Friday, August 16, 2019
The list was long with many important tasks.
Go to the store.
Run the kids here or there.
Pick this up.
Put that away.
After racing around trying to beat the clock,
I arrived back home exhausted.
Every cell in my body, from the pinkie toe to that hair that stands straight up on the back of my cowlick head, ached.
Collapsing into the chair.
Trying to numb the tiredness with some show on television.
Too tired to move.
The question that often visits me in such moments is, why?
Why this pace?
Why am I running this race?
Why do I think I can be Super-spiritual Man - able to do it all?
Sabbath re-frames and re-orients time.
It is taking a break and a breath to remember who and whose we are.
I am not just my accomplishments, I am a beloved child of God.
I am not just what I got done, I am continuing to be crafted and created in God's image.
If God rests, why do I resist?
If God said the sacred script of life was every six days you need to cease,
Why do I keep going?
My mind too exhausted throws out a feeble, "I will...next month on vacation."
Or, "I will...next week when things calm down."
But there is always some new problem to take the last serious situation's place.
The tasks waiting to be added to your to-do will always be there.
But we've convinced ourselves to keep trying.
We've told ourselves that we don't want to look lazy.
We've accepted the cultural myth of busyness that burdens our souls and does damage to our lives.
Breathe. Be. Laugh. And let God's love and traces of grace sit alongside you.
May these words be embodied in our lives in the coming hours.
Wednesday, August 14, 2019
"Half the confusion in the world comes from not knowing how little we need." Admiral Richard Byrd
In the late 1920s, again in the middle 1930s, and again in the late 1930s; Admiral Byrd was an explorer of the Antarctic. He braved the bitter cold, dangerous wind chills, endless snow and blinding blizzards to live in the frozen tundra. On one of his explorations, he lived five months alone in a shack. During some of those days, the temperature outside sank to 70 degrees below zero.
But when he returned, he offered the quote above. From the stillness and solitude, he found something meaningful - not fame or fortune - but time to be. After all, it is not like you are going to go for a leisurely stroll when it is 70 degrees below zero outside, even the polar bears were knocking on his door asking to come in out of the chill. Okay, that probably didn't happen, but it would have been hilarious if it was true.
Sabbath is about re-orienting our relationship with time.
Sabbath is about reacquainting ourselves with our truest self.
How many of us in the hustle and bustle of these days, say amid the endless to-do lists of our lives, "Who am I?" That is not a question Google can answer for you! It is un-Google-able - which is now one of my favorite words.
Who am I? is a question that you cannot outrun. You can schedule every waking minute, fall exhausted into bed, wake up the next morning feeling like you are running late from the moment your feet hit the ground...
But are you and I not more than just a collection of our experiences and encounters? Are we not more than just what is on our to-done lists? Are we not more than accomplishments?
Richard Rohr says we spend the first half of life trying to build the container of life - our successes and trophies and bank accounts. But, at some point, we realize that all that stuff we have stuffed into our lives isn't really who we are.
Sabbath will challenge the notice that we are what we produce and consume. Sabbath will poke holes in our personal salvation projects - when we tell ourselves that we will feel much better when this task is complete. Sabbath rejects the cliche that you will rest when you are dead.
Rest isn't just ceasing perpetual motion. Rest is about letting both the soles of our feet and our frenzied soul take a break.
At this point, if you are like me, there are all sorts of objections raising their hands.
But what about this vital task?
But what about this person?
But what about...(fill in the blank).
Here is my invitation to you for today...write down all the reasons why Sabbath is impossible. Go ahead. Write down everything that clamors for you to stay in the cacophony and commotion of being always on the go. Try to exhaust all your reasonable and rationale for why I am out in left field.
Once you have filled the page...pause.
What is that trace of grace our still singing God trying to serenade you to hear that might still you?
May that holy moment be more than a blessing for you and me.
Monday, August 12, 2019
The Sabbath as a day of rest is not for the purpose of recovering one's lost strength and becoming fit for the forthcoming labor. The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. Abraham Joshua Heschel
Abraham Joshua Heschel was a rabbi who lived in the 20th Century and wrote one of the classic books on Sabbath. In that book, he begins by talking about how Sabbath is a cathedral in time. We build all sorts of technological wonders in the world - rockets that can travel to the far side of the moon or instruments that help surgeons do a major operation with only a minimal incision. If you think about all the structures human hands hath made, there are many more than seven wonders in the world.
Yet, of all the modern marvels that have defied gravity and the ways we think the world works, humans relationship with time is one that seems stuck and stymied. Outside of wonderful fiction books, I still cannot travel back in time to warn my earlier self not to make that boneheaded mistake. I cannot rewind time for just one day to re-visit my kids' childhood. Time continues to move/march ever forward, always crafting and creating experiences and encounters for us to explore.
In fact, think about how frequently we grumble and gripe about time.
"I am sooooo busy," we say to anyone who will listen. Then, despite our present busyness conundrum, we proceed to offer the litany and list of everything that is making us so busy to the person we are talking to...let that moment of irony sink, settle, and speak to your life. I know it is true for me.
Or we talk about being inconvenienced by having to stop at a red light or getting stuck behind the person in the express lane who clearly has more than 10 items - because I think we all agree that fifteen containers of yogurt and twenty bottles of water are really more than "two" items.
We rush...we run...we race...all because we cannot control time. No matter how much we construct, time is outside of our ability to control. Time is a space in which we all dwell, but it is not built by human hands - no matter how much we try to control it.
What does all this perpetual motion do? Does it bring more life to us?
Sabbath has been an invitation into a holy rhythm of life. It isn't just to re-charge the old batteries or to fill up the tank to keep going. Sabbath is not a divine filling station! Sabbath is a reminder of who and whose you are. When we keep Sabbath we are reflecting the very image of God, who though creation was not fully finished, still found time to cease from the work.
Sabbath as a re-ordering of time.
I pray that definition will sit and simmer in your soul ~ offering you more than a trace of God's grace in these August days.
Friday, August 9, 2019
What do you think of when you hear the word, "sabbath"?
Maybe it is not a word you have heard much in your life, so you might think it is a new trendy kind of facet for your shower.
Maybe it is a word that is dripping and drenched with negative images of everything you CANNOT do - no dancing, no going anywhere, no laughing, no having any fun whatsoever on Sundays doth declareth God at some point. Straight from the bible to the lips of your relatives who made you feel two inches tall when you asked if you could go to the movies one Sunday afternoon...after all you did sit through that really loooooong sermon just that morning ~ shouldn't that count for something!?! You thought to yourself but didn't say aloud.
Maybe the word, Sabbath, evokes a longing within you for rest, renewal, space to be still and simply be in the midst of the busyness of the day.
In the most basic definition, Sabbath means, "and (God) rested". It means to cease, be still, stop doing for the sake of being. One of the truths of Hebrew words, like Sabbath, is there is not just one definition, but one word can mean many different things. The first place Sabbath is found is in Genesis 1, where after six days of singing forth creation, after collaborating with the chaos to call forth what was maybe hidden in the tangled twisted-ness of soup before all that we see and sense came to be, after six days of speaking and blessing (calling parts of creation 'good'). God rested. But that doesn't mean creation stopped or ceased forever.
As most artists will tell you, you need to step away from your work every now and then. I am currently working on a devotional for Advent that will be posted daily on this blog ~ spoiler alert. For the last week, I have refrained from picking up the work. I needed to give the words I had written and edited some breathing space...I needed some room to let my thoughts go in different directions. You walk away...so when you return...you feel refreshed/renewed to continue.
God resting...not because the work was finished...but so the work might have time to marinate in the soupy sauce of life.
This sinks deep into my soul because for the last sixty days I have been on Sabbatical. It isn't like I just sat around and binge watched Netflicks. I went on a great family vacation, a continuing education event in Chautauqua, NY, I spent time writing an Advent devotional that you will have a chance to read, and am currently working on two classes I will be teaching in the months to come. I laughed with family. Read more books than I had since my seminary days (including some fiction books!). Saw a few movies. Went for lots of walks. Did some work around the house.
Initially, a seventy day Sabbatical sounded like a lot! Since I was fourteen, I have always worked somewhere. I have washed dishes, I have shelved books, I have answered phones at a credit card customer service call center, and for eighteen years ~ I have been a pastor. My identity was tightly tied to my work. Who I was...was the role for which I was paid. What would happen to step out of that rhythm and routine? Who would I be?
In the coming weeks, I want to share a bit about the past seventy days. More importantly, what is lingering in my soul and in my life from this experience from trying to cease/rest/stop. For me, I have rediscovered Sabbath. Room to rest and breathe and be. I do not need to measure my life by what I got done or crossed off a list, but by how my body, mind, and soul were doing. I need to listen to what my body, mind, heart, and soul are saying. It is, I have come to realize again, in the stopping and ceasing that traces of God's grace became just a bit clearer for me.
It is my deep prayer that in hearing my story, you might find pieces of your story rising and resonating and reverberating?
What is Sabbath? A gift. A gift of time. A gift of space. A gift that we cannot earn or deserve. A gift for all (I mean all) creation.
Grace and peace ~~
Wednesday, August 7, 2019
Walking along the water, I see several leaves doing the back float gently in the gulf waters. I also see the limb of the tree raising its leave-y branch being reflected back.
Which makes me wonder, what am I reflecting right now?
If life is both unexpected and unseen (as we discussed in the last post), we are constantly trying to respond to what is around us. Often for me, since I have no poker face and I wear my emotions on my sleeve, I reflect back what I absorb from the world around me. If people are laughing, I join right in to the joy. If anxiety is hanging/hovering in the air, I find myself nervous like a teenager going on his first date.
Tension thicker than a stew sitting in the air, I feel my shoulders tense and my face turn sour.
Even in a mundane moment of waiting, I immediately stare at my phone or check my emails or switch to see if something else is on the radio.
We don't exist in a vacuum. We are not only what we eat, but also the air we breathe. We are not only a collection of random atoms darting around within, but also being impacted by what is around us every single day.
You cannot distance or divorce yourself from the world nor...nor does the world need to be the only voice that gets to tell you what to think or feel.
This both/and part of life is what is so difficult today. My heart breaks at the enormity of the problems that plague us and that we tend to lack focus - going off in twenty different directions at the same time. Today it is the environment, tomorrow the crisis of refugees, the day after that a tweet, then a scandal, then some other brokenness, then back to some weather. No wonder we are exhausted by the end of the week! The script today is so new and being written every moment that every turn is unexpected and unseen. Every twist sends our souls doing somersaults wondering where the world took an exit ramp into chaos...and more importantly, can we ever get back on track?
Yet, at the same time there is brokenness, there is beauty. A holy hum of beauty, not that contradicts or competes with the brokenness, but often is asking us to reflect on the deeper parts of reality. Beauty of seeing a movie with my family or a delicious meal or simply sitting here typing in the silence of this moment. Life is not a mathematical equation to solve nor a balancing scale we have to keep level. The good doesn't outweigh the bad...nor vice versa. The problem is that we tend to turn everything into a problem to solve. We want the perfect life, that probably never existed. In the meantime, we reflect all kinds of frustration, anger, and that "those people" are the problem back to the world.
To live a different way is the hardest part of life. It is the script that we haven't studied and the church hasn't always preached. It is also a script that isn't finished yet, because God is still singing the world into being. God is still hovering over the chaos of today. God is still reflecting back the beauty of a single limb hanging over the water waiting for someone to notice.
This unexpected...almost unseen moment caused be to pause and prayerfully ponder, what is that I reflect? Can it be more than a trace of God's grace for a world God so love? I pray it may be so for you and for me.
Grace and peace ~~
Monday, August 5, 2019
Walking along the water, zooming in on the bird above who is hanging out on the post, trying to hold my hand steady to capture this photo, and it is only when I get home that I notice the other bird soaring across the sky - totally photo bombing my picture!
Life is like that.
The unexpected and the unseen are right there before us unnoticed until moments/days/weeks later.
The two (unexpected and unseen) work in concert together...sometimes clouding our vision and clogging our hearing.
The unexpected can be a wonderful serendipitous stirring of the sacred - like a friend we hadn't seen in a while showing up on our door step. I think of this when Mary goes to visit here relative Elizabeth (click here to read this great story). I don't think Mary sent a text/tweet/snapchat telling Elizabeth she was on her way, probably didn't send a telegram - again not invented yet - nor a letter. Mary leaves behind her home - whether it was out of fear or flight - some kind of survival instinct sent her legs scurrying to a place of safety.
The unexpected can also be un-welcomed intrusion into our lives. I think of a doctor's appointment where a diagnosis echoes off the sterile white walls. I think of a marriage where words have slowly caused brokenness, sharp shards of hurt and a thousand paper cuts, until someone utters the word, "divorce".
The unexpected can be the mundane that we turn into a mountain. Rain when we wanted to go for a walk or a phone call when we are walking out the door that turns out to be someone trying to sell us siding for our house. Seriously?!?
There is also the unseen - people and places and holy moments that we miss because of the busy blur of life. This could be the name of the person checking us at the grocery store or the beauty of a butterfly sweeping past us or just the kind word we don't really hear because we need to get to somewhere else.
Life is a combination of the unexpected and unseen.
Sometimes this is the advantage of putting/placing a frame around a single moment. Not that the moment is the be all and end all ~ although each moment is so alive with the sacred that there is much to take in, we will never be able to see every beautiful pixel detail. When we pause for a moment to let the scene of our life soak it, let the moment sink and settle, open us to the fullness it holds can sometimes hold more than a trace of God's grace for us.
I pray this week, you might find God's fingerprints upon each day and upon every hour in amazing and abundant ways.
Grace and peace ~~
Friday, August 2, 2019
Washing over the rough rock,
the water lapped like a thirsty dog.
Splashing and soaking,
Foam bubble form on the other side
As sunlight peers through the surface showing what is just beneath.
The rugged rock stays put.
Either un-amused or unsure what to make of this whole seen.
The ridges of the rock have been saturated for centuries.
Though high and low tide...
In wind and rain and storms and sun...
The rock, like our souls, has been through much.
Windy days when everything seemed up in the air,
Rainy days when plans when out the window,
Stormy days when we were not sure we'd survive, and
Sun-drenched days when warmth wrapped around like the hug of an old friend.
A ordinary rock like thousands of others along the shore.
My life, ordinary, like the hundreds of name-less/unknown people I passed as I strolled along.
Yet, for the rock and I, a shared moment of a trace of God's grace...I carry with me
And share with you
Grace and peace ~~