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?