rest, wait and trust: sabbath thoughts about ascension sunday...

Today I put away most of my worship notes and simply spoke about the Sabbath connection
and Ascension Sunday:  wait for power from on high Jesus told his followers and then you can head out into the world to be my witnesses. And what was true then is just as important now. Wait. Rest. Reflect before acting. Don't go off half-cocked. Sr. Joan Chittister set the stage with this observation::

When society rested on the fiat of kings and emperors, pharaohs and queens, tribal chiefs and keepers of the clan,” writes Benedictine prioress Joan Chittister, “it was religion that built freedom and feasting into the fabric of our lives. When peasants and serfs, slaves and captives, bondsmen an indentured servants all lived at the beck and call of the chief, it was religion that built freedom into the very calendars of life for them. Long before the five-day work week and fair labor legislation, religion required rest and fun, fiestas and feasts, as well as fasting and prayer, discipline and self-control. The liturgical calendar superseded the whims and fancies of either the obscenely rich or the murderously powerful. (The Liturgical Year)

So both today's liturgy and message were fun - there was a lot of dialogue and congregational commentary - all of which felt simple and right. To talk about our spiritual tradition's invitation to rest is something I've done often, but it is so counter cultural.The Christian Century's lectionary commentary this week for Ascension Sunday, reinforced the importance of waiting and taking time with this survey of the sacred number 40. It is a call to pay attention:

In the scriptures, it is for 40 days that rain falls on Noah’s ark, that spies scout out Canaan, that Goliath fought the Israelite army, that Ezekiel lies on his right side (in mourning and prayer), that Nineveh is threatened with destruction, and that Jesus is tempted in the wilderness after his baptism. At age 40 Moses murders an Egyptian, 40 years later he meets with God on Mount Sinai; and 40 years later he dies.  For 40 years Israel wanders in the desert and for 40 years suffers under the Philistines. Saul, David and Solomon each reign for 40 years, and every woman is secluded for 40 days after the birth of a son. (Christian Century, April 27, 2016)

Nobody knows exactly why 40 came to represent a long time in our spiritual story. Some have guessed that it has something to do with a time that exceeds the 28 days of the lunar cycle. But no one knows for sure. “It is simply a mythical period pregnant with the religious future:  Forty (seems to be) the metaphysical delay required in all human experience before God’s intent can be realized… it is the legendary period of hope, the duration of either joy or sorrow, that opens us to unknown emotions and wisdom” born of the Lord. (CC)

So the oldest truths of the Judeo-Christian tradition give Ascension Sunday some shape and form by honoring the Sabbath and keeping  it holy.  Rest. Wait. Trust that God is God so that you don’t have to act like you are in charge of everything.  Wait for the promise of the Father. The second insight flows from the first: when you are well-rested, then you have the vision, stamina, peace and presence to be a good neighbor. What must I do to inherit eternal life – that is, a life of meaning and value – the lawyer once asked Jesus? To which he said: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength – AND – love your neighbor as yourself. Everything else is commentary. As I know all too well, it is hard to be a tender peace-maker without being well rested.

Clearly having a few days away for rest and renewal helped me today. Di and I were given the
blessing of spending a few days on Cape Cod a a couple's cottage. As is often the case, we slept, talked, read, walked about and visited some of the beaches and bookstores in this stunning little corner of the world. Last year at this time we were en route to Nashville and it was becoming clear that one phase of ministry was ending for us both. Three hundred and sixty five days later - after a year of waiting and discernment - some of the new blessings of new ministries are coming to light. It takes time. And prayer. And trust.  

While we were away, I spent part of each morning reading and pondering some of Henri Nouwen's wisdom in Spiritual Direction. He writes that "prayer is not something that comes naturally or easily. It is something that requires learning and discipline... (because) more than anything else, prayer is primarily listening and waiting. We listen for God in an attitude of openness of hearty, humility of spirit, and quietness of soul. And we let our mind descend into our heart and stand there (for a time) in the presence of the Lord." Therefore, prayer is not fundamentally about the individual, but rather how each of us engages with the world.

Prayer is not introspections. It does not look inward but outward. Introspection easily can entangle us in the labyrinth of inward-looking analysis of our own ideas, feelings and mental process - and can lead to paralyzing worries, self-absorption and despair. Prayer is an outward, careful attentiveness to the One who invites us to an unceasing conversation... prayer is the joyful affirmation that God knows our minds and hearts without anything being hidden.

From this conversation that becomes a way of life, each of us finds a unique way to be part of the healing of the world. This is the other blessing that came to me while in contemplation this weekend:  as we wait for God's power from on high, new ministries are revealed. Nouwen writes:

Remember: You belong to God from eternity to eternity. You were loved by God before you were born; you will be loved by God long after you die. Your human lifetimes - long or short - is nly a part of your total life with God. The length of time doesn't matter. Life is just a little opportunity for you during a few years to say to God: "I love you, too."

So take all the time you need to listen carefully, yes?  On this quick trip away there was rain and sun, wind and fog, sand and water, sound and silence: a fullness for which I am grateful.

ps ` after worship today, three very different people  (between the ages of 30-40) made a point to speak to me. The first, a guest, said: You nailed that - it was a message I needed to hear - AND you were so connected to the people. The second, a person who has attended worship since I started nine years ago told me:  That was killer! I felt so good today BECAUSE I was rested and ready to engage. And third, a person who worships when possible and comes in from about two hours away: We in America rush to get things done on the weekend so that we have free time; in other places they simply do what needs to be done in an unhurried way and do it together. NO rushing. Hmmmm....?!?  Our homework assignment? Do nothing for 30 minutes today - I got home, had a quick bite to eat and slept for 90 minutes!

photo credit: Dianne De Mott

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