The Four-sided Peace of Sabbath

This week I’ve been preparing to lead a Lenten day of silence for a nearby church.  I know that may sound like an oxymoron: How exactly does one prepare for leading a silent retreat?  Well, in this case, the organizers asked me to pick a theme that relates to Lent and then select three meditations, followed by questions that the people attending can contemplate in silence.

The theme I chose is Shabbat Shalom, Sabbath peace.  It’s based on a few pages in a book I recently read: The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism, by Joseph Telushkin and Dennis Prager.  The authors speak briefly about four kinds of shalom that Jews seek on the Sabbath.

The first is peace within ourselves.  The Jewish Sabbath laws are designed to bring peace on earth, a foretaste of heaven, one day each week.  This peace must begin with the person we see reflected in our mirror each morning. To promote inner peace, religious Jews don’t use machinery and external sources of entertainment on the Sabbath.  All week, we engage with (and are often enslaved by) email, television, Facebook, news, chores, and cell phones. In the quiet that descends on Shabbat eve, we re-learn how to be still and rest in God.

The second source of shalom is peace between people.   Turning off external, mechanized sources of noise on our Sabbath produces another bonus:  we suddenly have ample time to invest in relationships.  One of the nearly universal consequences of Sabbath observance is the strengthening of ties among family and friends. In particular, the Sabbath meal allows time for uninterrupted conversation, with no one rushing off to make a call or keep an appointment. Sabbath is a chance for husbands and wives to reconnect, for children to engage with their parents and each other in a relaxed atmosphere, and for friends to have leisurely conversations and share their hearts.

Third, Sabbath also promotes peace between people and nature.   Biblically, the injunctions to offer animals a break on the Sabbath, to give the land a rest every seventh year, and to practice Jubilee principles by not squeezing out every possible penny of profit are Sabbath practices that ensure rest for creation. In practical terms, if every Jew and Christian in the world worshipped on the Sabbath and then came home and didn’t buy anything or drive anywhere the remainder of the day, we could save about 14 percent of our carbon footprint. But even more significantly, by filling the emptiness inside with God rather than nonstop consumption, Sabbath peace flows into our habits the other six days of the week and allows us to stop and value our surroundings.

Last is peace between people and God.  All week, we run around trying to fulfill immediate needs and desires. Shabbat is God’s day, when we look beyond the tyranny of the urgent and reflect upon the eternal consequences of our actions.  Instead of focusing on my needs and desires, we focus on His generosity and goodness. On Sabbath we are invited to walk out onto the bridge between heaven and earth and meet the Creator of the Universe, the living and ever gracious God.

Which of these four kinds of shalom are you most drawn toward?  For the remaining five Sabbaths until Easter, consider focusing on one of these. Then reflect upon the following questions:

  • What practices can you eliminate during your remaining Sabbaths before Easter that will promote peace within yourself?  No social media? A television fast? A break from the Internet?
  • What practices can you add that will promote peace between people?  Consider a Sabbath meal with family or friends, or reading a chapter aloud from an inspiring book and discussing it.
  • What practices can you add or eliminate that promote peace with nature?  Walking around the block and stopping to admire the spring blooms? Not driving anywhere except church? Abstaining from shopping–in stores or on the Internet?
  • What practices can you add that will draw you closer to God?  Thirty minutes of prayer on your knees sharing a heart of confession, adoration, and thanksgiving with God? Singing the Psalms?  Memorizing a piece of scripture that has always delighted you?
May your Sabbath rest during this Lenten season be overflowing with God’s peace!
Shabbat shalom,
Nancy and Matthew Sleeth

A Sunday Sabbath Poem by George Herbert

from The Temple (1633), by George Herbert


Sunday
O Day most calm, most bright,
The fruit of this, the next worlds bud,
Th’ indorsement of supreme delight,
Writ by a friend, and with his bloud;
The couch of time; cares balm and bay:
The week were dark, but for thy light:
                  Thy torch doth show the way.

                  The other dayes and thou
Make up one man; whose face thou art,
Knocking at heaven with thy brow:
The worky-daies are the back-part;
The burden of the week lies there,
Making the whole to stoup and bow,
                  Till thy release appeare.

                  Man had straight forward gone
To endlesse death: but thou dost pull
And turn us round to look on one,
Whom, if we were not very dull,
We could not choose but look on still;
Since there is no place so alone,
                  The which he doth not fill.

                  Sundaies the pillars are,
On which heav’ns palace arched lies:
The other dayes fill up the spare
And hollow room with vanities.
They are the fruitfull beds and borders
In Gods rich garden: that is bare,
                  Which parts their ranks and orders.

                  The Sundaies of mans life,
Thredded together on times string,
Make bracelets to adorn the wife
Of the eternall glorious King.
On Sunday heavens gate stands ope:
Blessings are plentifull and rife,
                  More plentifull then hope.

                  This day my Saviour rose,
And did inclose this light for his:
That, as each beast his manger knows,
Man might not of his fodder misse.
Christ hath took in this piece of ground,
And made a garden there for those
                  Who want herbs for their wound.

                  The rest of our Creation
Our great Redeemer did remove
With the same shake, which at his passion
Did th’ earth and all things with it move.
As Sampson bore the doores away,
Christs hands, though nail’d, wrought our salvation,
                  And did unhinge that day.

                  The brightnesse of that day
We sullied by our foul offence:
Wherefore that robe we cast away,
Having a new at his expence,
Whose drops of bloud paid the full price,
That was requir’d to make us gay,
                  And fit for Paradise.

                  Thou art a day of mirth:
And where the Week-dayes trail on ground,
Thy flight is higher, as thy birth.
O let me take thee at the bound,
Leaping with thee from sev’n to sev’n,
Till that we both, being toss’d from earth,
                  Flie hand in hand to heav’n!












 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.