A Sanctuary in Time

6 06 2011

Reflections on chapter 3, “Holy Time,” from Dan Allender’s book Sabbath.

Something happened to us. It happened, and we barely noticed. Something happened and we’ve lost the memory of how it was before. We catch glimpses of it when we watch things like “Human Planet” but we can’t get back what has escaped us, it seems. It happened around the time of the Industrial Revolution when we were introduced to a little thing called “the clock” and we have never been the same since.

There was a time when we lived by the setting and rising of the sun; but the clock replaced all that: “…the clock became the most transformative tool to turn humanity from an agrarian view of the rhythm of seasons and calendar to the power of precise managed and controlled time” (52).

At one time the sun, something beyond our grasp, told us when to rise and when to sleep. Nature dictated the beginning and end of our work and we didn’t resent her. But humankind found a way to exploit time; to control it. In many ways, we ruined what was meant to be a gift to us. Ruining things; it is what we do best.

We couldn’t handle that “time” was not ours to manipulate, so we found way to do so; we lengthened the day and handed the rhythm of our lives to our employers. Now time is an “unruly mess” (50) and the “faster we move the less human we become” (54) and this pace, this speed has become a drug that keeps us from seeing our “empty, dull, time-addicted lives” (54); never stopping, never really looking. The thing we sought to control, however, turned on us and now controls us.

The harder you work, the longer and the more intense your hours, the more pressure you experience, the more intense is the drive to repair, console, restore, and find periodic escape through consumerism (Madeline Bunting, 54)

Allender writes, “We will not be able to imagine how we are to live in time differently until we stand back and discover how we currently live in it” (49). But hardly anyone stops; hardly anyone resists what we have become.

I found this interesting. Abraham Heschel compares space (meaning the actual space we live in) and time:

Space is exposed to our will; we may shape and change the things in space as we please. Time, however, is beyond our reach, beyond our power.

So what do we do? We pour our efforts into our space. In many ways, we live for our space: decorating it, cleaning it, managing it, moving it, worrying over it, guarding it…

The assumption is that time is fleeting and we have to take hold if it; space – that is, the material world around us – is what seems permanent and real. Our perspective is upside down. Time is sure and solid, and we have no control over it (51).

Space, and all the things we stuff into it, will vanish; but time goes on and on, beyond this one experience of it on earth.

God created the Sabbath for us to help us understand something. Sabbath calls us to step out of our space and see how, where and why we are living. Sabbath wants to help us understand time: “Time can only be honored as a gift…time was created for our delight” (54). Time is simply to be “breathed like air” (51). Time is just one more thing that was created for us, by a God who loves us and wants to live with us in this time and to look forward to the time that is coming.

The Sabbath (I think we need to be reminded of this) was given to us before the Fall. It was given to us before our sin; before our ridiculous manipulations; before our madness. Sabbath was God’s idea right from the get-go, not in response to our mistakes. So, even before we felt the grass underneath our bare feet, God was calling us to feel the grass underneath our bare feet.

“The Sabbath,” Allender reminds us, “has been called a Sanctuary in time. It comes at a distinct time and then departs. It has followed that rhythm every week from the first Sabbath to now (49). It is a marker for the “contours of life. It is the moment to notice all time and to allow the past and the future to congeal, to thicken into ripe, holy fermentation” (56).

We were never meant to compete with Time or see it as our enemy. We were meant to live in it and to understand something about the length and breadth of it; to understand eternity and our eternal God. “The Sabbath stands at the end of the week and at the beginning of the next as the bridge between past and future” (56). Quoting Abraham Heschel, Allender writes, “The spirit of the Sabbath, is a reality we meet rather than an empty space of time which we chose to set aside for comfort or recuperation” (59).

The Sabbath, then, is something that has life and God works through this special day to show us real and abundant life. If this is true, we must realize the Enemy of our Souls will do whatever he can to distract us from this Sabbath in time: “Learning to dance with the Sabbath is infinitely more important; therefore it is far, far, more difficult. It requires that we receive, intend and protect the day” (58).

It is no wonder that God instructed His people to prepare for the Sabbath, this day that comes “like a caress, wiping away fear, sorrow and somber memories” (Heschel, 60). It is no wonder He told us to work ahead of time so that Sabbath could truly be Sabbath. In order to “receive the gift of the day” we must prepare for it to be different, set apart. We must remove what will distract us; we must not even lift the thing that threatens to become work instead of joy.

Can’t you see how the enemy of our souls would want to steal this day from us?  You have to know this “anticipate large assaults, prepare adequate protection, and allow your heart to embrace the rhythms of eternity” (64).

Time keeps changing the scenes, and the Sabbath stands is a marker; time within time; holy time.

This one day calls us to slow down and really see, and really listen, and really connect with the Lord of all time. The Creator helps us understand our place in time and, more importantly, His place in it with us.

Finally, some beautiful words penned by Heschel which more then adequately describes the complete uniqueness of what God does with the Sabbath; what happens on this single, special moment in time:

“Eternity utters a day” (60).

— Teresa Klassen

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