Monthly Archives: September 2013

Sabbath Rest Revisited

Over the past years as I have sought to practice Sabbath, I realize that I still don’t know how.  A nap on Sunday afternoon.  Maybe some time with family.  But then I start wondering what to do and my list of should’s drowns out everything else.  I start feeling that I need to complete work before allowing myself rest. I should complete my schedule for the week.  I should respond to those e-mails.  I should make another list.  I should finish work on a piece of writing.  Most importantly, I should do something the world may see as useful.  Quickly the practice of resting becomes work and I fall into old habits of doing things in order to not waste time.

But in actuality, Sabbath is about wasting time – at least in the view of the world.  It’s about stepping away from work routines that prevent us from seeing that we are not the one ultimately in charge.  This time of rest that God commands is a practice of trusting God with taking care of us.  It is also a gift freely given. Two reasons that may help explain why I’m so uncomfortable with it.  I worry whether or not God can truly take care of me; or, more accurately, I worry if all my effort will be for naught.  In a way I want to prove that I can succeed along my own path.  In addition, I have been taught to earn what I receive. However, God calls for rest even though so much is left undone. Even though I am wasting time.  Even when I get to rest, I am concerned whether or not I am resting correctly.  No wonder that at the end of Sabbath I’m often more tired than when it started.

Take a recent Sunday as an example.  As usual I had to keep myself on task to rest.  After a meeting at church (Not sure how I feel about meetings on Sundays.  Yes, they are the best times to gather people, but they can also negatively color the rest of the day.) I returned home and my mother told me she was going to clean the church patio.  Not wanting her to do it alone, I went along.  Working together was a type of rest.  At least I was with family and doing something outside and active.  But was it really was more working, getting something done.  Back home it was time to read and nap.  Upon waking I read some more, but felt I was just hiding away.  So, I opened the computer and fussed around.  Nothing important at all.  I kept thinking that I should just do the schedules, get some work done.  But another voice kept urging me to turn off the computer and stop coming up with useful things to do.  Waste some time.  My next activity was chosen for me as it was time to help with dinner and eat.  Afterwards I finally stepped away from the fretting. I started my latest counted cross stitch project.  This always fills wasteful.  After a few stitches I found I couldn’t see anymore because I needed reading glasses and better light.  Yet, there was something freeing in even starting this work.  Stepping into a project I enjoy without everything else being done.  Trusting that work will be waiting tomorrow and God will provide what is needed to finish it.

Clearly, this isn’t a template for Sabbath rest, but a start.  My thinking about, though eventually setting aside even small work tasks was a victory.  It felt of rest, and of trusting that God will care for these should’s in time.

As I look ahead to future Sabbaths I want to continue an intentional movement towards doing ‘wasteful’ things.  This could be hanging out with friends, cross-stitching, reading, walking, cooking a meal.  It’s an exercise in learning what constitutes rest, of trusting God, and of inviting others along.  It’s also a practice of letting go of old patterns that keep me locked into the idea that I am alone responsible for my work and that no one, not even God, can take care of me.

On these Sabbaths I desire

  • To quiet the voices that say I’m not worthy of resting on the Sabbath, not doing it right.
  • To stop thinking that I need to step up for God instead of resting in him.
  • To recognize that I am weary and to fall under God’s yoke.


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The book I should have read 20 years ago

As an undergraduate I had heard about the book Ordering Your Private World (1985) by Gordon MacDonald when a friend who knew my overtaxed schedule suggested I read it.  Yet, the book did not make it into my task list.  I knew how to organize and order things just fine, thank you.  Still, several years later I picked up the book at a discount store and it has sat on my shelf ever since.

Just last month this book actually made it on my schedule as the first book in a year-long reading list I’m starting.  It was time to take it off the shelf.  I could have just assumed that I knew what it would say, along with the related articles about use of time in today’s world, but I decided to open it.

In one respect it met my expectations – a self-help book that breaks down a problem (in this case disordered internal lives that lead to external chaos) and seeks to provide answers.  There are even pie charts and pithy sayings, ‘memos’, at the end of each chapter.  Often I just gloss over these insets and wonder if they are trying to redirect the focus of the reader from the shallow content on the rest of the pages.  But once I started reading I found that there is wisdom between these charts.

I was particularly struck with the distinction between living a driven or a called life.  In other words, what motivates a person?  As I was reading these passages I definitely put myself in the driven category.  MacDonald’s description of a “public world, where things can be measured, admired, and used” meshes with the world I know.  Often I choose my goals, at least those on which I focus, by looking to the expectations of others – teachers, friends, family, the church.  I want to measure up to their standards.  Or maybe I want to prove I can do something – whether that’s make a relationship work, organize more ministry projects, or plan the best trips.  My physical body also reveals evidence of this drivenness.  Not long into a day’s work my shoulders are raised, my breathing is shallow, and I’m racing to keep focused on where I’m going instead of where I am.  When I take the time to slow down and think, I know that this life is tiring me out.

At the same time I was reading MacDonald’s book I was also working through Jeremiah and read the following verses.

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.  – Jeremiah 2:12-13

Immediately I recognized this image.  Driven to hew out that cistern in spite of internal calls to drink from a living fountain already available, I yearn to prove that I can do it (whatever “it” is) myself.  Not surprisingly, I come up dry.  No wonder, I’ve been drinking from an empty cistern.  Consumed with meeting these external expectations, I put on hold the callings from the living waters. Once I figure out this new job, then I can spend time on retreat.  Once I finish this book, then I can work on relationships.

MacDonald refers to the same image when he describes the church, “Many churches are fountains gone dry.  Rather than being springs of life-giving energy that cause people to grow and delight in God’s way, they become sources of stress.”   Even in the places where we should find this life-giving fountain, we are driven to compare our spiritual practices with that of others – and we often don’t add up – so we pile more on.  The latest Christian book, the latest prayer method.  I know this is true of me.

It’s easy to describe a driven life, but what is a called life?  This book and words from Jeremiah point to this other way. In a called life that quiet voice of God’s rises above the expectations of the world.  The push and pull from outside no longer wears down the person.  Even though some of the external drives may parallel the call, the person’s action will come from the quiet listening and conversation with God and trusted friends, not the frantic pace of the world.  A called person is calm within. She can say yes and no to external events because her motivation comes from a centered place – God.

So, what will I do?  One book isn’t going to change my life no matter how much I agree with it or even desire to implement its suggestions.  Ironically, if I seek to be the one to order my world, I’m again being driven.  But I can make space, and more importantly, pray for space for this to happen, allowing the Holy Spirit to work and to open my understanding to what God calls me.  What might this look like?  More in-depth and honest time in the morning with God.  Quality time to write and study.  Less and more productive time on administrative tasks.  Furthermore, there is no need to wait, this life is available now.  If only I can just stop building that cistern.

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Looking at Ruins with Jane Austen’s Wit/Wisdom

Each time I trek to England I’m amazed by the number of religious ruins across the country, from Stonehenge to Fountains Abbey.  I’m particularly struck by the abbeys.  They retain the basic structures of cathedrals, but with a few items missing – like ceilings and walls.  Walking on the grass that now serves as the floors for these immense, decaying structures, I imagine them at various times in history: filled with religious men and women in prayer and work; closed and stripped of valuables by a king’s edict; used as inspiration for the musings of Romantic poets; and now visited by many believers on pilgrimage.

On my latest journey I again found myself standing in the middle of one of these structures – the Priory on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in the northeast.  As usual I entered this space with a certain solemnity in my walk and gaze.  Shortly afterwards I read a small pamphlet Jane Austen penned in 1791, “The History of England by a partial, prejudiced & ignorant Historian” in which she comments on ruins like these, and their reason for being.

 The Crimes & Cruelties of this Prince [Henry the 8th], were too numerous to be mentioned & nothing can be said in his Vindication, but that his abolishing Religious houses & leaving them to the ruinous depredations of Time has been of infinite use to the Landscape of England in general, which probably was a principal motive for his doing it, since otherwise why should a Man who was of no Religion himself be at so much trouble to abolish one which had for Ages been established in the Kingdom?

With a jab of humor she intimates that the then growing appreciation for these structures as ruins had eclipsed the painful history behind them.  Continuing to reflect along these lines, I wondered if these sites are visited more in their ruined state than they would be if they had continued as places of worship and ministry.  Eventually some of them would have ‘naturally’ been left empty as religious orders decreased and congregations shrank. Instead of being ‘martyred’ for the fancies of a king, they would have been closed and forgotten.  Without a story to tell, I would imagine that future generations would easily bypass them. Just another casualty of an ever changing society.

Nevertheless these ruins are truly a part of the English landscape now, as Austen observes. Maybe for some visitors a significant piece of history is merely another well-placed tree.  However, for many people the scaffolding of stones that remains allows them to infuse these places with meaning.

IMG_1919Before heading to Lindisfarne I spent time in Bath where I walked around and worshiped in Bath Abbey.  Since 757 AD a Christian church has stood at this site.  As with the dissolution of other monasteries it was closed down and stripped of all valuables in 1539.   Yet, unlike some of the other abbeys, the Anglican Church eventually rebuilt it when in 1572 the son of Matthew Colthurst, who then owned the shell of the abbey, presented it the the citizens of Bath to use as a parish church. Since then it has undergone several significant renovations and is now a place of history, art, and a living congregation. The soaring stone vaulting above my head, the stained glass, and the art throughout helped direct the worship beyond my small self.  I was rising up with the words spoken and sung for Evensong.  However, the experience connecting with the holiness of God seemed to be contained within the space.  Walking outside into the mass of tourists in front of the Roman Baths I was quickly brought back into my own frantic world.

IMG_1969Two days later at Lindisfarne Priory, where the walls are slowly crumbling and any soaring ceiling is long gone, I experienced a more organic interaction with the sacred and secular.  As I and others walked around the land we saw the sky through openings where stained-glass once shared stories from the Bible; passed partial staircases that used to continue up to the second floor and a sleeping area; and touched crumbling walls that used to divide the spaces that separated monks and villagers. Here I recognized even more than at Bath the limits of humans on this earth in the erosion of this building.  I saw the grandeur of God as my sight didn’t have a ceiling to limit the gaze upward.  Unlike the abbey in Bath, there was no enclosed space that I entered or left.  Instead there was a constant conversation between the building, the land, and the visitors. I found that in this space my internal reflections did not so quickly leave, as I continued to reflect on God’s majesty and humankind’s humility of which this place is evidence.

I, like Austen, would caution people to see these sites as more than pleasant landscapes to observe from a distance of time and space. Through their layers of story they provide means for people to stop; to recognize our own limits on this earth; perhaps to sense a different presence of God; and then to return to the temples of today with a more humble heart.

Categories: Pilgrimage Sharings | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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