2,236 Dates

28 06 2011

Reflections on Dan Allender’s book, Sabbath. Chapter 10: Sabbath Silence

What if, for one day a week, all of us could escape whatever we feel imprisoned or disheartened by and experience absolute acceptance, joyful freedom, grateful delight and comforting peace instead? What if we could forget for one day how we have failed, how we have broken things or have been broken by things? What if we could take our eyes off the weighty matters that we stare at every other day? What if instead of anger, frustration, sadness, melancholy, regret, despair, stress we would feel possibility instead? What if one day was like a truce?

This is not just a compelling idea; an “if only it were so” concept; such a day exists. In the very first chapters of the Bible, God created such a day for us and called it Sabbath. The Sabbath is not God’s afterthought; it is His gift. I wish I could forget this word and be introduced to it again, like I had never heard it, because it is hardly out of my mouth and I already have an association with it; an experience that has often not been Sabbath-like, by my own making.

I think I have stepped into the cool refreshment of the Sabbath, but too often only up to my ankles; it is often as far as I allow myself to wade in. The more I reflect on my years, I realize I haven’t let God fully work through the Sabbath as He would delight to in my life. I know this, because if I had allowed myself to fully immerse every week, I would have 2,236 stories of the wild goodness of God, a story a week for 43 years.

It is time to be quiet and consider God and this day that He has given me. I must turn down the volume and shake off the sense of mastery I have assumed over my life and open my hands to mystery on Someone else’s terms; patiently because “somehow God seems to know when I am bent on making him in my image and is peculiarly unresponsive to my idolatrous manipulation. Yet God speaks, and often in the midst of allowing my heart to hear the massive volume of noise present in my silence” (166).

I know what I hear in the noise, and it is why I use other noise to deaden it:  “…evil will intone its contempt through any voice that mirrors its purposes. The two central voices it uses are contempt and loss” (168).  Contempt and loss; I am familiar with those voices.

When I am quiet, it isn’t always peaceful and not at all restful. When I close my mouth, I will hear yelling: accusations I have heard or new ones I create. Sometimes I’ll find myself in the middle of an argument between angst and anguish. Sometimes it’s my list of undone things reminding me of everything first thing in the morning, or my calendar pages flipping to the sound of the crowd of things waiting to be acknowledged.

Quiet? How do I get there? It is quite literally closing the door on one world and opening the door to another. It is walking out of the house for a time, for realistically this life will always have pain and sorrow, there is no end to it; we must taste and see that God is good in the middle of it.

And when I first get there, there is sometimes (often?) grief. Allender, the author, remembers going into a sabbatical season of quiet, to the warning of a friend who said, “Most people don’t expect the amount of loss and grief that surfaces when you are finally quiet” (170). It’s like quiet releases the toxins of loss and invites comfort. Quiet lets me see where I have “gone astray” and see the Shepherd again.

There is comfort to be found, daily of course, but especially on the day set aside to…set aside. Funny how, during the other six days, it can take very little to make one actually want to quit whatever it is they thought was their “labor” (see my last blog). One person, one word, and even (inexplicably) a look can dry up any zeal I once possessed. But as I welcome the Sabbath, a new kind of meditation comes to me.

I have prayed prayers on the other six days, but as I talk to my Lord on the Sabbath I encounter a different kind of mystery:

“The Sabbath may well be the day we hear the voices of accusation or loss, but only long enough to choose to listen to the louder voice of commendation, not contempt; and to comfort, not loss” (171)

Interesting, when you look at the Sabbath described in Exodus, Allender points out, the people were given two measures of Manna so that they would not have to work for food on that day.  We pray, “give us our daily bread,” a valid petition, but on the Sabbath we do not need to petition; the daily bread is there, now it is a day to delight in what we have been given. Six days I am so conscious of work and stewardship, frugalness, need; but on the Sabbath I celebrate provision with feasting. It isn’t a day to ask so much as it is a day to revel.

My conversation with God on this day sounds a lot like amazement. I look at God, I look at my family, I look at the goodness of friendship with new and open eyes. A weight is lifted off my shoulders, the power of contempt is diminished, as I realize the blessings of loving and being loved. It isn’t about what I don’t have; but what I have and will have.

Now I can listen, without the  voices and ask, “God what do you want to say to me, more clearly perhaps then the rest of the week when there is so much competition. Today…no competition. This is the day you have made, and I will hear you…”

“Sabbath prayer is an invitation to God to speak artfully, whimsically, passionately of his love for us. It is not the same as asking him to cover our contempt or fill our emptiness to dispel our despair. Prayer is an invitation to ask God how he delights in us. Will we invite God to join us in Sabbath joy, to dine with us and celebrate?” (177)

At the end of this, I have an image in my mind of a date. I can’t count how many times over the past 23 years Mike has told me, “Tonight I want to take you out…” and how I think about it all day, getting everything ready to have an undisturbed time with the one I love. We already spend so much time together; we are partners in every respect; we talk all the time. Why am I excited to go out with him still?

A date, for whatever reason, stands apart from our routines. I love him every day, but across the table I see him with different eyes and hear him with different ears. I am reminded that I am not just his co-worker, I am his beloved and he is mine. We might have been frustrated earlier, we might have even argued at some point. Not everything has been perfect, but he is the only one I have eyes for, and likewise, I know that I am his crown, for he tells me so.

My God is the God of my every-day, but the Sabbath is completely His and ours. It’s an escape from the contempt and loss of the world, the crowdedness and confusion of the week. In the quiet I will leave the other things and hear Him tell me about myself and about our future together; I have had 2,236 opportunities to do so; may I have at least 2,236 more opportunities to Sabbath; to be with Jesus on a date with destiny.

— Teresa Klassen

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