Jeff DaleI guess I have a reputation for enjoying outdoor explorations. Throughout the school year, it wasn’t too uncommon for someone to ask, “Where will you go hiking this weekend, Jeff?” And as I reflect on my first year at Candler, it’s true: I did do quite a bit of hiking and other outdoor activities.

A few adventures were quite memorable:

  • During fall break, I kayaked into the heart of the floodplain forest of Congaree National Park in South Carolina. Every time I saw a half-submerged log up ahead, I kept expecting it to be an alligator. I didn’t see any alligators on that trip, but I did get a glimpse of a bobcat!
  • One weekend in January, I backpacked along with three other seminarians into the mountains of north Georgia. We spent a long night in a stone shelter on Blood Mountain as snow blew through the open windows and the wind chill brought temperatures well into the single digits. Somehow we were still smiling in the morning (pictured above).
  • In late April, I met up with a couple of friends in Tennessee. We had an intense afternoon of trail running through a canyon to get to some viewpoints and to the beautiful Laurel Falls. And this was just before the busyness of finals week.

Other outdoor experiences this past year were less intense. I spent some quiet afternoons resting in the grass in Emory’s own Lullwater Park. I explored other urban green spaces by bike and by foot. I listened to the Chattahoochee River make its way through the rocky shoals. I watched a stunning sunset from Arabia Mountain.

Overlooking the Chattahoochee River from the East Palisades TrailSome might wonder how I found time for so many outdoor explorations in one school year, but for me it’s not a question of finding time, but something to do out of necessity. Don’t get me wrong; I have certainly enjoyed my outdoor explorations in the Atlanta area and beyond. But these explorations have been more than just enjoyable. They have been nothing less than life-giving.

Part of it goes back to how I was raised. You see, I come from the Seventh-day Adventist faith tradition. As the name hints at, we find that there’s still great value in the ancient practice of seventh-day Sabbath observance. Regarding it as important to maintain a weekly rhythm of work and rest, we take the last day of each week as a time for restoration. It can be a time for worship and for physical rest, but it’s about so much more besides. Sabbathing is about holistic rejuvenation on a weekly basis. What that meant for my family, when I was growing up, was that we would frequently spend Sabbath hours out in nature.

It’s something that’s stayed with me. In fact, spending time Sabbathing in the outdoors has only become more important as life has gotten busier. This past school year has been no exception. Let’s face it: being a student in a school of theology is a stressful experience. As I’m sure my peers would attest, there are constant demands on our time, and there’s so much to process and to consider. For me at least, this has made taking weekly time for restoration even more necessary. Life is too hectic not to take time for Sabbathing. And for me, an important part of that weekly rejuvenation comes from time spent outdoors. 

I would encourage others to make Sabbathing a part of their weekly rhythm. As much as I enjoy outdoor excursions, however, I recognize that time spent Sabbathing doesn’t necessarily look the same for everyone. Some might experience restoration in music or poetry. Others might be rejuvenated simply through time spent with friends or family. But I believe we all need to find ways to make holistic restoration a regular priority.