Monthly Archives: November 2012

Sabbath In The Suburbs: July (chapter 12)

Standard

In this chapter we consider the spiritual practice of Play–one of my favorites! It can be hard sometimes to play without a purpose–without keeping score, or to play a game repeatedly no matter who wins. Sometimes it feels like a waste of time, like even our play needs to have meaning. Or sometimes it feels like we just don’t have time to play–life is much too serious for that. And while it’s hard to find exactly biblical models of Play, the concept of unexpected-no-control-over-the-outcome-surprising-purposeless activity is there. Stories with a twist, being counseled to let go of our expectations, reminders that we are not the ones in charge here–these are all over the scriptures. Add in the praise of child-like-ness and the refrain of nature (skipping gazelles and frolicking birds and beautiful waving flowers, trees that clap their hands and hills that sing) and we can easily find that the things we experience when we play are in the sacred text from beginning to end.

In the book Way To Live (a book of spiritual practices written by a group of teens and adults) there is a whole chapter on Play. One of the things the group did when they were working on the book was to play a game of Capture the Flag at every meeting–for a year. That game involves physical activity, strategy, group building, and surprise. You never know how it’s going to turn out. Sometimes you can play in the dark, or the daylight, with or without flashlights, with various rules…it can be exceedingly fun.

MaryAnn talks about a ministry team at her church that begins each meeting with 20 minutes of a game–no keeping score, just having fun together. They have found that it helps in bonding their group and that it offers a way to shake loose their usual way of doing things and open them to new ways of seeing. What do you think about that idea?

SO: how do you play? Any favorite games or activities?

The other concept introduced in this chapter is the idea of a buffer…so many of us have tightly controlled schedules that need to function just so, or else everything falls apart. One traffic jam, one cold virus, one power outage, one day not going according to plan, and everything just seems to go to chaos. Having a buffer allows some space to breathe, to feel like we’re not always on the hamster wheel. And one of the things a practice of Sabbath can do for us is build that buffer as well as “poke through” and help us build more buffer into our everyday lives–to live Sabbathly, as MaryAnn says.

Do you have a buffer? Do you ever wish you had one, or more of one? How might Sabbath help?

Sabbath in the Suburbs: June (chapter 11)

Standard

Today is Black Friday–one of the most anti-Sabbath days I can think of. Sure, some people may find it rejuvenating to stand in line and be part of a mob looking for a good deal on the latest gadget. But I think it’s fair to ask whether the level of consumption we see in our country on this day alone, let alone the rest of the upcoming season, fits with an understanding of Sabbath.

This year we also have a new development–several chains of stores opened not at 4am (which was already crazy) or midnight (which was fairly horrifying), but just after dinner on Thanksgiving night. This means that retail workers had to punch in before the last football game ended.

Where does it stop?

It feels like we, as a culture, need the enormous re-set button that Sabbath has to offer.

In this chapter we think again about three really big concepts, all related (as usual).

The first is easily summed up in the acronym JOY–Jesus, Others, Yourself. It’s often used as a reminder of priorities–we serve Jesus first, then others, and ourselves last. It’s supposed to remind us not to be self-centered. Unfortunately, its simplistic characterization of the Christian life can often lead us to forget that Jesus said to Love God with our whole selves, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Which at least implies that we need to show ourselves some love too. Caring for oneself is not the same as being selfish–but that message is a hard sell in our culture (especially for women). We can’t offer a cup of cold water to another if our own pitcher is empty. Sabbath is one way we can re-fill our pitchers.

If that metaphorical, spiritual approach doesn’t work, there’s also the logic of MaryAnn’s statement: “there are 7 billion others in the world. The need is always greater than we can meet. When does it end?” (p126) Which is not to say she advocates ignoring the needs of others–only that sometimes your own needs really do belong at the head of the line. Not all the time, maybe not even most of the time, but some of the time, for sure. We need time to remember that “we aren’t loved because of what we do. And we aren’t loved in spite of what we fail to do. We are loved because God is love.” (p126)

The second big concept is that of commandment: Sabbath is one of the Big Ten, given by God when the Israelites were first becoming God’s covenant people and treasured possession. Most of the Ten Commandments (and usually all the ones we can remember) are “thou shalt nots”–don’t murder or lie or cheat or steal. But a few are “thou shalt” commands–and Sabbath is one of those. It’s a positive command–do this! Not because God won’t love you if you don’t, but because God loves you so much that God built rest into the rhythm of time. It’s built into the rhythm of creation, the rhythm of the week, the rhythm of the cycles of nature and time and light and dark and even our bodies. If even God can rest a spell, why can’t we? If even Jesus could go away from the people in need of his time/energy/healing in order to pray and nap, why can’t we? The purpose of the Sabbath commandment isn’t to be just one more thing we have to do, but to show us a better way to live.

Third, but not least, is MaryAnn’s answer to the common (maybe even constant) question about taking the Sabbath day–can’t we just take snippets of Sabbath time, an hour here or a half day there? She says, “for me, snippets of Sabbath feel inadequate without a longer stretch of time each week or so. I end up feeling like Lightning McQueen in the Pixar movie Cars, making a much needed pit stop but cutting it short: “No tires, just gas!” If I keep that up, I’m going to have a blowout.” (p136) And that’s true–and part of the side effect of Sabbath is the rejuvenation it brings, though it may not bring that rejuvenation the first time or every time–it’s called a practice for a reason! But the reality is that however much we want to think we can get all the benefits in half the time, that’s just not true. It takes commitment to practice Sabbath, to obey the commandment, to fill your pitcher.

But the larger part of her answer to this question is the most important, and is the common thread that unites all three of these big concepts: “The primary biblical purpose [of Sabbath] is to put away the idol of control and power and a sense that we run the show.” (p136) In other words, it’s really about the first commandment–to have no other Gods. We have set ourselves, our responsibilities, our desires, our fears, up as idols and thinking of challenging that idol by letting go for a day is extremely difficult. It’s ours, and we like it that way, and we’re too important to stop now, and people are depending on us, and there’s so much good work to do, and the list goes on and on….we need to do, and the doing needs us. Or does it?

MaryAnn compares keeping Sabbath to tithing–a practice that involves acting on faith. People who practice tithing often say that God has provided what they need even as they give what seems like more than they can handle. Sabbath is like a tithe of time–one of the ultimate gifts.

What did you think of this chapter? Of this conversation? How do you see the interplay of Sabbath and the upcoming Christmas season? Are there any idols in your life that need displacing? How might Sabbath help you honor the first commandment?

Sabbath in the Suburbs: May (chapter 10)

Standard

This week we get to glimpse into the spring–the season of busyness, of get-me-out-of-this-house-ness, of spring cleaning and preparations of various kinds.

We also get a glimpse into the fact that even if we are only doing Good and Worthwhile and Important things, it’s still not good to do them with no rest.

MaryAnn’s retelling of the story of Moses and his father-in-law Jethro is masterfully done–it’s easy to place ourselves in Moses’ situation: overwhelmed by the demands, but certain it’s our job and important, not to mention that the work itself is good and right. And yet Jethro says, “what you are doing is not good.” Working all the time is not good. Relying only on yourself is not good. Never allowing space for God to work is not good. Never empowering others to do things themselves is not good.

“not good” here has nothing to do with the work itself–many of us are engaged in dozens of tasks that are good and important, maybe even crucial. “Not good” is about how we go about doing the work. In Moses’ case, he had taken on too much and then was doing everything himself. Sound familiar?

MaryAnn calls this “The Messiah Trap”–and the underlying beliefs (sometimes even unconsciously held) of the Messiah Trap are that: “1. It won’t get done if I don’t do it, and 2. all those other needs take priority over mine.” (p114)

This might also be called “The recipe for burnout.”

Not to mention that it’s a direct violation of several commandments! 😉

In this chapter MaryAnn also discusses a related issue–that of anger. One of the things that fuels much of our Doing is our righteous anger at the injustices of the world. (Or other kinds of perfectly justified anger too.) Could it be that the Jewish Sabbath prohibition against kindling a flame (which is why the Sabbath candles must be lit before sundown, why some very orthodox families will leave the lights on all weekend and why they won’t cook on the Sabbath) may be interpreted as a metaphor, not only as a rule against flipping light switches or lighting a candle? MaryAnn tells us that “Rabbi Heschel said, ‘Ye shall kindle no fire–not even the fire of righteous indignation.’ The idea is that, on one day, we should do our utmost to let go of the annoyance and anger–even anger at things we’re justified in being angry at.” (p122)

What would it mean to let go of that righteous indignation for just one day? How would that affect your ability to rest and delight?

The “Sabbath Hack” MaryAnn incorporates in this chapter is one I have seen her use in her writing in other areas (blog and facebook, mostly)–“the harder thing is the easier thing.” (p121) It may seem easier now to just sit on the couch rather than getting up and going to the store, but later when you’re scrounging around in the freezer for dinner, you’ll realize that doing the harder thing earlier would have been easier in the long run. MaryAnn says that Sabbath is like this–it’s easier (and I suspect we would all agree about this!) to “go with the flow and be reactive to the demands always pressing on us.” (p122) A LOT easier. In fact, this is a classic time management problem as well–it’s so much easier to to the immediate thing than the important thing, because you get the instant gratification and it feels productive (even though, in the long run, it’s not). It’s easier to just go along and do everything and never stop. But in the long run, obeying the Sabbath command and learning to make rest part of your life’s rhythm is the more life-giving thing, and while it may not ever be “easy” in the usual sense of the word, it can make your life more “easy” in the metaphorical sense (by which I mean, the same sense it’s used when you sing “summertime…and the living is easy…”).

So: how’s Sabbath coming for you? What do you need to let go of in order to empower someone else, in order to take care of yourself, or in order to just get a few extra minutes of rest?

Sabbath in the Suburbs: April (chapter 9)

Standard

In many ways this feels like the chapter where we learn to just “Be okay with that.” Whatever isn’t getting done, whether it’s cleaning the basement or having the perfect day or sorting the closet or weeding the garden or cooking the perfect dinner: can we be okay with that?

Perhaps this is what Sabbath is really about. We, especially at RCLPC, are so invested in working to bring in the kingdom of God, so invested in trying to make the world a better place, so busy trying to help everyone…maybe the definition of Sabbath is to take one day where we just try to be okay with imperfection, with the reality that only God can finish the kingdom work. This is not to say that we should accept injustice or immunize ourselves against the pain of the world. But it is to say that we need the reminder that our own efforts are not so indispensable that we can’t take a day off.

Can we be okay with that?

Can we accept the “good enough” for today, and pick up the work again tomorrow?

The other major concept that I think is a struggle for many of us in this chapter is the idea of Sabbath being a time for practicing being Really Real–for being authentic, not dressed up or fixed up or covered up, but just being who we are and letting God work in us as we are. This goes against our impulse to dress up to show respect for God or Church (though that’s not as much a part of RCLPC culture as it may be in other places), and against our impulse to hide our imperfections. But perhaps we need to be okay with those too.

Many theologians and Christian philosophers have described the Christian life as a process of letting go–of shedding the unnecessary parts of ourselves or unnecessary things, of letting go of our concept of success, of downward mobility to be with the people Jesus hung around with, etc. In this chapter we are invited to let go of our understanding of perfection, and our overstated self-importance in bringing that perfection about. In that letting go, we may just find that God can do something we never expected.

Can you be okay with that?

Sabbath In The Suburbs: March (chapter 8)

Standard

Sorry for the delay–life got away from me over here!

I hope you found some time last week to enjoy some Sabbath–even if it was “just” because you didn’t have the tools you needed to accomplish a task, so you had to let it be instead. It’s quite a realization, that even after practicing rest, we still find ourselves almost mindlessly doing. It speaks to how deeply ingrained efficiency and productivity are in our lives and culture. That and the crazy guilt we feel about just letting something be.

One of the stories of this chapter that most caught my attention was of making the time walking out of the zoo with Margaret into a Sabbath experience. Sure, it could have been irritating or excruciating, but instead it turned into Sabbath in a way that staying with the group may not have been. Have you ever had this kind of experience? Or is there perhaps a way you might be able to make space for (or even create) this kind of Sabbath Opportunity in your own life (kids or no kids!)?

The other thing that made me think in this chapter is the idea of “cheating”–of doing just one non-Sabbath-thing in the middle of the Sabbath (in the case of this family, it was selling Girl Scout cookies). It can be easier to cheat than to reschedule, but it can also be Very Easy to let cheating extend until it eats up the whole Sabbath time. How do you handle cheating?

And then of course there’s the “yes-and”…as in improv. So much of our lives is “no” and “don’t”–even those of us who have trouble saying no to big commitments probably hear ourselves utter the word more often than we would like to admit. And while “no” is important–it helps to set boundaries and clarify expectations–it can also overwhelm with its negative influence in ways we never meant the word to mean. So what happens if we say “yes-and”? One of the rules of improv is that you can’t say no in the midst of the sketch–you work with the idea the other person has presented and turn it into your part in the scene. What are some ways we might say “yes” during Sabbath, with the appropriate “and” tacked on? Not “Yes” to more commitments or to work or to new ways of imposing our vision on the world, but “yes” to creativity, to desire, to fun or rest or hope. Ideas?

At the end of the chapter, MaryAnn mentions the famous 1 Corinthians 13 passage (“love is patient, love is kind…”) and adds her own twist: “Love is repetitive; love is inefficient. Love is not a ‘productive’ use of time. It does not produce many lasting artifacts. The work of love never ends.” (p.99)

That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? Love–the thing to which we are called most of all–is remarkably inefficient, and does not produce any tangible stuff. And yet…

How does that help, or not help, your understanding and practice of Sabbath?

What caught your attention in this chapter?

How are you doing at carving out some time where you can let go of control and stop trying to change things?