Unexpected, Utterly Surprising Moments (and other words I wouldn’t think to use to describe the Sabbath)

16 05 2011

I really like moments like these: when I think I know something about something and then I realize I didn’t; that I was close in some respects; but walking along only the edges of it. I love it when something is pulled back for me and I have an eye-opening experience. That is happening to me as I am reading Dan Allender’s book, Sabbath. From the “Forward” on I have felt like something I have wanted (needed) is being revealed; so I am going to take it chapter by chapter in this blog and in the blogs to come, and share some of my thoughts as I go.

The topic is “The Sabbath.” Would it surprise you if I said that word should taste like chocolate on our tongue? I say “should” because when I say it, my default is the definition as I have understood it: a day of rest; the cessation of labor to allow the soul and body a time of recalibration. Sometimes I have seen Sabbath as a day of relief; or a reprieve to get myself ready for the 6 hectic days to come. But as I read Allender’s book, I have missed something; or better put, I am finding something.

For me, Sunday has felt like a lead-up to the Sabbath; the front door. While I mingle with people through the week, Sunday is a day where we all gather; it is that hard-to-accomplish thing where we all land at the same place at the same time for a few hours. A mix of sojourners. It feels like a day of encouragement, of burden-bearing, of remembrance, of learning, of serving, of connection and reconnection. Sunday is like a touch-stone; Sunday is family (old and new). Sunday is belonging and the beginning of a day different from the others.

Sunday doesn’t really match the description of a day of “rest” though. Sunday can be a pretty full day; not in the way that “work” is, but busy nonetheless. Is that Sabbath?

So Monday is Mike’s day off and we have called that “Sabbath.” I try to stay away from the computer. I slow down and let myself think and reflect; I read and journal more. Sometimes I have a nap. Mike and I try to be “together” and not talk about anything related to our regular week’s schedule. Sometimes we putter around the house, go for a coffee, catch up on a few Klassen-household loose ends.  In some ways we prepare for the week to come (looking at the calendar with our kids). If I were to give it one word, I think it would be “relaxed.” But is it Sabbath?

We used to call Monday “Fun-day” when the kids were young because, again, that was Mike’s day “off” and so it was everyone’s day off. Even when the kids were beginning to be in school, we would often pull them for part of the day or all day so we could just all be together and enjoy each other’s company. Now that the kids are older and busy most Mondays, the term has faded away.

As I read Allender’s book though, the idea of Monday Fun-Day isn’t so far off from what Sabbath was designed to be, and what I have come to know as Sabbath now, isn’t what it could be. Why did Fun-day slip away from me?

These first ideas are from the introduction of the book.

Allender begins by talking about “holy time,” quoting Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s” all of the earth, every bit of it and all time is his; “But time – a single day, the Sabbath – is to be sanctified as holy” (3). And how is holiness experienced by God’s creation? The “holy usually comes in unexpected, utterly surprising moments where the gift of goodness opens our heart to wonder and gratitude” (4).

Is this what I experience on my Sabbath? Is it what I am seeking? I know about utterly surprising moments, I just didn’t know I should be experiencing this every week on that holy day called Sabbath.

Sabbath rest is entered when we refuse to be bound by complexity or drowned by despair. We enter delight only as we gaze equally and simultaneously at creation and redemption, in spite of the darkness that surrounds us and constantly clamors to be truer than God. (4)

That last line got me right in the chest. I completely identify with darkness clamoring to be truer than God. Completely. Aren’t the cares of life more present than joy? Don’t they feel like oil and water? One drop of oil and it’s there, right on the surface: troubles and cares. No matter how often I say I am not a worrier, don’t worries get priority when they are there knocking constantly on my consciousness?

The darkness will always present itself as more important than SABBATH. I mean Sabbath is good for when it works out; when I am trouble free and can smile and have a creative thought. But when I am in the middle of heaviness…come on.

But my soul craves for God to be truer than the darkness. My soul wants to offload darkness in favor of a day of wonder and gratitude and surprise. Yet, “few people are willing to enter the Sabbath and sanctify it, to make it holy, because a full day of delight and joy is more than most people can bear in a lifetime, let alone a week.” (5) Isn’t this true? We are practical. We are run by what we are run by. To actually take one’s vest of responsibility off and say, “Now, Lord, show me your unfailing love in wonderful ways” as David invited in Psalm 17:7 feels…foreign; impossible; outside our frame of reference.

Sabbath is, think about this, a commandment. It is the fourth commandment and I have broken it again and again with my non-Sabbath-like response and behavior. When I have treated it as simply a day of rest, I have not understood God’s intention: “Sabbath is not about time off or a break in routine. It is not a mini-vacation to give us a respite so we are better prepared to go back to work. The Sabbath is far more than a diversion; it is meant to be an encounter with God’s delight.” (12)

When I skip the Sabbath I violate how God wants me to live and once I do that, Allender writes, “there will be consequences that spiral through all dimensions of life.” (7)

I know this is just the introduction of the book, but Allender really has my attention; listen to how he talks about Sabbath:

Sabbath is the holy time where we feast, play, dance, have sex, sing, pray, laugh, tell stories, read, paint, walk and watch creation in its fullness. (5)

During the Sabbath, we are invited  by God to celebrate with him in the cool of the day. Sabbath is far more like hanging out with God in a French café drinking an espresso and talking about Simone de Beauvoir and listening to cool jazz. (14)

Is the God of the Sabbath like that? I know he is. When you read the Bible through that lens, he is all over the place calling his children to “delight.”

Allender closes the chapter with this question

What would I do for a twenty-four hour period of time if the only criteria was to pursue my deepest joy?

I doubt that question is really easy for anyone to answer. A person might think of things you would like to “do” for a day or two, but an every week practice of delight, a practice of deep joy and connection with the one who gives joy and celebrates life?

Think about it.

— Teresa Klassen

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