties, God kind of knocked me off my horse. It was actually, knocked me off my bike, and got my attention. I’d been reading books about Sabbath that were really beautiful, like Wayne Muller and Rabbi Heschel, but I just didn’t think it was for me. I was an overachiever, and so I wanted to use that seventh day for my achievements and keep working. And I just wasn’t attracted to it in any way. But eventually, I got tired enough that I began to really long for it. I began to long for a day of rest like that. 

    And reading those books, I began to realize that it’s not an obligation, it’s actually a gift from the heart of God to his beloved children. Because God created us and God knows how he created us. We’re not created to go 24/7, week in and week out. He didn’t make us that way. He knows who we are and he knows what we need. And the gift of Sabbath is indeed a gift from a heavenly parent who loves his children and wants us to have the very, very best. So, Sabbath begins with God. And I think that’s really important. I think one of the reasons I was able to kick it to the curb for a while was because I convinced myself that it was a Jewish practice, but it’s not. The Jewish people were the first people to get to practice it, but God was the first one to practice Sabbath, and it comes from the person of God. And in fact, one of the things I say in the book is that when we practice Sabbath, we are actually participating in God’s very nature – which I think is just absolutely thrilling.

    And then I realized, the more I read about it, that it was a gift to the Israelites. First, it wasn’t a commandment in the beginning. The Sabbath was given before the 10 Commandments were given, and that was God establishing a people for himself and saying, “I’ve got this great thing I want to share with you.” And of course, for the Israelites, it was not just a gift, but it was the sign, symbol, and the reality of their freedom and liberation from oppression. So, to them, the idea that they could rest rather than being completely governed by those Egyptian taskmasters must have been the most amazing feeling. They had never had a day where they were allowed to rest. They could only live their lives on the terms of the pharaohs for them, making bricks without straw and things like that. And so finally, God says, “No, you’re a people, too, and you deserve a day for rest.” So, I don’t know, my digging into scripture did really, really unfold for me a sense of the gift of it, versus the obligation or the commandment of it. 

    Karen Pascal: It’s so interesting when we go right back to Genesis and we see God choosing it for himself, and his sense of delight in it: “Things are good.” And you rest, and you rest, and that’s good, too. 

    What does Sabbath look like in your life? Tell me about how you practice this. It’s one thing to – the word, the thought sounds good, but tell me: How do you make it a Sabbath?

    Ruth Haley Barton: Yeah. Well, I do think that the 24-hour period is a good period of time if you can accomplish it. And in the Jewish tradition, it started on Friday night, because that was the beginning of their Sabbath. But I think for Christians, many of us have more of a possibility of starting our Sabbath on Saturday night, you know, into Sunday, and so to begin with a special meal or something, and to say to those that you’re with, “We’re starting.” I like to start with dinner on Saturday and at that point go ahead and unplug from technologies and things like that. Obviously, it looks very different now when it’s just my husband and I at home versus when we had a family. So, we are able to do it a little bit more on our own terms. But ideally, for it to start on Saturday evening is important, to get those 24 hours and to start with resting.

    So, it depends on when church happens for you, but for some people who have Saturday-night church, I think that can be really ideal, because you can actually start with worship and then you don’t have to get up the next day and put your face on and get all dressed and corral your family and get them out the door. But the other way works as well, because then you get some rest and letting go, and a good night’s sleep on Saturday night before going to worship with your family on Sunday. So, you know, you can make that part work for you in either way. But then, the rest of the day is just spent on the things that are restful. 

    And for me, I’m always very tired by the time I get to Sabbath. And so, it does begin with rest for me, a good night’s sleep, being on the couch, under a blanket, reading books for pleasure. On a good Sabbath, there’s going to be some journaling, you know, me talking to God just for myself as a human versus how I do my life during the week, giving out so much during the week. And so, I look forward to that. 

    And in fact, one of the things that I include in the book at the end of every chapter is this little section called What Your Soul Wants to Say to God. Because I think ideally on the Sabbath, you get quiet enough and rested enough that you can actually say something to God that’s true. You know, there’s a sense of communing with God and being with God, not necessarily as a solitude practice, but really getting in touch with your love for God and God’s love for you as a creature, as a human being, not just as a human doing.

    I think there’s also a sense of wanting to look at not only just what’s restful, but also what’s delightful and what’s delightful for body, mind, and soul. So, I invite people to pay attention to what they like to do in their bodies. Could be napping, could be love-making, could be going for a relaxed walk, could be going for a bike ride, could be going fly fishing, bubble baths. I mean, whatever it is that is really pleasant and pleasurable in our bodies, because God gave us our bodies and gave us the pleasures of living in a body. Rest for the mind . . . I think that there’s . . . or delighting the mind. We stop thinking so hard. We set aside those things that create stress and worry, and seek to do those things that are restful and replenishing for the mind.

    So, for me, it is a good Sabbath when I’ve gotten to read a book for pleasure or when I get to read poetry, because poetry for me is just pure creativity and pleasure with words. And I love words and I work hard with words during the week. So, to enjoy words on a different level on the Sabbath is really lovely for me. 

    One of the aspects of resting the mind for me right now is that I’ve determined not to let the 24-hour news cycle be a part of my Sabbath, because that’s also a way to rest my mind from what creates worry and strife and stress within me. Because most of the news is not good these days and I’m connected with it the rest of the week, but I don’t need to be on the Sabbath. So that’s a rest for the mind sort of thing for me. 

    Karen Pascal: What about becoming unplugged? What do you do with that?

    Ruth Haley Barton: Oh, yes. Well, I mean, I do unplug. I turn off my technologies, and I’ve been turning off the computer, setting the computer away for a long time, because to me, being on email almost symbolizes my work. And I think for all of us it does. It allows in those things that I don’t have much control over, because then it’s whatever anybody wants to send me comes into my world and into my psyche, through emails. So, I haven’t opened up an email on a Sunday for 20 years. 

    But now I’ve also taken to figuring out how to unplug from my phone as well. And I think for most of us, we even have our email on our phones now, so our work is ever-present. And so, in my mind, unplugging from email and technology is a way of unplugging from work; but it’s also a way of resting the mind from all that comes at us, and the stimulation. Even just keeping it near us. One of the things that I encourage people to do really concretely in the book is to try some things like try sleeping with your phone next to you and then sleeping with your phone away in another room. Try going for a walk with your phone, then try going for a walk without your phone. Try having lunch with a friend with your phone and then lunch without your phone. And see what the difference is.

    And one of the things I’ve noticed that is in all cases, if I don’t have my phone, I’m way more present, way more relaxed, way more restful. So certainly, on the Sabbath, I have to work creatively with that, with the people that I love. But there’s a whole chapter on that in the book, because it’s practical and it’s a need that we have, I think, to unplug in order to rest our minds.

    Karen Pascal: You speak of in the book about lying fallow, which is kind of an old-fashioned phrase that a farmer would know. But let’s unwrap that a little bit. What does it mean to lie fallow? I mean, you’re a very productive person. I can see that. I’m sure you could be a driven person in terms of all that you’ve accomplished.

    Ruth Haley Barton: Oh, I am. I can just say that. It’s not good!

    Karen Pascal: And I know that. I see it in you and I recognize it in me, so I can recognize it in another. 

    Ruth Haley Barton: That’s why we get along.

    Karen Pascal: But what, for you, does it mean to lie fallow? Unwrap that for me.

    Ruth Haley Barton: Yeah. Well, I use that phrase in the part of the book where I’m talking about sabbatical, because sabbatical really does come from agriculture. It comes from the agricultural world, where one season every seven – or maybe more, I don’t know – but I live in Illinois, we are farming country here. So, I have seen fields that are lying fallow. And what that means is that you’re saying that the ground can’t keep producing year after year after year. It can’t maintain its nutrients. It can’t maintain what it needs in order to grow things. 

    And so, the idea of sabbatical, which is a longer time away from work every seven years, actually refers to letting a field lie fallow and regain its nutrients, regain its life-giving capacities. And so, I think sabbatical is that for the human soul, that you have to let the human soul stop producing things for a while – the human mind and the human soul – and believe that something good is happening while it’s lying there doing nothing. That it’s gaining its nutrients again, that it’s regaining its health, that it’s regaining its life-giving properties so that it can be fruitful again. 

    And so, to have it come from God and from what we know about agriculture, from the natural world, I think makes it really, really powerful, this idea of sabbatical.

    Karen Pascal: The book has two parts, and you go to it. You go to the idea of a sabbatical, and I think, “Oh, what a luxury, a sabbatical.” But let’s talk a little bit about what sabbatical is. Maybe, you’ve given us a sense by talking about the farming metaphor. What’s the spiritual, biblical basis for sabbatical? Tell me about that.

    Ruth Haley Barton: Yeah, well, that’s from the Old Testament as well, where God does instruct the people around Sabbath and then he also goes on to instruct them that every seventh year they’re supposed to rest and debts are to be repaid and things like that. So, the sabbatical rhythm, that seventh year being an extended period of time off, and then the Jubilee year at 50. There’s this larger rhythm than just the one day that we see very, very clearly in the Old Testament. And God, being God, built that into the lifestyle of the people that God called to himself and shaped for himself. And so, to me, the Old Testament pattern still continues to speak to us today. because we’re still humans just like the Israelites were. And God is still our creator who knows how he created us. And so, this is something that he built in to the rhythms of the people that he formed for himself. And I believe it’s something that he has for us as well. And I think anyone who’s had a sabbatical realizes that there’s a different level of rest that you enter into when it’s a longer period of time. And the way I transition in the book, from the topic of Sabbath to sabbatical, is with a chapter title called When Sabbath Isn’t Enough.

    Because I did definitely come to a place in my own life where I had been practicing Sabbath religiously, if you’ll pardon the pun, but it wasn’t enough. I would get to Mondays and I would really dread the work week, and I would feel still tired and I would not even know if I had it in me to accomplish everything that was on my plate to do. And I realized, oh, I just knew inside from my own experience that a longer period of rest was needed for me to fully come back to a place of fruitful life and ministry. So, I am grateful beyond words for the practice of sabbatical along with Sabbath, because I’m not sure that I would still be in my chair doing what I do, if it wasn’t for the sabbaticals that I’ve been granted.

    Karen Pascal: It’s interesting, because one of the things you make the distinction about – I’ve been on a sabbatical, but it was with my husband, who was a professor at the time, and it was fabulous. We went right around the world. But having said that, it was the publish-or-perish pressure on academics usually is that you have some project that you have to get done. And it’s not a rest for the mind, it’s just that you’re not maybe teaching.

    Ruth Haley Barton: It’s a different kind of work. It’s a different kind of work that you get to engage in.

    Karen Pascal: But it’s a very interesting challenge to think about sabbatical as something that God may call you to and what that might look like. And to some extent, I found myself going, “This is a lovely luxury.” But to me, it was in that part of the book where I really saw your strengths. You at the Transforming Center really are caring for and nurturing pastors and congregations and spiritual leaders and recognizing the potential for burnout there. Anybody who . . . every single week, a new sermon has to be provided. And you have to deal with all the pressures that come with a church, et cetera. The concept of being restored somehow, just laying back a bit, is quite, quite exciting. Funnily enough, I think often I have seen in my own life, I’ve seen seven-year increments in the sense that changes happen kind of naturally. And sometimes when those things happen, it’s a relief. But it’s not been that I got to take a year off necessarily. It whetted my appetite, actually. I thought, “Oh, what a lovely idea.” And you have some interesting things to say about sabbaticals. You talk about how to go into them and how to go out of them. I’d love to hear from you on that. And then, let’s talk about Henri Nouwen and sabbaticals, because my goodness, he really is in that book of yours.

    Ruth Haley Barton: He really is. And that’s why I was looking forward to talking to you, because you’re the closest thing to getting to talk to him. 

    So, I do talk about sabbatical being another gift. And it’s a gift often from the people that have benefited from your ministry. And so, church elders and vestries and things like that can give that as a gift, but it’s really a gift from God. It’s really something that God intends; it’s given through the leaders in a place. So, it was actually even emotional for me to revisit the deep sense of being gifted by the people here in the Transforming Center who wanted me to have that, and the staff who organized so that they could carry on without me. And the board who raised the funds and blessed me and said, “We don’t want you to work. We don’t want you to write a thing for publication.”

    I didn’t work; I did not work on the sabbatical. Which, you know, is so interesting to me, that the academic world has sort of hijacked the term. So, now in the academic world, as you’ve noted, it’s often just a time to do a different kind of work, like take on a project or do some research or write a book. And there’s a lot of pressure oftentimes on the sabbatical. There’s no relief from pressure during that time in an academic sabbatical. And so, I am attempting in this book, unequivocally, to reclaim the language of sabbatical back to its biblical roots and understanding that it is a time for ceasing our work, and for resting ourselves in God in an extended sort of way. So, yes, I talked about preparation and planning. I actually feel like it could actually and should perhaps be written into someone’s terms of call or into their employment agreement or whatever, when they will get a sabbatical and for what length.

    And mine was not a year. I’ve had two, three-month sabbaticals. But I would say that I think three months is not quite enough. I think four months would be the least amount, just because it takes so long to let go and it takes so long for your body to stop producing the stress hormones. And so, there’s the time for settling in, and then I think there should be some time built in for actually doing a good re-entry. I didn’t do re-entry well, and so I really felt that. It was too abrupt. And I’ve heard other people talk about that, as well.

    Karen Pascal: Well, what do you think would be a good plan for re-entry? How would you, having said you didn’t do it well, what would you suggest doing? In actuality, I’ll encourage people: It’s in the book. You’ll find good things, good possibilities in the book. But what would you recommend for re-entry?

    Ruth Haley Barton: Well, it depends on your timeframe. So, if you have a year, if you get given a year’s sabbatical, I would say you could see three or four weeks at the end as being re-entry. A week or two, you know, for me, for three months. I think a week would’ve been nice, if I had planned for the week before I came back to be a time of intentional re-entry, with some intentional things built in. Like, for instance, a meeting with my spiritual director, where we would actually gather up the gifts of sabbatical and name them and claim them, and determine to carry into the rest of my life the gifts that had been given on sabbatical. I just didn’t even think to do that, didn’t have the guidance to do that.

    But I do think re-entry is extremely important. And even maybe to conclude with a retreat that is meant for claiming the gifts of sabbatical, and even thinking about the gifts you want to bring back and how you perhaps even want to change your life as you come back, the rhythms of your life, if there’s any of that needed. Also, a reaffirmation of sense of call in your life. “Is my calling the same? Has it changed?” Things like that, I think, are really important parts of a re-entry. 

    Karen Pascal: That’s a great question to actually ask yourself: “Is God calling me to something else now?” And those are . . .

    Ruth Haley Barton: You know, that’s hard, because I know a lot of churches and organizations don’t want to give their senior leader a sabbatical, in case they come back and say, “Bye-bye. I have discerned a new call.” So, I mean, in some churches they will even say that if you’re granted a sabbatical, you’re making a commitment to stay for a year after your sabbatical. But then I know other congregations who say, “Well, if a person comes back and no longer feels called, we don’t even want them around for another year. If they really aren’t feeling called, we want to free them.” So, there’s different ways of looking at that. But I think to come back with a renewed sense of calling would be really important. Either it’s a renewed sense of calling to where I’ve been, or it’s a renewed sense of calling to something else. But you don’t want to come out of sabbatical without being in touch with your call. 

    Karen Pascal: It’s interesting, because if you sort of think about the mountaintop experience of Moses going up and getting the 10 Commandments, and you realize that in a sense, getting directions, getting a sense of focus – anxiety seems to be at such high levels right now in people’s lives. And a weariness, you know. People are spent, because they’re living right out to the edges. I loved, I don’t know if, do you ever remember the book, Margin?

    Ruth Haley Barton: Yes, I do.

    Karen Pascal: But I love that image, that somebody writes their life right out to the edge of the page, and we need a margin around the edges of the page. We need margin around the edges of our life to be whole. And yet, the tyranny of the urgent will often force us into far too many things in the day. Far too many cares carried. I saw one of the things that triggered your going on a sabbatical was caregiving, and I’m really aware Henri Nouwen had lots to give to caregivers. 

    And in fact, we’ve just done a couple of books that are released with InterVarsity Press on caregiving: Courage for Caregivers and Hope for Caregivers. Because I have found in my own life this summer was an experience of it. I found in so many others of my friends at a certain age, caregiving does them in. It’s like the thing you can’t not do, because someone desperately needs you. But it just takes the margin off the edge of the page for your life.

    Ruth Haley Barton: That’s right. Yeah. It’s a very good way to put it. It’s true.

    Karen Pascal: Well, let’s hear a little bit about how you took Henri Nouwen’s sabbatical journey as a guide to your sabbatical. Let’s hear a little bit about what that meant.

    Ruth Haley Barton: Well, I thought it was going to be a guide, but actually, it was his story, and it was actually, if you would pardon me saying so, it was actually a guide for how not to do sabbatical. You know, I hadn’t read the book, even though I’d had it on my shelf for a long time, probably 20 years. I may have had that book on my shelf for 20 years, but I’d never had a sabbatical, so I never cared to read the book. So, I thought, “Okay, good. Now that I’m going on sabbatical, I’m going to pull this book off the shelf and get some guidance.” And I was surprised to find that he seemed to not really know what sabbatical was, and he worked very hard on a number of different levels the whole time. 

    And the theme of his exhaustion just jumped off the page: “Why am I so tired? I’m still so tired.” And he was so torn and conflicted about his need for rest, but also his desire to produce. And in my humble reading of it, it seemed almost like an addiction to produce. Like, he couldn’t stop, even though he knew he wanted to, he knew he needed to. He’d been given the freedom and the resources to do it. His community had freed him to do it, but he still couldn’t do it. And so, I will say that I felt companioned by Henri Nouwen, because his struggle was so understandable and mirrored my own. But at the same time, I didn’t necessarily feel guided in reading that resource. So, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about that and your perspective on that. And those of you who really were close to him even during that time.

    Karen Pascal: Well, I think one of the things we know, I mean, he comes to the end of the sabbatical and he dies.

    Ruth Haley Barton: He dies. That’s exactly right.

    Karen Pascal: And his heart is just – he was having all the signals that he needed to pay attention, that he was so tired, there were issues. But his longing for people? His vision to create? He wanted to do this book on the trapeze. He was just . . . that was Henri, he was wired tight. Probably like you’re wired and I’m wired. I mean, there’s a little bit of that. I think what we tend to love about Henri’s writing, even in The Sabbatical Journey, is we love his honesty. He doesn’t hide and put forward a self that you kind of go, “Well, that’s very tidy.” He lets you know, “Okay, I’m struggling. I’m struggling. This is my struggle.” And that really, truly was a journal. I mean, it really was. They pulled it together after he died, I believe. I think that’s what happened.

    Ruth Haley Barton: No, that is true. That is said in the book in some of the back or front matter. So yes, it’s true that they published it after. And they, I think, took out a lot, too. I mean, it sounds like it’s quite abridged, that his journal was much bigger and more voluminous than what we end up with in the writing. But yes, I mean, it is the struggle that . . . I say in the book that even though I didn’t necessarily feel guided, I felt intimate with the man himself, because he was writing so honestly about a struggle that many, many of us can relate to.

    Karen Pascal: I’ve always found some of my favorite books of Henri’s are his journals, because of the level of honesty, and they just undo me. I think my very first reading was the Genesee Diary. And I got an email this past week from somebody who takes The Sabbatical Journey and reads it once every year, because it so speaks to him – which I felt was quite interesting. But clearly, Henri had a struggle between wanting to be so productive, wanting to write, wanting to contribute; that was his gifting. And he so wanted to be with his friends. Clearly you can see the complexity of it all, you know, as you read that book.

    How has Henri in other ways influenced you? I’m curious, because I know I’ve come across it before in your writing, that Henri is obviously one of those people that speaks into your life.

    Ruth Haley Barton: Yes, absolutely. I mean, In the Name of Jesus is such an important work. And then the way that he unfolds and has talked about silence and the desert and that tradition, it was a tradition that I wouldn’t have been exposed to if it wasn’t for Henri’s work. And, you know, that solitude and silence now is something that I champion in my own life. And so, I don’t even know where I’d be without Henri Nouwen’s writings. And I have loved reading Flying, Falling, Catching, as well, and appreciated that it so much, as well, illuminated so much more about his life than I think we had even known, up to this point, even more intimately – the inner workings of his inner life and what he wrestled with.

    So, again, it’s his honesty coupled with his understanding of certain aspects of the spiritual life that, at least for myself as a Protestant, I would not have been exposed to those dynamics of the spiritual life if it were not for Henri Nouwen. And not just the fact that he wrote about it, but how he wrote about it, you know? You could say, “Got the hay down where the goats could get at it,” you know? In terms of these very lofty ideas about solitude, and silence, and Hesykhia, you know? You have to have somebody who can get it down to the level where you can actually take it in, which is what he did.

    Karen Pascal: And get nurtured. That’s right. That’s right. Ah, no. Henri’s a treasure for his sheer honesty. And for the battles he had that so many of us can identify with. We really can. The tyranny of the urgent. The need to be loved and to be with his friends, and to be needed, and all those different kinds of things. 

    We are just in the process of producing something quite wonderful. It’s called Under the Big Top with Henri Nouwen. And we’re going to feature Carolyn Whitney-Brown and the book Flying, Falling, Catching, and Bart Gavigan, who is the director of Angels Over the Net, and we’re going to meet Rodleigh Stevens, who was the trapeze artist. It’s a treasure of a program. It’s going to be on our YouTube channel. In fact, it starts tomorrow, so people, when they’re listening to this podcast, will be able to go to our YouTube channel. Look for Under the Big Top with Henri Nouwen. But what is probably richest in it are the wonderful, wonderful comments from Henri. Oh, they’re really deep. And so, that’s the way he was wired. That psychologist, priest, writer, thinker, friend, broken healer, the Wounded Healer. 

    I am excited about your book. I want people to be reading it. I’m challenged by it. You’re going to be sending me off on certainly a better use of Sabbath. I have managed to unplug, but I’m going to be even, I think, more deliberate in certain areas. 

    But as you’re listening, I want to encourage you to get this new book. It’s really a treasure. Don’t you love the title, Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest: From Sabbath to Sabbatical and Back Again. Honestly, Ruth’s a great writer. It’s very engaging. I really highly recommend it. 

    Thank you, Ruth. Thank you for your time and for sharing with us your wisdom, taking us on the journey of your life and then helping us go farther with that. Thank you.

    Ruth Haley Barton: Thank you. And thank you for such a thoughtful read of this new work. I really appreciate it. I can tell that you’ve engaged it really thoughtfully, and that means a lot to any author. So, thank you so much, Karen.

    Karen Pascal: That’s a lovely treat to talk with you, honestly, really a treat.

    Ruth Haley Barton: Thank you so you much. The Lord bless you.

    Karen Pascal: Thank you for listening to today’s podcast. I hope this interview with Ruth Haley Barton has inspired you to pursue having a genuine, weekly Sabbath in your life. And maybe you’re going to plan for a true sabbatical. That’s pretty tempting for me, I must admit. 

    You’ll find links to this book and to all the things mentioned in this podcast on the podcast page of our website. We hope you’ll share this podcast with your friends and family. If you’ve enjoyed it, please take time to give us a thumbs-up or a good review. Thanks for listening. Until next time.

Praise from our podcast listeners

"A wonderful podcast that does a deep dive into Nouwen's teachings & influence on other leaders."
Matthew, Canada
"It's a great podcast - that truly pierces your heart!"
Jude, UK
"Karen Pascal does a wonderful job interviewing. There is so much to ponder after each episode."
Sandra, USA

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