In the book of Genesis we hear the story of creation in the Judeo Christian tradition. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said: “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness Night. And there was evening and morning, the first day.”
The creation continues for five more days as the sky, the seas, the land, plants, the sun, the moon, living creatures, including humankind, come into being.” In each cycle of night into day, a new dimension of the universe is created and unfolds.
And in the end, when this work is finished, God blesses the creation, declares that it is good, and takes a day to rest, a day of Sabbath. One commentary says that God stopped and had a day of rest to show us that what we create becomes meaningful to us only when we stop creating it and start to think about why we did so.
The call the honor and remember the sabbath is important enough, in fact, to merit one of commandments. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
But just what does remembering the sabbath mean for us in these times of 24/7 news cycles and daily presidential tweets; in these times of smart phones and the ability to constantly be in touch? Taking a day and turning off seems like a pretty difficult task. The world, it seems, keeps asking for our attention.
I’m of an age when I can remember most everything being closed on a Sunday. That’s how it was in my little town growing up in Wisconsin. Church and family time was pretty much what happened on Sundays, not a lot else. That now seems like a long time ago. And today it is not only that the stores are open but we can go online at any time to look and to explore and to purchase. Can’t sleep, place an order on Amazon.
There is convenience with all that, and flexibility. And some of it can be great. But there is also a way that things never seem to slow down. It gets hard to just get a break. When I forget to turn down the volume on my cell phone and when the sound of a text message comes in it is hard to avoid that impulse to check it immediately.
I used to be a newspaper journalist and there was a daily news cycle that has been gone for a long time. Part of the demise of the daily newspaper is that you just can’t know what will happen between the printing and the reading—oftentimes a whole lot.
With the advent of social media it is easy to keep up with people—sometimes maybe too easy. The flow of news from so many sources, credible or not—means we can quickly feel bombarded with all this information.
And on this anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration many things could be said, but one of the things I will note is that he has brought what feels like a constant sense of chaos. We don’t know what the next tweet will be, not knowing if we will be hearing something truthful or not—I wonder if we have come to always be on a kind of alert. At lease for me there can be this constant sense of what’s next… ie what am I going to be asked to react to. And when I get into that place where it feels like I’m spinning in reaction to the world. That’s when I feel anything but grounded, that’s when I feel anything but clear.
Taking time for some kind of sabbath means we may miss something. After all, I like to think of myself—indeed I feel responsible—to be well informed. In times when our devices seem to be so central turning them off seems almost antithetical to the ways of the world.
So I recognize the need for some kind of sabbath. I’m just not quite sure how it is we get there these days. Sundays can be the day when we catch up, maybe check a few things off the to-do list. Even here at church there may well be the impulse to fit in committee meetings as well as coming to worship. After all, think of the traffic during the week, and why come downtown for a second time when you can just come once?
The writer Wayne Muller says it this way, “A successful life has become a violent enterprise. We make war on our own bodies, pushing them beyond their limits; war on our children, because we cannot find enough time to be with them when they are hurt and afraid, and need our company; war on our spirit because we are too preoccupied to listen to the quiet voices that seek to nourish and refresh us; war on our communities, because we are fearfully protecting what we have, and do not feel safe enough to be kind and generous; war on the earth, because we cannot take the time to place our feet on the ground and allow it to feed us, to taste its blessing and give thanks.”
I wonder if there might be some things that are actually attractive about not taking sabbath. Maybe sometimes the world can just be too much and so we find ourselves rushing from one thing to another to avoid facing so much of what’s happening in the world. I think one of the things that might happen when we allow ourselves to get caught up in all that chaos is that we can allow ourselves to be distracted from so much that is painful in our world.
More than one of you have talked with me about what you see as a kind of low-level depression that is present in our times. There is so much that seems to be broken, so much that would cause sadness and so little we feel we can do about it. And I wonder sometimes if finding ourselves caught up in one thing and then another and then still another, well I wonder to what extent that might be easier, if that might allow us to keep at bay so much that is hurting and broken around us.
I think the times we are living in call for a spiritual maturity, to say the least. But they call for us to find a way to stay grounded, despite all the chaos.
And I think that’s what makes the concept of sabbath all the more important. If we are not able to step back and see life for what it is—in all of it beauty, but also in all of its chaos and brokenness and division. If we can’t step back and see that, then the likely hood of us being able to confront it becomes almost impossible.
Theologian Rebecca Parker has suggested that keeping the sabbath is a radical act of resistance against the violence of our culture. Most of all she points to all those messages we receive that we are first and foremost consumers. It is an act of saying no to the message that tells us to fill the emptiness in our lives by consuming more. It is a model of consumerism that says when we are empty, we go to the marketplace to be filled. This is not food that sustains, but leaves us hungering for something more.
And I think it can also apply to the way that we can feel out of control in terms of all the distractions that would have us focus over here when in fact our focus should be in this direction. When we decide to keep the sabbath, we take a degree of control back in our lives or at least increase the odds of that happening. When we watch just how it is we take in the news we take a degree of control back in our lives. We let ourselves know that we are not helpless in our culture, as I think we can sometimes feel. But we come to know that we have the ability to be independent from it, to make a decision about it, and not simply be swept up in it.
The thing that happens is that we get going so fast we might just miss what is most important for us to pay attention to. We lose any sense of the sacred because we aren’t really taking the time to step back and look at our efforts to look a the creation closest to us, and have a sense of whether it is good, whether it is not, whether it is reflective of how it is we want to live our lives.
So what are those things that ground you? Is it being in a certain place? is it honoring a particular spiritual practice? Is it exercise, prayer, meditation? Is it taking time on a regular basis to focus on being, not doing?
It is up to each one of us to discern how it is we take time out of ordinary time. It is a time to open up space for the holy. And that may be something we do one day a week but it may also be something that we do in part of our day. Maybe beginning or ending the day in a particular way. It may be as simple as taking a few moments to focus on our breathing in the midst of all that’s happening around us.
But the essence of the Sabbath is a call to be in a different space. It is a call to be able to look at the world through a different lens. To put yourself in a place that is somehow not the usual place. Honoring the sabbath is really about being aware of the rhythm between work and rest, between doing and just being. It means taking the time to step back from the busyness and find a space to honor and see what we have, to remember what is most important, to see our own lives in the larger context of things. The quality of our work and life suffers if all we are doing is working and doing. Rest is an important part of the process.
Some biblical scholars have pointed to that phrase that usually begins in the beginning might be better translated as in a beginning, when god began to create the heavens and the earth. … in that translation creation is part of some ongoing cycle of life. The world isn’t created just once and that’s it. The creation of the world happens again and again and again. God begins to create and then keeps creating. Creation continues to come out of emptiness, it is created and then once again vanishes, or as we might say from dust to dust.
And so it is with our lives. They too are part of that cycle of creation. We the born, we live, we die, as everything around us goes through a cycle of life and death. All we need to do is look around us and see what the earth does. Already, even in winter, when we look around there will be those signs of spring emerging around us, signs of life beginning. But that cycle includes not only the abundance of spring and summer but the withdrawing and death of the fall and winter only to once again have life come forth in spring. It takes all of those seasons to make up the cycle we call life. Times of new life, times of loss. Times that are good. Times that are difficult. To everything there is a season…
Living in these times, resisting the messages of what we should be—and what we shouldn’t be—takes some intention. Keeping the sabbath is also an act that takes courage because it is a time to open ourselves to the fullness of life—all the beauty, but also all the suffering, the loneliness, the loss, the grief we hold inside of us. We are asked to sit holding all of this together. But the same forces that can cut us off from the pain of the world can keep us from the joy. It is all part of a whole.
Writer Wayne Mueller says it this way: “Sabbath is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true. It is time consecrated with our attention, our mindfulness, honoring those quiet forces of grace or spirit that sustain and heal us.”
Healing the world needs to begin with healing in our own lives and in the circles of life around us. it begins with paying attention and noticing. It begins with making space.
Words of Pablo Neruda:
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
I think that it is that search for meaning, that search for perspective, that search for space—all of that is much of why we come together here every week. We come seeking perspective. We come seeking hope and meaning. We come to be renewed.
I am reminded every Sunday to think about the roots that hold me close and the wings that set me free. I am reminded that I am not an isolated being, but connected to some mystery that is within me and beyond me. There is something that happens in the simple act of coming together.
Annie Dillard said it this way, “We are here to abet creation and to witness to it, to notice each other’s beautiful face and complex nature so that creation need not play to an empty house.”
It is up to us to put ourselves in a place where we can witness to life in all its abundance. In our being and in our doing, may we know that we are part of that creation and may we know that it is good and that it is holy. In our lives may this be so. Amen.
Let us pray
Great spirit of life, we give thanks for this day. We give thanks for the blessed moments of our lives. Call us to resist the violence and the chaos that cuts us off from others and from our selves. For the people in our midst, for the creation we live in, for all that is our life. Call us to make space for the sacred, for all the beauty and tragedy that life has to offer. Amen.
Make space, my friends. Make space and live with your hearts open. Go in peace. Go in love. Amen.