by Tiffany Montavon
For Gaining the Strength
There are many exciting explorations on Sabbath that we could do this morning! Rather than limit it to what I can blurt in 10 minutes, Learners and Teachers and Celebration Circle are offering the entire month of August for us to explore Sabbath together. I will say more on that later.
Let me first offer you an image: that of a teacup, filled to the rim. This cup must be emptied, before it can be refilled.
So, let us practice emptying and refilling. It looks like this. Could you please join me? Sit up; give your beautiful belly room to move. At your own pace, inhale deeply and audibly. Let your hands flow with your breath. Then exhale, again with your hands following your breath.
At several points in this Sabbath exploration, I will invite us to breathe together in this manner.
I have been coming to Seekers for 5 years now. Almost every Sunday morning I struggle to get here. Is it more worshipful, or more restful, to go on a long solitary walk with my dogs, to listen, and pray, paying attention to dew drops or frost patterns on leaves, or to join with others in worship, in listening and hearing, in being the body of Christ together?
I am in tension with what is restful.
When I get to church, I look around and wonder how many of you feel rushed to be still and listen for God. Would you rather be walking the dog, or reading, or canoeing, or luxuriously staying in bed, for whatever reason?
We have no choice but to start where we are. We are Westerners, coming from the Greco-Roman tradition. The Aristotelian model is that “we rest because we can’t work continuously. Relaxation then, is not an end; it is for the sake of activity; for gaining the strength for new efforts.”
That has been how I, as a child of this culture, live my life. I run hard; there is much work to be done! Family, work, community, spiritual life, daily necessities, marriage, exercise, fun, workshops, teaching….
I do until I am depleted:
a fish tossed up on the shoreline gasping for “breath.”
I DO set aside times for rest, but my tank rarely feels full.
I wonder if my life is not so different from yours.
To paraphrase Einstein, “There are two ways to live your life: as if nothing is sacred, or as if everything is sacred.”
Breathe with me.
The first Good News for me as I worked with this idea of Sabbath is from our reflection Paragraph, Exodus 20:8. “Remember the Sabbath, and keep it Holy!”
I have remembered the Sabbath, but I rarely have made it holy.
Perhaps the question is not so much whether or not to come to church, but "what connects me to that which is Holy?"
This is one of the many invitations from our faith to be counter cultural: do not just rest – i.e.: gasp for air, or “rest for the sake of activity.” Rather, make it Holy! Lounge and splash in the deep, cool, Holy waters of grace.
In contrast to the Greek/Western way of thought, the Jewish mindset, from which this commandment comes, is that rest is the climax of living. Sabbath is God’s time: it exists whether we chose to step into it, or not. Sabbath is for resting the soul, and it happens through the body.
Breathe with me:
Q: Think of a time when you were rejuvenated by stepping into God’s amazing grace.
Secondly, Sabbath is related to hard work!
In Genesis 2:15:
“God took the Man, and put the Man in the Garden of Eden to work and care for it.” God gives us labor to do. It is a gift to tend what is given.
The duty to work for six days is as much a part of God’s covenant with us as the duty to abstain from work on the 7th day.
Breathe with me.
Q: what part of the Kingdom of God are you given to tend?
In this creation story, our choice to do it our own way brought the punishment of toil. Labor is a gift, but it becomes toil — or struggle — when the relationship with the Creator is broken. When we labor, we are attending to what God has given us. When we toil, we struggle alone, without the connection to the Holy.
So in my life, as I pursue my call to body work, this is can look two ways: Toiling is running around attending classes, workshops, and teacher trainings, following each lead, no matter how far around the beltway I have to drive….. Laboring is in being intentional about the long-term path of learning bodywork, only saying yes to a few things per year, and teaching/attending classes, which connect body and spirit for me.
I have a sneaking suspicion that some – (much?) – of what we are doing is toiling, not laboring. The question might not be one of how much we are doing, but why we are doing it.
Working toward the kingdom of God – or, tending your call, might mean more labor, rather than less.
My own examples are:
As a bodily Sabbath practice, it takes me exponentially more work to learn how to eat healthy — to attend to my body — than to continue to be distracted by messages.
As a financial Sabbath practice, it takes much more work for me to shift my distracting habits of being credit-minded, to living within my means.
As an earth Sabbath practice, it takes more work for me to be aware of the footprint I leave on the environment than to continue in ignorant powerlessness.
I name these as Sabbath practices because these are ways through which I can begin to pay attention, to stop being distracted (as our society encourages), and to draw closer to that abundant grace
Breathe with me:
Q: how are you spending your energy: in toil, or labor?
I want to acknowledge that there is not much in our society that supports Sabbath practice!
even if you have opted out of the majority of mainstream trappings, the life of distraction is still a well-paved 6-lane highway — a very busy one — that tells us we will never be enough – never have enough – never do enough. I sometimes hear these messages, here, at Seekers.
This is one reason being church is important: we are to support each other’s counter cultural journeys — to provide rest, encouragement and sustenance for each other as we accept the challenge to work at what is most important: to love God, and love our neighbors: thus, bringing about the kingdom of God.
Bodily, what would it be like if Seekers had a dinner club once a month, and where we brought healthy food, recipes and tips to share? Those of us who struggle could learn from those of you who practice this form of Sabbath. It would take more work to do this – we would be busier. Nevertheless, through paying attention to our bodies, we would be developing a practice that draws us closer to the Holy.
Financially, what would it be like to have regional simplicity circles — support groups for opting out of the mainstream messages of needing more! This again would make us busier, schedule wise, but, I submit, learning to live a simpler lifestyle is another Sabbath practice: one that connects our work to the Holy.
Environmentally, what if we did have an earth-keepers mission group to help guide our actions and decisions?
Breathe with me. Side stretch, UP and OVER all the same direction, – – creates more space? Notice difference in both sides of body once you have done some work, it opens up space.
I have been thinking of Sabbath as up down up time; peaks and valleys, work and rest.
Rather, consider Jesus’ spiraling Sabbath and work cycle.
Call feeds work. Work feeds rest, rest feeds Sabbath; Sabbath feeds call. There is much work to be done, individually and corporately, as we follow our calls to love God, and love our neighbors: thus, bringing about the kingdom of God. Moreover, there is great need to set the work down, regularly, for a time, to enjoy the fruits.
In today’s Gospel reading,
Jesus is seeking solace: he has just learned that his cousin John has been be-headed, and he is grieving. Nevertheless, the crowds come to him, and he “has compassion, and heals their sick,” again. He does the work set before him, related to his call. He does not become distracted; rather, he pays attention to what is given him to do.
Then, he steps into Sabbath time: Jesus simply takes the fishes and loaves of bread – and blesses them. Through blessing what is, there is abundance for all. Through the blessing – the connection with the Holy, there is Sabbath.
Therefore, I invite us into an immersive journey this month. Of learning to distinguish between toiling and laboring. Of being honest with our distractions, and our attentions, and to celebrate abundance.
Perhaps through this exploration together we can find ways to do the counter-cultural work we are given to do, and then rest in that Holy amazing grace.
Tuesday School of Christian Living will focus on Sabbath practices and traditions for our every day lives:
August 6th, Richard Brady will lead an experiential class on Sabbath and mediation. Richard is a Zen Buddhist teacher in tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.
August 13th, Doug Wysocky-Johnson will continue the exploration of Sabbath practices through what I have heard him call his GYFT theory: Get Your Fanny There. As a minister of the Evangelical Covenant church and director of Faith at Work, Doug works to foster intentional community and relational Christianity in today’s church.
On the 20th, Elisabeth Dearborn will explore Sabbath in the Quaker tradition. Having lived in Quaker community for 40+ years, she experientially invites us to live Sabbath more than once a week, through the Pillowcase Practices — bring a pillowcase, or handkerchief, or underwear, and embroidery hoops if you have them.
On the 27th, Bob Sabath will complete the series. After working with the Orthodox Jewish traditions of balancing social activism and Sabbath, Bob and his wife Jackie moved to Rolling Ridge hoping to establish a Sabbath retreat center.
Sundays we will learn more about the Biblical precedent for balancing the work of heeding call with the joy of stepping into abundant grace. Doug Wysocky-Johnson, Elisabeth Dearborn, Jesse Palidofsky and Dan Phillips will each bring us their stories and experience.
Finally, we can as individuals and as community consider what difference Sabbath makes. There are questions in Soundings for you to consider writing on in your spiritual reports or journals, or discussing them in your mission group or at coffee hour.