Our Master’s cohort just finished reading and writing reflection papers on the book by Barry D Jones, “Dwell; Life with God for the World.” Jones’ purpose was to help bring a healthy blending of spirituality (spiritual formation) and mission together, as our modern Christian world tends to hold the two at opposite ends. Spiritual formation can easily become self-absorption, and in Dallas Willard’s words, “sin management”; whereas “missionalism is in the end a form of idolatry,” according to Barry, “and tends to focus the attention on us and our efforts rather than the God whose reign it is.”
Barry writes about a “style of life” based on the life of Jesus who, “did not come into the brokenness of this world just to secure for us salvation beyond it. He also offers a profound model for how he longs for people to live in the midst of this world’s brokenness. He presents a model of how to dwell WITH God IN and FOR the world.” It’s a fantastic, thought provoking book and I highly recommend it. In this post I’m reflecting on the chapter titled, “Shabbat Shalom; Practicing the Vision in Sabbath Rest.”
I have personally suffered from “time sickness,” a term coined by Larry Dossey to describe, “the obsessive belief that time is getting away and there isn’t enough of it, and that I must pedal faster and faster to keep up.” For years I heard about people deciding to observe the Sabbath, claiming it helped with the symptoms of time sickness, but I was so caught up in the hamster wheel I didn’t know how to jump off. I tried several times, unsuccessfully; you go ahead and get five little ones to church- I will spare you the hideous and insane stories of our Sunday mornings- then come home and make dinner for Sunday company (Sabbath is also about communion with others) and host a crowd for a day (any family plus ours was noisy and chaotic!), clean up, get them all to bed and prepare for Monday, and tell me how rested you feel! After a few rounds of guilt and frustration, I gave up. While reading the book “Dwell”, I can see a couple fundamental flaws in my thinking and important missing truths that fed our failure to experience Sabbath.
In our time sick world and culture, many Christians and non-Christians alike are embracing the idea of Sabbath as a way to rest and recover strength for the coming week. I was taught that this was God’s wise plan, knowing we needed time to “reboot”. There is interesting research showing how early 20th century factory workers became more productive when given one day off a week. This proof was a leading factor in why I kept trying to incorporate a day of rest. Obviously God knows what we need- He is our Maker! And He knew how tired and discouraged I felt with our work load. But I was missing the true motivations and benefits of Sabbath rest.
According to Jones, my understanding of Sabbath was a capitalistic justification for rest. We take a day off because God knows we need that in order to be more productive; although that may be true, “it exalts the idea that human beings are ultimately beings that produce and consume.” Abraham Joshua Heschel explains why this is wrong thinking; “Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of his work.” Instead, Jones explains that God did not rest because He was weary and needed a break, “Rest has a deeper meaning than merely a recharge of the batteries for the sake of what’s next. God rested to let the world He had made flourish as it should. He rested in order to delight in its flourishing.” According to Heschel, the Hebrew word for rest, menuha, “is the same as happiness and stillness, as peace and harmony….It is the state in which there is not strife and no fighting, no fear and no distrust. The essence of good life is menuha. Capitalism’s justification of the Sabbath says that the essence of the good life is increased capacity for production and consumption and that a day of rest is a useful means to that end. Biblical thinking about the Sabbath runs in precisely the opposite direction.” My heart comes alive with these thoughts; I find it to be more honoring and purposeful then just pursuing “a day off” so I can continue the same harried pace the next week.
I understood Sabbath mostly to be a list of what I could not do (growing up our denomination looked down upon reading the paper -someone had to labor in order to produce and deliver it-, shopping or eating out -forcing others to work on Sunday-, or doing domestic work, but someone still had to change dirty diapers, feed and clothe and parent and prepare for the next busy week. Most of this work I did not have the option to ignore (and leaving dirty dishes and a messy house only made my already dreaded Monday even more difficult.) The legalism of Sabbath was also frustrating as a nurse; patients just didn’t get up and clear the hospital on Sundays so I could go and worship and rest with my family! We opened our minds to the idea of Sabbath being another day besides Sunday (this was a big step at the time), but often there wasn’t another day we were all together. Sadly, most of our attempts to keep the Sabbath found me crawling into bed that night with the same old exhaustion, topped with a fresh blanket of guilt.
Another flaw in my thinking Winner refers to as, “the fallacy of the direct object”. The Sabbath has many great treasures tucked inside, but it’s not all about me. This way of considering “contemporary” Sabbath focuses on the benefits of the observance (to me) and is not motivated by honoring God. Winner explains,” In observing the Sabbath, one is both giving a gift to God and imitating Him.” Jones adds, “That is not to say that there are not great personal benefits to be gained and great personal joys to be experienced in keeping Sabbath. There certainly are. It is simply to say that whatever benefit, joy, delight and renewal we experience come not because we pursued these as ends within themselves. Rather, we receive them as gifts and means of grace that come as we pursue God in the keeping of Sabbath.” These revelations have freed me to drop the self-focus and legalism and consider creative and whole hearted ways to honor God in keeping Sabbath.
Means I try to keep my posts at one thousand words or less, I have run out of space! There was much treasure in this chapter, so next week we will continue this topic and dig into how Sabbath is grounded in three great events in Scripture; creation, exodus and resurrection, and consider ways we can incorporate this spiritual practice into our lives.