Be still and know that I am God.-Psalm 46:10
Six days a week we seek to dominate the world. On the seventh day we try to dominate the self. The seventh day is like a palace in time with a kingdom for all. It is not a date but an atmosphere…It is a day that ennobles the soul and makes the body wise.From THE SABBATH by Abraham Heschel
Six evenings a week we pray: “Guide our going out and our coming in.” On the Sabbath evening we pray instead: “Embrace us with a tent of thy peace.”
All our life should be a pilgrimage to the seventh day; the thought and appreciation of what this day may bring to us should be ever present in our minds. For the Sabbath is the counterpoint of living; the melody sustained throughout all agitations and vicissitudes which menace our conscience: our awareness of God’s presence in the world.
People now have a painful need to be helped to be still. A church that is too noisy, too caught up in its own busyness, to answer this need is failing deeply.Insights from Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury
God whose strength bears us up as on mighty wings: We rejoice in remembering your athlete and missionary, Eric Liddell, to whom you gave courage and resolution in contest and in captivity; and we pray that we also may run with endurance the race set before us and persevere in patient witness, until we wear that crown of victory won for us by Jesus our Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.A prayer in thanksgiving for the life and witness of Eric Liddell
One Friday night, walking home from the subway to my apartment, passing a row of brownstones, a man stopped me and asked if I could come in to his apartment to help him. No one had ever asked that before. I agreed, with slight sense that maybe that wasn’t the smartest thing to do. Down a long, dark hallway I walked, through a door opened to reveal a family ready to sit down at the table. I realized they were Orthodox Jews. They needed me to turn on the lights in the apartment. They took Sabbath so seriously that they wouldn’t do that bit of work themselves. I was moved by the way they took the commandment to heart: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. I wondered why I took that observance so lightly.
When I was in seminary, wondering whether that course of study would lead to ordination or not, I sought the counsel of a rector of a big church. I asked him how he managed his life, what he thought was important. It’s been a few decades, but I remember his advice. He said he was rigorous about taking a day off. He did that so that on a weekly basis, he would remember who he was. He would remember that he was not his work. It was a spiritual practice focused on identity, not only who he was but also who God is. In retrospect, I wondered if I shouldn’t have tried harder to take his advice throughout my ministry.
In our church, we just finished a series in which we looked at the seven practices described in The Way of Love. (The Way of Love is suggested by our Presiding Bishop as a series of practices that move us toward a Jesus-centered life.) The last in this series is the practice of rest, a practice taking its cue from the first chapters of the Bible. After six days of creative work, the Lord God rested, hallowing that seventh day, instituting the religious observance of Sabbath. If the Lord God took that time, I wondered if I shouldn’t be more intentional about holy time management.
I’m old enough to remember ways in which the culture helped with all that. On the Sundays of my childhood, nobody went to work. No travel soccer. No trips to stores or movie theaters. No technology allowing for work 24/7. For younger folks, that culture may be unimaginable. I have no illusion that we would or could or should go back to that time. But if we sense any value in weekly fallow time, we now need to be more creative about making that happen.
It can come in small doses. Perhaps daily times when we simply unplug. It can come in 24 hour periods, as is the design of the creator. It can come in a commitment to retreats. Impending Lent can be a good time to experiment with these kinds of practices, a good time to ask: What’s a way to practice rest?
The prayer above is offered in thanks for the life, ministry and witness of Eric Liddell, celebrated in the movie Chariots of Fire. He is remembered each year in the church on February 25. Find and watch the movie if you’ve never seen it. He was a gifted athlete who refused to compete on Sunday mornings. Who knows what he would do today? He stands as a reminder that we can still strive to observe Sabbath. In that same column, find quotes from Abraham Heschel’s book THE SABBATH. A mentor directed my attention to it, and it provides a powerful vision of the ways in which our observance of a practice of rest reflects our identity, and God’s. It might be great Lenten reading for you.
The times in which we live, the busy lives we lead can get in the way of our spiritual growth. God knew this from the beginning of creation. That’s why we’re invited, encouraged, challenged to practice rest. Give it a go this week.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.