Less is More – Sabbath

Readings for this week July 24 – 28
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1  – Rest – The Most Beautiful Gift

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Isaiah 54:13-14

What connotations does the idea of Sabbath hold for you? It may conjure up poignant scenes and controversies depicted in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. It may be childhood boredom of lazy Sunday afternoons with restricted activities. It may even seem like just one more commandment that we feel guilt over not attending to. However the biblical idea of Sabbath is not about stifling restrictions or ridged rules; it is an invitation and a gift.

Within Judaism Shabbat is an eagerly awaited, joyful occasion of putting aside the usual activities of work, enjoying family, relaxed meal times, prayer and reflection, leisure and recuperation. Shabbat is to be remembered and observed; remembering God as Creator and God as Redeemer, rescuing his people from slavery. It is also remembering that people are more than the sum of their accomplishments. It is about identity, being the people of God.

Forgetting to build in some rhythms of rest, some Sabbath, into our lives is like forgetting to unwrap the most beautiful gift under the tree. It is to ignore the God who says, “Let me make it easier for you.” Rabbi Zalman Scachter-Shalomi comments on this gift, “Lots of people will swear allegiance to the Sabbath and criticize those who do not keep all the Sabbath laws. But their inner experience is not one of spaciousness and delight. It is too easy to talk of prohibition, but the point is the space and time created to say yes to sacred spirituality, sensuality, sexuality, prayer, rest, song, delight. It is not about legalism and legislation, but about joy and the things that grow only in time”. He suggests beginning by saying, “Today I am going to pamper my soul.”

Questions to Consider
What words come to mind around Sabbath?
Can a command from God actually be a gift? What is my response to a gift?
How do I respond to the idea of ‘pampering my soul’? Does that sound self-indulgent/impractical/scary/irrelevant/desperately appealing/wonderful?

Prayer
Loving Father, you know your creation well, so you intimately know my needs. Help me through this series to gain a greater understanding of my need for rhythms of rest. Help me not to dismiss your beautiful gift of Sabbath, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2  – Busy!

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 11:28

Our lives are in danger. Somehow our modern world has bought into the belief that good things only come by unending determination and constant exertion. We suppose that action and accomplishment take priority over rest, and in so doing we lose our way. Without rest we miss the signposts that show us the best path, we bypass nourishment that feeds the soul, and wisdom for living that comes in the quiet gets drowned out by the frenetic noise of our lives.

When greeted with a “How are you?” the most common response is, “Really busy!” We even say it with a mixture of exasperation and a degree of pride. Perhaps it is what we expect from ourselves, perhaps it makes us feel more important? The Chinese pictograph for ‘busy’ is formed by two characters – ‘Heart’ and ‘Killing’. This should give us pause. The invitation to Sabbath time offers effortless, nourishing rest that can invite a healing of what Thomas Merton calls contemporary violence. “To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes out work for peace. It destroys our inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” Thomas Merton.

Sabbath asks us to disconnect from consumption and accomplishment and draws us to an inner place where we reconnect with God and the heart of our true selves as God made us to be.

Questions to Consider
How often do I tell people I’ve been really busy?
Am I happy with my schedule or would I love to redesign it?
Do I view accomplishment as the benchmark of success?
Does the idea of Sabbath feel like one more demand on our time?

Prayer
Father God, how can I ignore an invitation from you? Help me re-examine how I live and how I rest. Speak to me about how to learn new ways of being with you, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3  – Good

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God  (2 min)

Scripture Reading – Genesis 1:1-10, 1:31-2:3

This opening passage of Genesis can be translated, “God began to create…” Creation goes on. There is a rhythm of night and day, darkness and light, summer and winter… As he creates, it’s as if God steps back to reflect on what he has done, and he says, it is good. Sabbath invites us to step back and to see what is good in our world, in our lives, in our relationships.

Jews believe that in the Sabbath we are given Neshemah Yeterah, or Sabbath soul, which allows us to embrace the good things in our lives and pause to appreciate the results of our work. The pace of life can leave us feeling like butter spread over too much bread (to quote Bilbo in The Lord of the Rings). Sabbath involves rediscovering a “hidden wholeness” (Thomas Merton) within ourselves. Perhaps this is why the Sabbath commandment begins with, “Remember…” It is a call to remember something we already knew, but have forgotten. It is good. Pause, observe, reflect, and take delight in a wonderful creation both outside and within.

So much in our world focuses on problems and crisis. Bad news saturates our newspapers and TVs. Step back with God who says it is already very good. With Jesus who says “Blessed are…, You are the light of the world….Do not be afraid…The kingdom of God is already here.”

Sabbath Practice
Begin Again Practice: In a Vietnamese monastery periodically a Mindfulness Bell rings. Everyone stops and takes three slow mindful breaths. Then they resume work, awakened a little by the Sabbath pause of mindfulness. Anything can act as a bell; the phone ringing, a stoplight, opening a door, pausing before eating or drinking. Choose one common act to serve as a Sabbath pause. Pause, take three mindful breaths, then proceed with the activity. Watch for the changes in yourself through taking these tiny Sabbath moments every day.

Prayer
Almighty God, you name your world ‘good’ and you ask us to ‘remember.’ Teach my heart to turn in recognition to the beauty and wholeness of life. I choose to seek awareness of you in all of life as I become increasingly mindful of your Spirit alive in me, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 –  Given and Offered Back

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Exodus 20:1-11

The very first occurrence of Sabbath is in Exodus 16 in the context of collecting Manna in the wilderness. Moses tells God’s people, “The Lord has given you the Sabbath.” But it is also “a holy Sabbath to the Lord.” A few chapters later Sabbath becomes enshrined in the 10 commandments. The first 4 commandments focus on relating to God, the next 6 have to do with relating to each other. The instruction to “Remember the Sabbath” is something of a book-end in relation to the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Sabbath, then, becomes an outworking of honouring and loving God.

While Israel struggled with being drawn away in worshipping other gods – idol worship, pagan practices etc – we are no less susceptible to the allure of wealth, possessions, chasing status, prestige and pleasure. Sabbath rhythms call us back to own our first allegiance to God; to remember our identity as his child and commit again to dependence on his provision and care.

Sabbath Practice
A. Prepare a Sabbath meal, something that will bring pleasure to those who share it. Decorate the table with flowers, placemats, and candles. Put on some music and turn off the phone. Begin with a prayer, giving thanks, remembering all those who grew, harvested, packed and sold the food. Give thanks for the good things of this earth. Savour the smells, taste slowly and enjoy.

B. Use Sabbath time to offer blessings. You may pray for those close to you, placing a hand on their head or shoulder and offering a prayer for their health and well-being or a simple prayer of gratitude for their presence in your life. Let them feel the truth of your prayer in their bodies. Another practice is to quietly and secretly bless complete strangers. Offer it to people you notice in the street, on the bus, those who look weary and harassed. Pray that they may know peace and kindness. In so doing, each blessing becomes a Sabbath and you find yourself blessed along the way.

Prayer
Loving Father, I choose again to put you first in my life. As I experiment with Sabbath rhythms please draw me closer to you. As I look for your blessing in my life, I also extend blessing to others, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Muddy Waters

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 23:1-3

How can a jar of muddy water become clear again? Answer: If it remains still it will eventually clear itself. Many, if not most of us, live with a weariness that becomes ingrained. We are tired, depleted, heavy, just plain worn out. Jesus had to encourage his own disciples to come away and rest. Even Jesus regularly withdrew to quiet places to rest and pray. He did not wait till everyone was cared for or even to inform his disciples. (Matt 14:23, Luke 5:15-16, Mark 1:35-36). One translation of ‘to pray’ is ‘to come to rest.’ There comes a point where just adding more effort and activity becomes counterproductive, and we ‘become muddied.’ The invitation to rest acknowledges that in stillness things begin to settle, to find their place. In permitting ourselves times of Sabbath rest our energy is renewed, our wisdom and clarity of purpose sharpened. This is what the Psalmist knew was needed to restore the soul. God does not want us to be exhausted, but refreshed. In accepting the gift of time to be still, and surrender our frantic preoccupations, many of the concerns that weigh us down will fall away. This is the work of Sabbath; blessings which only stillness and time bring.

Sabbath Practice
A. Beginning to create time and space necessitates letting go of other things. Choose a heavily used device – phone, computer, washing machine, car – and let them rest for a Sabbath time, whether a morning, afternoon or a whole day. Refuse to be disturbed, seduced or to respond to what technology tries to offer. Observe your own responses to the absence.

B. Traditionally Sabbath practice begins with the lighting of candles. Choose a candle that is beautiful or meaningful to you. At the start of a meal, prayer, or meditation or reading, place the candle before you and offer a simple prayer or blessing for yourself or someone you care for. Take several stilling breaths, and in these few moments let your anxieties settle and the cares of the world fall away.

Prayer
Good Shepherd, show me when and how to settle into your presence and care. Speak to me about any aversion I may have to embracing stillness. Teach me to be comfortable in quietness, just being with you, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)