Friday, July 11, 2014

More rambling thoughts on Sabbath...

Today is our "Sabbath" - a time for rest and renewal - a time to trust that all
of creation can and will continue just as it must without any assistance or activity from me. For while I am beloved of the Lord, God is God and I am not: Sabbath helps me know this truth from the inside out. As Abraham Joshua Heschel writes: The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world. 

As I noted earlier this week, most Christians are not very good at honoring the essence of Sabbath. As one member of my congregation said to me recently, "Our way of being faithful can often seem like visiting a museum: you come to a special place, spend some time and then return to your activities until your next visit." In my crankier days (and sometimes still) I put it more crudely: "Simply standing all night in your garage does not make you a car any more than howling all night makes you a coyote." No, living into the unforced rhythms of grace is an embodied spirituality, not a spectator sport or an intellectual exercise. Heschel hits the nail on the head: Creating holiness in time requires a different sensibility than building a cathedral in space: “We must conquer space in order to sanctify time." I am particularly moved by this insight:

There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.

And so we rest - as God rested - learning to trust that as we rest and even waste time, a deeper, sacred blessing is being reborn within us from within the very heart of the Holy. As I reread Heschel, and reconsider how I might more faithfully honor the Sabbath and keep it holy, I am struck by two truths. First, Sabbath rest is not about frivolity or foolishness. It is playful and tender, to be sure, but it is not about entertaining myself or distracting myself from life. Rather, it is "an opportunity to mend our tattered lives; to collect rather than to dissipate time." (Heschel) 

In the Christian tradition, this is often how contemplation is discussed: taking a long, loving look at reality. It is taking stock in time to be renewed and replenished before returning to the world with love and compassion. That means, NO emails from church - no phone calls (unless it is a true emergency) - and no fretting or brooding about budgets and buildings. If I am to learn from the masters of Sabbath, I am going to have to let go of my work in time and truly practice being at rest.

And that means I'm going to have to interpret this for my congregation. As a rule, we are people on the move who want to get things done. Thank God my moderator values and appreciates my growing commitment to Sabbath and never contacts me during this sacred time away. But we don't have the cultural expectation of unavailability - we are uncertain about how to hallow time on earth like it is in heaven - and we are going to have to wrestle with the fact that "creating holiness in time requires a different sensibility than building a cathedral in space: “We must conquer space in order to sanctify time.” What's more, until a critical mass in the community commits to this different sensibility, there is going to be some confusion.

The second truth I discern from Heschel is that in the midst of true Sabbath, we, like the Lord, experience a new encounter with creation: renewal. He writes: "The words: “On the seventh day God finished His work” (Genesis 2:2), seem to be a puzzle. Is it not the Lord made heaven and earth” (Exodus 20:11)? We would surely expect the Bible to tell us that on the sixth day God finished His work. Obviously, the ancient rabbis concluded, there was an act of creation on the seventh day. Just as heaven and earth were created in six days, menuha was created on the Sabbath." Heschel then goes on to define menuha like this:

To the biblical mind menuha is the same as happiness and stillness and peace and harmony. The word with which Job described the state after life he was longing for is derived from the same root as menuha.  It is the state wherein man lies still, wherein the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest. It is the state in which there is no strife and no fighting, no fear and distrust. The essence of the good life is menuha. ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside still waters.’ (the waters of menuhot) In later times menuha became a synonym for the life in the world to come, for eternal life.”

And so later today we will go to eat a Sabbath dinner with our daughter and son in law. Our dogs will run and play with one another in the country and we will share food and gifts, too. Tomorrow is time enough to reconnect with creation - I will meet the young eco-interns staying in our church and cut the grass - and who knows what else? But is Sabbath.


ddl said...

Okay, RJ, I am laughing...your writing and reflections have TOTALLY outpaced my ability to keep up and digest. SO...I am going to take, like the last 3 blog posts, and keep re-reading them until they get in my head and practice better. I suck at Sabbath. I am going on retreat next week (but it is a liturgical planning retreat). I am not sure if I am going to "plug in" I might limit it. But I will contemplate these posts and reflections.

Have you considered taking Sabbath rest from your blog??? ;)
You write faster than I eat. LOL!

RJ said...

Smiles... that might be a good thing,my friend. I will have to think about that. Blessings on your retreat.

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