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Sabbath

Built into the rhythm of all of creation is a day of Sabbath rest out of every seven. But this isn't simply to rest, it is a day to "taste and see that the LORD is good". It turns out we need this reminder. We tend to forget. While it is a commandment, remember that the commandments were given for our good; they were to serve as invitations into a life well-lived. Jesus said that Sabbath was for man, not man for the Sabbath. Once this is built into your life, you'll wonder how you lived without it.

Cultivating with: Sabbath

There are very few hard and fast rules with any of this. Each person is different so each relationship will look different. No two people's relationships with God and those He loves will look exactly the same. But there are a few suggestions that have worked for others. Here are some resources for the "how-to" of the practice. These, together with some of the articles and such linked below, will help to get you started:

PracticingTheWay.org: This link is to their section on Sabbath. You will likely need to sign up for access, and will need to start a small group of people to engage the practice with to have full access to the videos. But it is well worth it to start a group, and it is best to do a practice with others anyway. As a group you would meet once per week to have a meal together and discuss. The group lasts 4 weeks.

Books:

Subversive Sabbath: by AJ Swoboda. An excellent resource on understanding and practicing Sabbath.

Sabbath: Rest, An Act of Resistance: (Sabbath) Spotify link to an episode of the Rule of Life podcast. This episode brings up a great point about internal and external resistance that you will encounter when you begin a new practice. New spiritual exercises won't come easily or smoothly. You will make mistakes, your mind will wander, you may feel guilty like you should be producing instead of resting (like in this example), or others may want the time you have set aside. Remember that it isn't a hard and fast rule so use your best judgment, but you may need to fight through all this until you find a rhythm that works in your new exercise.

Sabbath: Delight, The Joy of Sabbath in Community: (Sabbath) Spotify link to an episode of the Rule of Life podcast. In this episode they look at sabbath as an act of joy. Do you think of God as the most joyous Being in (or out) of the universe? That is true, and it is important. If you see God as stern or mean or vengeful, a cosmic Policeman waiting to hit the smite button, then chances are good that you won't want to spend a 24-hour period with Him. It is also important to realize that God is a Person, not human, but personal. We are made in His image. 

The hosts also mention that sabbath, as most of the spiritual exercises, is a yes/no situation. The reality is any time we say yes to something in our lives, we are necessarily saying no to something else. We all only have so much time to spend. Conversely, saying no to something necessarily means we are saying yes to something else. If we are to keep a sabbath day, it will mean saying no to something(s) else. I don't know what that will be for you. Pray about that.

Sabbath: Luminary Interview - Tish Harrison Warren: (Sabbath) Spotify link to an episode of the Rule of Life podcast hosted by John Mark Comer in which he discusses with Tish Harrison Warren why we sabbath. I love listening to Tish Harrison Warren because I am always learning or inspired or encouraged or laughing or all four of these. So many great observations in this podcast including:

1) Our spiritual formation occurs in the mundane reality of life. God has yet to bless anyone other than where they are actually at (thought from Dallas Willard).

2) We all have a rule of life and we are all being formed. We are either being formed well or we are being formed not well.

3) There is a such thing as the arduous good. Struggle and work form us. It is good to have to work through good work.

4) Our bodies are involved in our formation - again, either for positive formation or negative. We are not a "brain on a stick".

5) And sabbath was meant to have a community aspect to it.

Sabbath: Luminary Interview - Andy Crouch: (Sabbath) Spotify link to an episode of the Rule of Life podcast. Oh. My. Goodness. This is amazing. You really need to listen to the whole thing without divided focus. In other words, turn everything else off and listen intently, and you may need to listen more than once, and sections more than twice. Just to illustrate a few points within the one long coherent point of this podcast:

1) We are living in an age of instant (Everything Now as Arcade Fire says) as a result of three major revolutions:

1st revolution: Money. We no longer barter and trade and sometimes use money. Transactions, especially with our technology, are instant, and are with money, and we rarely barter and trade. We no longer invest our time, labor, sweat, safety to produce a good that we own and sell/trade with. We are not fully invested into the product that we produce or sell or repair.

2nd revolution: Industrial/technological. We no longer need to train our bodies to do the trade that we are invested into. At least not in the same way, for most occupations. Machines now do a great deal of the work. We flip a switch for light, we put dishes into a dishwasher, we throw our clothes and liquid into a machine that cleans them, we work along side robots who do a great deal of the hard manual labor of producing automobiles, etc.

3rd revolution: information technology. We no longer need to sort through a long path of schooling and trial and error to gain knowledge. We can look it up on YouTube or ask Google, etc.

We have power that would have resembled magic 2000 years ago (heck, 200 years ago) but today we do not go through the processes that trained our minds and bodies to be able to wield well the outsized power that we now possess at our fingertips. Worse, because of these revolutions community is less "necessary" to function, or at least have our basic physical needs met. We have become more isolated. (God feeds our souls at least in part via community. We are a bunch of malnourished immature souls running around wielding power that would have been magic a hundred or so years ago.) But we have become accustomed to getting what we need or want now. Hungry? We have fast food and can even get food delivered by Uber or Door Dash if we want. Need to know something? Our phone can tell us. Music, entertainment? We can stream iTunes, Netflix with the click of a few buttons.

The technological life tempts us with magic: ability without virtue, power without love, and  abundance without relationship, 

But formation for good takes time. It takes repetition. And all of this is forming us, but forming us for bad.

Our ability to say no to the wants of our bodies is breaking down. Andy Crouch even says that he tried to give up putting milk in his tea for Lent and failed 4 days in.

We need counter formation. We are called to love God and love people. Andy Crouch says that people are a "Heart, soul, mind, strength complex designed for love." He says each of the above mentioned three revolutions were not designed with love in mind. We must be intentional about our counter formation in relationship with God and others who love Him too, in order to become the kind of people who can wield this power and ability, these magical devices, well.

2) The temptation the serpent provided Eve included a shortcut to be more like God, a device, a magic for instant results. (He points out that, by the way, Apple's icon is an Apple with a bite out of it.)

3) The ancient idols we read about in the Bible were backed by demonic forces (largely). At first they asked for little and provided much. Then they asked for more and provided less. Then they asked for a great deal and provided very little. They they asked for the greatest sacrifice - which wasn't your life but the life of your children. We see child sacrifice demanded by false gods throughout the Bible. (God even asked it of Abraham before He showed Abraham that wasn't Who He is. He isn't like those idols. But when Israel offered to Moloch, it was their children. When it refers to causing their children to pass through the fire, it was how they sacrificed the lives of their children - burned alive.) 

4) He says that we have brought the instant device magic concepts into our life with God: asking God a question and opening the Bible and randomly pointing to a verse for an answer, "5 easy next steps" in our sermons, assuming that if we just take the Eucharist enough that we'll be changed, or now that the church service is broadcast we can watch from home in our pajamas - that'll be enough, right? Right?

It isn't until an hour in that they get to sabbath. But sabbath can now be understood within context of what they were discussing. This episode is very, very good.

Sabbath: Stop, The Rhythm of Creation: (Sabbath) Episode of the Rule of Life podcast. I really, really like what PracticingtheWay.org is doing with spiritual exercises. They take on a deep dive into nine different practices, three of which are out as I write this May 9th, 2023. In this episode, they are looking at the first "step", or basic thing required for sabbath: stop working. There are several good points, but here are a few to comment on:

1) Mankind started with rest. Take a look at the Genesis 1 account of creation. Personally, I believe in a literal 6-day creation. I think it is the simplest explanation of creation, and it agrees with the Genesis record. On day 6 mankind was introduced into creation. His first experience? Day 7 God rested. Man's first experience was rest and delight. On day 7 God delighted in His work and Adam was invited to be a part of that delight. So man's first experience was rest and delight in a day spent with his Creator.

2) If you want to have a meaningful relationship with God, you need to make time to intentionally be with Him, just like in any healthy relationship. To do that you need to learn to stop. You need to find a way to simplify your life and declutter your schedule.

3) Sabbath is a gift for mankind, not "just another law". The rhythm of Sabbath was built into creation and observed long before it was one of the Ten Commandments. The commandment about sabbath is simply to "remember" it (i.e. it already exists, just keep it holy. don't forget about it - Israel just came out of captivity at the time of the Ten Commandments and Egypt did not permit them to observe the sabbath. Further, "holy" simply means set apart for God).

4) We are embodied souls, or ensouled bodies. In other words, both our souls and our bodies are important. God created both to be good. We need to engage both in relational practice with God. We talk about "muscle memory", how our bodies continue to do things even when we aren't focused on them. For example, there are many times when I am driving that I am thinking through concepts, not thinking through my driving. Yet somehow I neither get lost nor get into an accident. Similarly, our bodies can respond to things even before we process it - we see a snake and our body reacts in preparation of "fight or flight", and remains on high alert for a time even after we learn that it is just a garden hose we tripped over and not a snake after all. Similarly our bodies respond in relational circumstances, too. In order for our minds and bodies to respond in love, joy, peace, patience, etc, we need to develop practices that engage the mind and body. One such practice is stopping our hurry during the day of sabbath.

5) Even though we are commanded to remember the sabbath, in the western church we have largely forgotten it. If we are going to recapture the practice, it is likely that we won't find much help doing so in our churches.

6) Change is slow and painful. We are likely to fail, a lot, on our way to making sabbath a practice. Don't lose hope. Keep heeding the call to sabbath.

Conversation with A.J. Swoboda: (Sabbath) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. In this conversation, James Bryan Smith and AJ Swoboda discuss AJ's book Subversive Sabbath. I've read it and it is a good book with lots of great information about the sabbath.

 

Man was created on the sixth day and sabbath was on the seventh. His first experience was rest. Sabbath isn't something that recharges us after a long week, it is something that charges us for the work ahead. It starts with the grace and gift of rest before the grace and gift of work. It doesn't matter what day you observe sabbath, so long as you observe one, and it isn't another commandment to follow, it is meant as a gift to man because we need this rhythm.

 

AJ talks about how as a pastor he gave a three week sermon series on the sabbath and he never had as many people leave the church as when he gave this series. He said that the church leadership brought him in to discuss it and a dark thought occurred to him: if a pastor broke any of the other ten commandments he would be fired but if he broke the sabbath he'd probably get a raise. It is also interesting on how sabbath is the only of the Ten Commandments that starts with the word "remember" - today it is the one we tend to ignore. He points out that perhaps one of the biggest fears driving our not taking a sabbath is that we might come out of our day of rest and learn that the world got on just fine without us for a day.

 

Sabbath is something we resist in our culture, but all of creation needs it. Sabbath was meant for the master and the servant, for the animals and the land, for all of creation. The Bible even talks about giving the land a rest from farming it every seven years. Some farmers have built into their plan for the land a rest for a seventh of their fields every year so each section of land gets a rest every seven years. A sabbath year is good for the land and makes it ultimately more productive.

There are so many good points that also point to the character of a good God. Give this one a listen.

Sabbath as Rhythm / Sabbath Episode 2: (Sabbath) Link to Spotify episode of the John Mark Comer Teachings podcast.

In this episode, John Mark Comer explains why he thinks that the Sabbath is still for us today. There are many interesting points in this teaching that make for a solid argument, including the Biblical viewpoint, but even in addition to that, the physical, mental, emotional, and relational benefits of observing a day of Sabbath rest and delight. Here are a few points that stood out:

1) He quotes HH Farmer, "If you go against the grain of the universe, you get splinters." A Sabbath rhythm is built into creation and we are a part of that creation. If we fail to take a Sabbath, running ourselves ragged, it will catch up to us in the form of illness. Personally, I wish I would have listened to this decades earlier than I did.

2) While I haven't practiced this yet, I think I will. He brings up the idea of preparing for Sabbath. Prepare food ahead of time to be cooked, finish up odds and ends that need to be done, etc. In other words, do what you need to do to make sure that the Sabbath is a day of rest and delight.

3) There will never be a better season of life that will allow you to practice Sabbath than this one right now. Sure, it will look different for the single professional, the working mom, the student, the retiree, etc, but life stage does not determine whether or not you can Sabbath. Along that line, the working mom may only be able to find four hours or so. That's okay, start where you are and keep practicing until you find a rhythm that works.

Here is that sermon in video form on Vimeo:

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