(Jubilee calendar courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, May 13, 2012)
Daily Office readings for Sunday, May 13, 2012:
Psalm 93, 96 (Morning)
Psalm 34 (Evening)
James 1:2-8, 16-18
Leviticus 25:1-17 (NRSV):
The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. You may eat what the land yields during its sabbath—you, your male and female slaves, your hired and your bound laborers who live with you; for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food.
You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces. In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property. When you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not cheat one another. When you buy from your neighbor, you shall pay only for the number of years since the jubilee; the seller shall charge you only for the remaining crop years. If the years are more, you shall increase the price, and if the years are fewer, you shall diminish the price; for it is a certain number of harvests that are being sold to you. You shall not cheat one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.
The concept of the jubilee year in Leviticus is an interesting one, and one that is quite foreign to our modern way of thinking--that every minute of every day must be "productive."
As I grew closer and closer to age 49, the concept of a jubilee year intrigued me. In many ways, my late grandfather had hit the nail on the head in his assessment of many aspects of human nature. I remember him once explaining to me as a teenager that so much of how we defined "who we are" was by those ways we felt "one up" in a situation. The rules in Leviticus for a jubilee year imply that no one is one up in a business deal. What you see is what you get. Your fields are rich enough that they can stand to lie fallow for a spell and live off the natural issue of them. Consider the possibility that one's life, just as it is, turns out to be a rich and abundant one.
So I lined out the parameters for my own version of a jubilee year that would start on my 49th birthday. I would pay off all my debts, save my house mortgage. I would no longer leave unpaid balances on the charge card. I would cease buying excessive things on a whim. I would only replace the clothes that truly wore out. I would let my penchant for "accumulating" lie fallow.
Now, I wish I could have told you that every day I woke up to sunshine and that every day of that year was an amazing, uplifting spiritual experience. In my mind, of course, my big ego had conjured up a fantasy that my mere obedience to such a decree would cause the stars and the planets to move about me like I was the center of the universe, and I'd be blessed in ways beyond measure. Unfortunately, several things which mostly had very little to do with me, or ones that turned out revealing I had less control than I thought, ended up stealing the show. My best friend in town finally sold her house and moved away. I had faced the reality that I had to give up being the sole owner of my practice and affiliate with a larger group. The abbey where I used to go on retreats imploded. Some perilous truths came to light in my home parish, in my workplace, in my family, and in my own soul. Frankly, I never felt more in mortal spiritual danger, more financially impotent, and more out of balance than that year. Had you asked me "How'd that jubilee year thing go?" on day 364 of that year, I'd have told you it was a miserable failure.
But a few years have passed now, and the wonderful thing about hindsight is that I can now tell you about the seeds that were divinely sown with essentially no input from me. I began my online EfM class that year, which has turned out to be one of the greatest spiritual gifts I've ever been given. Because I felt so rudderless, I began to seek stronger personal connections with people I knew a little from the Episco-blogging world and Facebook. I began to ask for and accept help for several things that my answer had always been, "Never mind, I'll do it myself, because I can't trust anyone other than me." I began to feel the very strong pull that God had distinct plans for me within the framework of our church. I don't think I would have seen those graces had I continued my habit of accumulating things to feel in control. I don't think I would have understood the beauty of the good things in my life had not several bad things created a conjunction of dysfunction. I came to understand that a jubilee year is not about "that year." It's about what happens after that year.
I doubt one has to wait until their 49th birthday to declare one nor claim it's too late if one's 49th birthday has passed. Has the possibility of a jubilee year ever crossed your mind?