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Silence and Sabbath

College Conference at Montreat attendees hear a story about the power of being still

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Students attending the 2020 College Conference at Montreat flock toward a communion station during Friday evening worship. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

MONTREAT, North Carolina — The 900 Presbyterians attending the Collegiate Conference at Montreat entered Sabbath together in silence Friday evening following vibrant, thoughtful worship with communion led by conference preacher the Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana and the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, coordinator for the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People.

Through keynote addresses, group conversations, worship and workshops, conference attendees have been learning about the importance of a day of Sabbath and about ways they can withdraw from the busyness of studies, work and even their social lives.

Scripture makes at least two Sabbath facts clear, according to McKibben Dana: It’s a whole day of rest, and it’s made for us, and not us for the Sabbath.

In addition, Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath — and Jesus worked on the Sabbath. “It was important, healing work that transformed people,” she said. “I like to think he went back to his Sabbath rest afterward.”

The oldest Hebrew reference McKibben Dana can find for God is a phrase that means “The Place.”

“God is our dwelling place, our refuge,” she said. “Only God can teach us to be wise with our time and be gentle with us when we miss the mark.”

Then she told this story:

The Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana

McKibben Dana has been working part-time with faculty at the George Washington University School of Medicine to teach future doctors how to, for example, break bad news for patients. Students practice with a standardized patient — a hired actor — who plays the role of a patient.

On one occasion, a student named Natalie had to tell a standardized patient named Linda, the mother of two young children, that she had Stage 2 cancer. That can’t be, Linda said. My daughter has a recital this weekend. The conversation went back and forth.

A few moments into the exercise, McKibben Dana asked the two to stop and rewind. This time, she asked Natalie to be silent for 20 seconds after she delivered the bad news to Linda.

During the silence, Linda began to cry. She told Natalie that her mother had died of cancer when Linda was a child.

“I can’t leave my babies,” Linda told Natalie.

Natalie told Linda she understood how hard it was to hear the news and that she would be with her patient every step of the way.

“I don’t know what Sabbath will look like for you,” McKibben Dana told the rapt congregation of collegians. “All I hope is that it equips you to live in this kind of silence, because that’s where all the important things happen in our lives.”

With that, worship concluded and attendees began their Sabbath with silence.

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