Bastard Sabbath*

20 05 2011

 Reflections on the book Sabbath by Dan Allender; Chapter 1 “Seldom Sabbath”.

* The title is a quote from Eugene Peterson, which I cite later in this blog.

With all that is going on, the things of our day-to-day lives become like skyscrapers pressing in on us; towering over us. Everywhere we look there is something big we must attend to. There are few naturally, delightful side-streets offering us respite unless we drive to find one; unless we get in our cars and escape for a moment, to find a place to park a while, every avenue just leads to another series of obligations. Allender describes it like this:

“We are often like a child watching a circus – we are surrounded by too much drama. How do we choose what to focus on when the whole sea of activity begs to be taken in at once?…Soon nothing is seen, because our senses close down when we attempt to take everything in.” (21)

Didn’t God say that our lives would be work though? He said we would toil all our lives and fight back weeds and thorns and often experience pain along the way. We are stretched to the left and right, bombarded by obligations and commitments and no matter how we try to pare it down, we attend to a space, we negotiate a living, we manage relationships, our lives are poured out in some way, shape, and form.

So in the middle of it, to remind us of what the Garden once was and what it will be again, God created Sabbath. We always say that God created for six days and then rested on the seventh. But was nothing created on that day? “Jewish commentators suggest that menuha was created on the seventh day. Menuha is the Hebrew word for rest, but it is better translated as joyous repose, tranquility or delight.” (28) It is the state where there is “no strife, no fighting, fear and no distrust.” God created this.

God created Sabbath to be natural in our rhythm of life. As I said in my last blog on this book, the ramifications for breaking this fourth commandment are serious and the consequences have a “trickle down effect” into every area of our life.

But we are busy; so often too busy for Sabbath; or not in the right frame of mind. Allender writes, “The choice to go – to Sabbath – in the face of uncertainty and struggle is the true war with Sabbath. We often fail to create a day of delight because to do so compels us to stand against the division, destitution, and despair that often holds us captive the other six days of the week (18).”

It is hard to separate myself from what is pressing in; it is hard to shrink its proportion when it seems so dominant on my landscape. As I read my own words though, I see that this isn’t the thing; I can’t throw it off or make it less than it is; it is in the middle of it, because of it, in spite of it that God calls me to Sabbath.

Sorrow and hardship is inescapable; it will always be with us. Sorrow, Allender writes, settles in like a 280-pound boar that has no intention of ever departing (26). We feel and understand sorrow, but the alternative – joy – is an elusive thing that is  “lighter than sorrow and escapes our grasp with a fairylike, ephemeral adieu”(26). How beautiful that sounds to me, the thing that wants to flutter into my life and lift my head to show me the path where God walks.

Why then do we settle in to heaviness, accept it and endure it if God calls us to such a Sabbath experience? We learn to live and accept lesser, cheaper happiness’s because we have a hard time opening our hearts up to something that seems beyond our wildest dreams; “We have learned to manage our disappointment with God, and we don’t want our desire for delight to seduce us again” (25).

Have I done this? Have I settled into what I know so that I won’t be disappointed if God doesn’t “show up?” Have I so steeled myself for the six days that the seventh is merely a day where I can be a little less guarded? All I am letting it be is all that it can be then.

Allender writes,

“We are far more practiced and comfortable with work than play. We are far better at handling difficulties than joy. When faced with a problem, we can jump into it or avoid it; we can use our skills or resources to manage it. But what do we do with joy? We can only receive it and allow it to shimmer, settle, and then in due season, depart; leaving us alive and happy but desiring to hold on to what can’t be grasped or controlled” (26).

Sabbath is that day of joy; but again, what does our mind slip back to? A day when we “take a break”? A “day off”? This is where the book is taking us: Sabbath is not just a day off work. In fact, Eugene Peterson calls this kind of Sabbath a “bastard Sabbath” (from “The Good-For-Nothing Sabbath” in Christianity Today 38, no. 4 (1994), p. 34).

The Jews refer to the Sabbath as “the queen of all days, the day in which division, destitution, and death are put aside to celebrate our union with God, the abundance of his love, and the wild hope of the coming kingdom” (29). It is a day of loving community and communion, reconnection with real reality, true peace, unguarded laughter, feasting, playfulness, renewal and revival, and creativity. It is a day, in the middle of whatever we are in the middle of, that reminds us that God is holy – wholly good, “gooder” than everyday, plain good. The Sabbath is, “one of our most profound tastes of grace” (31).

When Allender begins to describe such a day of delight he gets mixed reactions – even anger – from his classes. He gets frustration because we don’t typically experience days like that; because we try to make rules for the Sabbath with do’s and don’ts and how to’s; because we have been frustrated with trying to celebrate, with how it seems so unsustainable.

But for those who are thirsting for Sabbath, who can imagine, even a little bit, that this might be God’s heart, the response might be similar to how one of his students responded: “I can’t imagine that God would want such goodness for me. I know that is called grace, but I never thought it was supposed to be part of my week as a regular experience.” (30)

— Teresa Klassen

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