People-Centered Vs. God-Centered Rest: Sabbath

How many times do you hear people say, “I’m tired”? How many times do you yourself say, “I’m tired”? As a society we are perpetually tired perhaps by over-committing ourselves, unrealistic expectations whether externally imposed or self-imposed, challenges providing for self & family during economic struggles, poor time management, and countless of other reasons and factors. When was the last time you felt truly refreshed? Renewed? Even if you make a commitment to rest, you may not feel rested.

 

Rest is like exercise- it takes time to build fitness and stamina to do it well. If the modus operandi is multi-tasking, caffeinated consciousnesses as Shane Claiborne calls it, and keeping a calendar with lots of mental notes, then trying to stop and rest is like trying to stop a train. It takes a freight train about 1 mile to come to a complete stop. Many times when starting out with rest, there may be a heightened sense of anxiety- I’m forgetting something or someone, I should be doing something else, etc. Make a list of these things as they come to mind & return to rest. Rest is more of an attitude than anything, but rest also requires saying no to other things for a certain period of time so you can say yes to wellness and rest.

 

Not everything that is enjoyable is restful. For example, certain movies increase heart rate & make us involved in fictional characters’ problems. This is hardly restful as many of us deal with other people’s problems for a living. If you feel that getting wrapped up in someone else’s problems, fictional or otherwise, distracts you from your own, this is not true rest but avoidance.

 

As Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a time for this and that; a season for this and that. There is a time for other people centered rest such as spending quality time with family or friends away from work and to-do list tasks. Jewish Shabbat includes some interpersonal connecting with people elements & this is good, but some people only practice people-centered rest. There is also a time for God-centered rest which is the most challenging and most neglected type of rest. Even God took time to stop and admire Creation, to rest. [Genesis 1:1-2:4]

 

What is God-centered rest & how is it practically possible? Set a specific, reasonable, and practical time. Thursday evenings from 5-8pm. Sunday afternoons from 1-6pm. Monday mornings from 9:30-11:30am. Saturday sunset to Sunday sunset. More important than length of time is consistency. Turn off music, television, silence your phone, step into a quiet and private space whether inside or outside. Exterior silence facilitates interior silence.

 

The probability of having an emergency only you can respond to via phone or email during a few hours or perhaps a full day is statistically slim. God-centered rest is a reminder that we are not the only ones who are able to respond to needs. If you are a minister, trust your staff to handle situations or wait to consult with you until you return from rest. If you are a student, trust that the last minute email from your professor or study group will be there after regular rest. Rest requires trust in other people and in God, which is counter-cultural from the [though helpful in moderation] independent do-it-yourself attitude of today. Trusting others and God means acknowledging that you yourself do not keep the world spinning. Life happened before you and will continue after you. Rest is a temporary timeout.

 

Don’t worry about making the most of this set aside time. Allow yourself to rest without a to-do list. You are on God’s time and schedule. Sit in silence & accept that falling asleep is possible & maybe probable! Slowly read a spiritual book only for the purpose of rest and reflection. This time is not about getting as far through the book as possible. In Sabbath rest, lack of ‘productivity’ is desired. Prayer journal. Admire the Creator by sitting outside or on a stroll- slow is key. Our bodies are made to rest about 1/3 of life. [8 hours sleeping per 24-hour period] Our spirits are made for rest, too.

 

Deep down, sometimes we avoid stillness, silence, rest. As I have heard from many nuns- it is a mistake to go to the convent to avoid the world or running from yourself because it is in the silence and prayer of the convent that they say they most struggle as they see themselves more clearly than before. As distractions are removed and we experience God through silence, rest, and contemplation, we recognize how weak we truly our and how powerful God really is. Rest puts us in our place with one another as we work together to gives others time and space to rest, and with God as we recognize Him as Creator who in wisdom created us for rest.

 

As Lauren Winner writes in Mudhouse Sabbath, Sabbath or God-centered rest, “Sabbath, shapes all the rhythms of calendar and time; the entire week points toward Shabbat” (p.8). What if time was marked and ordered by spiritual connection with God- rest, prayer, church?

 

Refresh must be more than a button on the internet browser. We need refreshment. I am reminded of Psalm 42:1- “As the deer pants for water, so my soul longs for you.” How is panting improved to regular breathing? Stopping to focus on consistent breathing. Exhaustion is improved by stopping to focus on spiritual breathing- resting in God’s company.

 

I write this as a tired person looking for rest. Looking for community. Looking for God. Looking for refreshment. Join me.

 

 

To Welcome the Sabbath

[from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals]

 

Lord of Creation,

Create in us a new rhythm of life

Composed of hours that sustain rather than stress,

Of days that deliver rather than destroy,

Of time that tickles rather than tackles.

 

Lord of Liberation,

By the rhythm of Your truth, set us free

From the bondage and baggage that break us,

From the Pharaohs and fellows who fail us,

From the plans and pursuits that prey upon us.

 

Lord of Resurrection,

May we be raised into the rhythm of Your new life,

Dead to deceitful calendars,

Dead to fleeting friend requests,

Dead to the empty peace of our accomplishments.

 

To our packed-full planners, we bid, “Peace!”

To our over-caffeinated consciences, we say, “Cease!”

To our suffocating selves, Lord, grant release.

 

Drowning in a seas of deadlines and death chimes,

We rest in You, our lifeline.

 

By Your ever-restful grace,

Allow us to enter Sabbath rest

As Your Sabbath rest enters into us.

 

In the name of our Creator,

Our Liberator,

Our Resurrection and Life,

We pray.

Amen.

 

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Palm Sunday Reflections: A Different Kind of Ass

Why did Jesus choose to ride on a donkey into Jerusalem? Was He too good to simply walk into town? Was Jesus trying to make a statement? Perhaps Jesus desired to shake up the global order.

 

Typically kings rode in to town on majestic steeds, demanding respect and glory. One of Jesus’ titles is King of Kings. Jesus, Divine Authority, highest King, rides in on a donkey. Riding a donkey is embarrassingly humble. Other kings wouldn’t be caught dead on a lowly donkey. Where is the power? Where is the glory? Jesus’ power & glory, authority, is so secure that it does not need to be externally validated. Jesus does not need to demand respect and worship because there comes a point when the truth of His Divinely Royal identity is evident without authoritarian force. I wonder if Jesus, a knowledgeable Jew, & others around Him had Zechariah 9:9 in mind- “Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey— riding on a donkey’s colt.”

 

The Gospel accounts specifically says that Jesus came from the Mount of Olives, from the East side of Jerusalem. One interpretation of this detail is more than a visual cue so the listener/reader can picture the scene. Rather, who was cast out toward the East? Adam & Eve after The Fall. [Genesis 3:24] Jesus comes from the East perhaps as a symbol of restoration. The Fall is being restored. Adam & Eve, representing sinful humanity, are now invited back through the gate into the Garden, God’s paradise & relationship with God.

 

The palm branches & Hallelujahs are more fitting for the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles [Sukkot- from Leviticus 23 & Deuteronomy 16] in the fall, harvest time. Instead, a similar scene to the Sukkot liturgy happens here in spring, Passover, the planting season. This flip flop could further indicate a reversal of the world order. As Jesus planted & grew on Earth with other smaller harvests [think miracles, teachings, etc. in the Gospels], Jesus is moving toward a larger scale harvest as he sends Himself to seed so that He may blossom, resurrect, further confirm His Divine Identity, & reap a harvest of followers.

 

As Mary rode a donkey toward birthing physical life in Bethlehem, Jesus rides a donkey in Jerusalem as He is about to give the paradoxical spiritual life through death.

 

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.” [Psalm 118:26]

 

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A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans Review

A Year of Biblical Womanhood has been misunderstood perhaps as much as women’s roles in Christianity. Rachel Held Evans sets out to understand the Bible’s relationship to contemporary women by literally living out instructions from both the Old and New Testaments.

 

Honestly, I was hesitant to read this book because typically discussions around literal interpretations of the Bible, especially beyond common sense, by moderate or progressive believers devolve into disrespectfulness and mocking. I began to read Evans’ blog after she visited Baylor last year before the book was published. I have been pleasantly surprised to read a voice in the Christian world that has a brilliant combination of humor, faith, social commentary, egalitarian convictions, and occasional sarcasm. After reading some of her blogs over time, I ordered this book and read it relatively quickly compared to my typical pace.

 

I found myself laughing out loud because of Evans’ wit and comedy of errors. This was, of course, knowing laughter! What woman can’t relate to a burst of homemaker energy only to find herself tangled in fabric reciting the old saying- measure once, cut twice and begging for reinforcements to finish the project, or baking a large volume of something and following the instructions carefully, only to find herself with mass volumes of dough everywhere and still hungry?

 

Evans offers educated comments about various women in the Bible after each chapter or themed month. While there are some finer points of some of these sections that I have a different opinion about, Evans is on track displaying the variety of women in the Bible who lived at many different times with many different circumstances, and a variety of responses balancing their religious establishment and God’s work in their lives.

 

Her sincerity shines even brighter than her humor. Evans honestly desires to increase her understanding of Jewish customs and Torah, and New Testament instructions [especially by way of Paul]. She certainly has a point to make that cannot be missed- the Bible should be respected higher than an adjective- this or that is “Biblical”. Just because something is “Biblical” does not make it a good idea. [such as polygamy or capital punishment]

 

As many women in my life struggle with what it means to be holy, to be Christian, to be woman, to be feminine, I will point them to A Year of Biblical Womanhood in hopes that they will be reminded as I was that God loves women and men equally, calls men and women equally, and God desires a living sacrifice.

 

Evans concludes that she “was looking for permission- permission to lead, permission to speak, permission to find my identity in something other than my roles, permission to be myself, permission to be a woman. What a surprise to reach the end of the year with the quiet and liberating certainty that I never had to ask for it. It had already been given” (296). This is the purpose of the book- God gives people freedom to love and serve Him. God is more interested in our hearts than our following a checklist. There is no Greek, Gentile, slave, free, male, or female- only people loving God and loving each other.

 

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