Blown Glass: An Advent Reflection

by Guy Brewer

I yearned to pray today but found it very hard to calm my racing thoughts. Like many others, I feel a lot of internal and external pressure to complete my “holiday chores,” whatever that means. I tried making a “to do” list so I would not forget all of the important trivia of the day, but this didn’t help much at all with my inner chaos. And then, I remembered that poetry is the language of the soul. And, I sensed that my soul had something it wanted to say to God and to me. Perhaps the soul poem that emerged will be helpful to some of you as well. It is entitled, “Blown Glass.”

“Blown Glass”
The prayer began more with human worries than divine promises
Like blown glass, molten and fragile
Its shape depending upon the breath of the glass blower who gives life but does not control the masterpiece taking form
Until a sculpture of the soul emerges.
The glass blower cannot tell if the objetd’arte has the right proportions or is a reasonable facsimile of the deep well within.
All the artist can know is that something with life in it lies before him, precious simply because it is.
And so, the prayer moves in the only way possible with no more words or attempts to speak the soul’s deepest longings.
This blown glass prayer lies before God as a thing of beauty that takes His breath away, making God laugh and cry and draw nearer for a closer look.

 

Guy Brewer is the Sabbath Living Program Director for Blessed Earth. You can read his bio on our staff page. 

A Sabbath Reflection for Christmas

by Cynthia V. Vaughan

This week I’m reading from The Sabbath by Dayan Dr. I. Grunfeld.  It has been considered the “finest exposition of the Sabbath available in English” written to “fill an urgent need among English-speaking Jewry.”  You might ask why I am interested in reading a book which was written for Jews.  It’s simple:  Jesus was a Jew. During this Advent season, I find myself wondering (more than usual) what it was like when Jesus was a child.  Perhaps it is because I am more intentional about Sabbath keeping these days.  In any event, I like what Grunfeld writes about the celebration of Sabbath, “itself a great spiritual experience.”

“Throughout the thousands of years of its history Sabbath has always been a day of joy and gladness in the Jewish home. Its coming is an eagerly awaited event for which the family begins preparing days in advance.  In fact, Sabbath casts its radiant glow over the whole week.  The days themselves are named in Hebrew in relation to the Sabbath:  ” the first day to Sabbath,” “the second day to Sabbath,” etc.  This is how the week looks to Jewish eyes:
                                             SABBATH
                                       Friday
                               Thursday
                       Wednesday
                Tuesday
        Monday
Sunday

Everything looks forward to Sabbath.  Business and social arrangements are made in such a way that they will not interfere with the Sabbath.  Little luxuries bought during the week are stored up for the Sabbath. When Friday comes the tempo increases.  Every member of the household plays his part in the preparations. . . . the table decked with fresh linen and sparkling silver, with wine and challah and the Sabbath lights.  The whole family change into their Sabbath clothes and a festive air overhangs the house.  The scene is set for Sabbath, the royal bride, to enter.”

There is joy in the air, I can feel it! As we are preparing for the visitation of the Holy One, the Christ Child, this Sunday, let us strive to experience every Sabbath with the same joy and excitement and expectation that we had this week.
May the joy of Christmas surround you and may your special gift be the joy of remembering the Sabbath, to keep it holy!
In addition to her hospital chaplaincy, Cynthia serves as Sabbath Chaplain for the Harbor District in the North Carolina UMC Conference. She is ordained in the North Georgia Conference of the UMC, appointed to extension ministry in North Carolina as a CPE Supervisor/Chaplain at New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington.  She attends Wrightsville UMC in Wilmington.

How to Prevent Holiday Burn-out Before it Starts

Nancy Sleeth recently wrote a piece for Relevant Magazine about how the practice of Sabbath can help us avoid the stress that, for many, accompanies the holidays.

In the article, Nancy writes,

According to a study by the American Psychological Association, 85 percent of people report that time pressures increase during the holiday season. In fact, “lack of time” beat money pressures, commercialism, travel, and a host of other factors for the number one spot among holiday stressors. When my husband was a doctor, he’d notice an uptick in Emergency Room visits around Christmastime: the stress, dense foods, and disrupted routines of the season were literally making people sick.

Fortunately, there’s a simple way to reduce holiday stress.

It’s been proven effective for over two thousand years. God thinks it’s important enough to make it one of his top ten commands: Sabbath. The word “sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word sabat, which means “to rest or stop or cease from work.”

You can read the entire article here.

 

 

 

 

Woodworking As Sabbath Rest

As a new, young pastor in the foothills of North Carolina, Mitchell Boughman began hearing about the importance of Sabbath rest during the training and ordination process. He quickly learned, however, that resting doesn’t just mean taking a day-long nap. That’s when he started to connect his personal interest in woodworking and Sabbath renewal.

unnamed-2“We all have activities that recharge us and draw us closer to God. For me, that’s woodworking.”

Mitchell always had a passion for woodworking, but hasn’t always had the means to pursue his interest. Eight years of school and “living paycheck to paycheck and school loan to school loan” left little room for his hobby.

Once he finished school and began pastoring, things changed. Gratitude for his flexible schedule as a pastor, as well as the space to retreat in his church-provided home, led him to incorporate woodworking in his weekly Sabbath experience.

“A typical Sabbath for me begins with thanking God for a new day—where it’s just going to be Him and me hanging out. I’ve found that woodworking is a great activity for finding God and for generating a spirit of gratitude.”

It should not be surprising that Mitchell connects with Jesus in a carpentry shop. Jesus himself was a carpenter—and the Lord of the Sabbath. Sabbath is the pinnacle of creation, and we are blessed when we can create things of beauty that glorify our Creator.

“The truth is whenever I’m working on a woodworking project, I do not feel as if I am spending time. I feel like I am being given time. Perhaps that’s what Sabbath is all about: at least for a day or for a moment, feeling as if you have moved into eternity.”


Mitchell Boughman pastors two United Methodist churches in Connelly Springs, NC, and serves as Sabbath Chaplain for the Catawba Valley District of the Western North Carolina Conference of the UMC. In addition to woodworking, he enjoys playing golf, bird watching, and gardening on his Sabbath.

Sabbath Rest in a Shaker Village

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Blessed Earth’s friends Jeff and Melissa Rogers recently led a group of nineteen couples from two different churches on a weekend Sabbath retreat. The setting of the retreat was the picturesque Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg, KY. The community was founded by a group of Shakers in 1805, and features original buildings and extensive walking trails.

 

dsc07149While on retreat, the couples studied Matthew Sleeth’s book 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life, as well as the accompanying DVD series. The Rogers led discussions about the dangers of our modern 24/7 lifestyle and the biblical gift of Sabbath rest. Participants were encouraged to make a plan for implementing 24/6 rhythms into their lives. The couples discussed perceived roadblocks and encouraged each other with creative ideas and solutions.

 

dsc07168Jeff described the weekend as “a blessed time of God-centered rest, prayer, and healing.” He and Melissa made a great effort to structure the retreat so that participants could get a taste of the 24/6 Sabbath rhythm.

 

 

 

Lynne, a lay leader at her church, shared how the retreat has already blessed her family and her marriage:

Keith and I are so grateful for the Sabbath Retreat and the shifts we’ve already experienced. We had our first family Sabbath on Sunday and it went better than I had hoped! Our family meal after church was filled with laughter and great connecting time as each of us shared what God was speaking to us or doing in our heart. I have personally been able to spend less time on my cell phone/Facebook and have been successful in not checking my phone first thing each morning. What a win! And we are putting together a calendar so that everyone is aware of the things we have going on so we can be intentional/mindful of our activities and plan accordingly. All this in a week? What else does the Lord have for us?!

 

If your church or organization is interested in planning a Sabbath retreat, please contact adam@blessedearth.org. 

*The photos in this post were provided by Jeff Rogers

 

 

October Wedding’s Sabbath EP

According to Relevant Magazine’s description, October Wedding is an indie folk-rock worship collective based out of Harrisburg, PA.

The group consists of Kyle Werts, David Layser, Ben Spencer, Eleanor Helai, Charisah Cleath, Asher Stanely, and a host of other friends who join them time to time.

original-sabbath_ep_album_artThe Sabbath EP is best enjoyed as a concept album from start to finish, meditating on the depths of redemption through images of rest and healing. Each song is a journey, often starting in a mellow, reflective place with just a guitar and ruminative vocals, gradually rising to soaring orchestration and anthemic heights, then coming full circle to a place of rest.

The EP takes its title from the final song SabbathSabbath is a stirring artistic piece that relates the deep grace that is found in Sabbath practice. The lyrics themselves are worth meditating upon.

 

Sabbath

Verse 1
Striving and toil come from my rebellion
Righteousness and peace come from your redemption
You have called me to rest here with you
You have called me to rest here with you

Much bread has spoiled from these hoarding stomachs
Much blood is spilled by these toiling fingers
You have called us to rest here with you
You have called us to rest here with you

Chorus:

I remember all your ways are good for me
You have brought me from the house of slavery
I remember all your ways are good for me
You have brought me from the house of slavery

On the seventh day
On the seventh day

Verse 2
Take good care not to stray from his rest
A Sabbath day waits for all creation
He has called us to rest there with him
He has called us to rest there with him

Chorus:I remember all your ways are good for me

I remember all your ways are good for me
You have brought me from the house of slavery
I remember all your ways are good for me
You have brought me from the house of slavery

Silent foretaste of the kingdom coming
Finished work upon the cross of Calvary

On the seventh day
On the seventh day

Bridge:

Now I live by redemption’s rhythm
Now I live by redemption’s rhythm
Now I live by redemption’s rhythm
Now I live by redemption’s rhythm
Now we live by redemption’s rhythm
Now we live by redemption’s rhythm
Now we can live
Now we can live
Now we can live

The album can be sampled here.

You can download the album  here through Noise Trade .

 

The Sleeths live out the Importance of Rest, Retreat, and Family

I’m often struck by the irony of my parents’ ministry: they work hard teaching about rest.  They’re traveling or speaking constantly–some years they’re on the road more days than they’re at home.  They take a Sabbath every week, of course, but the other six days are crammed to the gills.

7a80ff43-6c1f-4a06-bbed-4933277484c3As their office manager, I see how full their schedules are and how many balls they keep in the air at once.  As their daughter, I see how tired they are after long trips, and how happy they are when they get to sleep in their own bed.  There is no doubt in my mind that they work even harder now than when Dad was a doctor doing 24-hours shifts and Mom was a full-time teacher.

The strange thing is that, although they work so hard, my parents aren’t workaholics.  They love their work and feel blessed by all the opportunities God has given them to teach and preach, but they’re not defined by it.  Their identity comes from God and our family.

To remind us of that, Mom and Dad took us all on a family retreat a couple of weeks ago.  The whole family has been working pretty hard lately: my husband, Zach, took four summer classes for seminary; my brother, Clark, had just taken his internal medicine board exams; and my sister-in-law, Val, had undergone the ultimate labor of giving birth (to the most perfect niece ever!) in July.  So it was nice to get away for a few days and just enjoy each other’s company.  After all, it’s not just Sabbath that God gave the Israelites, but annual feasts and holy festivals–times to cease working and remember that God is good.

We prayed together and read the book of Acts aloud each morning and evening.  We all sat down to home-cooked meals around the same table.  We played in the pool (Hannah for the first time–she was a fan!).  We took naps and read.  We hiked.  We cooed over and cuddled with Hannah.  We didn’t talk about work.  We didn’t run errands (except to get another bag of potato chips–vacation is treat time!).  We weren’t trying to figure out who was taking which parent to the airport when.

Life can’t always be a vacation–nor would we want it to be, since God has given all of us valuable work to do.  But it was a special time of rest and renewal with each other.

If you can’t remember the last time your whole family spent a few days just enjoying each other’s company, I’d highly recommend scheduling a family retreat.  You don’t have to go anywhere particularly special or plan a lot of activities while you’re there.  Just enjoy being together and remember that even though your work is important, your rest is, too.

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Come Sunday: Sabbath Thoughts from an Old Testament Professor

The following reflections are taken from Listening for God: A Minister’s Journey Through Silence and Doubt, by Dr. Renita J. Weems. One of the nation’s leading African-American female preachers and theologians, Weems shares her early memories of Sabbath through the lens of the “colored” community. Special thanks to Cynthia V. Vaughan for sharing these excerpts with Blessed Earth.

weems“Once upon a time Sunday was a special day, a holy day, a day different from the other six days of the week. This was back before malls were ubiquitous and when shopkeepers after six days of receipts thought nothing of locking up Saturday in late afternoon and not opening their shop doors again until Monday morning. This was a time when colored people like those I grew up with still believed that it was enough to spend six days a week trying to eke out a living, worrying about whether you were ahead or behind, fretting over the future, despairing over whether life would ever get better for coloreds. Six days of worrying were enough. The Sabbath was the Lord’s Day, a momentary cease-fire in our on-going struggle to survive and an opportunity to surrender ourselves to the rest only God offered. Come Sunday, we set aside our worries about the mundane and renewed our love affair with eternity.”

“Our working-class hearts were ultimately fixed on one thing alone. Sunday held out to us the promise that we might enter our tiny rough-hewn sanctuary and find sanctity and blessing from a week of loss and indignities. Remembering the Sabbath where I grew up involved delighting oneself for a full twenty-four hours, ultimately in good company, with fine clothes and choice meals. The Sabbath allowed us to mend our tattered lives and restore dignity to our souls. We rested by removing ourselves from the mundane sphere of secular toil and giving ourselves over fully to the divine dimensions, where in God’s presence one found ‘rest’ (paradoxically) not in stillness and in repose but in more labor–a different kind of labor, however. We sang, waved, cried, shouted, and when we felt led to do so, danced as a way of restoring dignity to our bodies as well.  We used our bodies to help celebrate God’s gift of the Sabbath. For the Sabbath meant more than withdrawal from labor and activity. It meant to consciously enter into a realm of tranquility and praise.”  

“It was as though time stood still on Sunday. It was a day of magic. Time was different; life was different; the very air we breathed was, it seemed, different on Sunday. We ate together as a family. We went for drives in the country as a family. Husbands and wives called a halt to their bickering on Sunday and spoke in hushed tones in front of children. Even the drunks in the neighborhood quit drinking on Sunday, and the prostitutes were grateful for a day to sleep in.”

“Knowing that the Sabbath was just around the corner made demands upon us and disciplined us in certain directions. The Sabbath demanded that we do better, even if we weren’t intrinsicallyListening for God any better human beings on Sunday than we were on Saturday. It reminded us what we could be. It gave us something to aim for — peace, tranquility, love, Paradise, eternity, a vision of heaven on earth.”

“The Lord’s Day allows us to bring our souls, our emotions, our senses, our vision, and even our bodies back to God so that God might remember our tattered, broken selves and put our priorities back in order. The Sabbath makes sure we have the time to do what’s really important and be with those we really care about.”

“I miss the Sabbath of my childhood. I miss believing in the holiness of time. I miss believing there was a day when time stood still. Once upon a time Sunday was a special day, a holy day, a day different from the other six days of the week. . . This is the Sabbath I miss.”

Photo credits: American Baptist College website and Amazon.com.