I first encountered Ruth Haley Barton's book, Sacred Rhythms, a few years ago. It's a great book (which is why I've included it on my Spiritual Formation Recommended Reading List), and is one of those few that is worth hanging on to over the years in order to read and re-read each of the chapters. As good as everything is that she covers in the book, one of the chapters immediately captivated my attention, imagination, and longing. In it she describes a practice (or, I've really come to appreciate her language of rhythms) that I've longed for all my life, even though I never knew I was longing for it until I read her book. I was already familiar with many of the other rhythms that she described, but this one seemed completely other-worldly to me, and I've deeply wanted to make it a part of my lifestyle since then. What is it that I want so badly? Sabbath.
Like most evangelical Christians my generation or younger, I didn't grow up practicing Sabbath, really had no idea that I could, or what doing so would be like. If you would have brought this up to me 15 years ago, I would have said, "Sabbath? I'm not Jewish." (This glib response completely ignores the fact that while it is true that I am not Jewish, the Jesus after whom I'm patterning my life was very Jewish and practiced the Sabbath, just as did everyone else who wrote the Scriptures which I would have told you were the ultimate authority in my Sabbath-less life.)
So if your first response to the thought of practicing Sabbath would be anything like mine was, I'd like to give you some assurance. If this post doesn't resonate with you, there's no need to panic, because I'm sure you'll still make the cut past the pearly gates without ever practicing Sabbath... but I think we should all still give it some consideration for this simple reason: it is a very rich gift from God that is very good for us. After all, it was the Teacher, Jesus, in the midst of redefining what the Sabbath was and was not, who said, "the Sabbath was made for humankind..." (Mark 2:27).
After reading more about Sabbath since that first encounter in Sacred Rhythms, it appears that many Christians (particularly in generations before mine) grew up with a culturally mandated version of the Sabbath which boiled down to meaning it was the day of the week when they couldn't do anything fun, as the focus was only on things not to do on the Sabbath. That's not very helpful, rich, nor good for us. I'm thankful that Ruth provided a very simplified but dependable framework for shaping what Sabbath could be for each of us, as she uses these three words to describe the things we should engage in on the Sabbath: rest, worship, and delight.
I'll let you read her teaching on it for yourself for further thoughts along each of those categories, but mostly for my own benefit I'd like to write out some of the things I would like to characterize my own practice of the Sabbath (together with my family, of course), as we seek to learn to experience the goodness of this gift of God to us, in no particular order:
- I want to have one day each week when I am advertised to as little as possible. James Bryan Smith says that in an average day we receive 600 advertising messages! Even if we think we pay no attention to them, that much encouraged consumerism has to take its toll on our souls. Freeing myself from the majority of those 600 advertisements isn't easy, but it is simple: don't go places or do things that are likely to push a bunch of advertisements on me (stores, radio, TV, internet, etc., etc., etc.)
- I want to have one day each week when my focus is intentionally on being grateful for the things I have already been given, and away from things I don't have but would like to get. I want to give thanks for always having been provided for, rather than having any concern about where the next provision will come from.
- I love reading, but most of my reading has a feeling of accomplishment to it. I want to read on the Sabbath, but not to check any books off of my list or have any sort of "should do this" feeling to it. Instead, I'd love to just read things that are rich, simply because I'll like reading them (the first thing that comes to mind is The Chronicles of Narnia).
- It's easy to let technology become rude and intrusive in our lives without ever noticing. I would love for my Sabbaths to be days when technology isn't given any implicit nor explicit permission to intrude. If there's some way that it can be helpful (like talking on Skype with friends or family), then great. Otherwise, I'll enjoy a day of freedom from iPhones, iPads, text messages, etc., etc., etc.
- The days of my life when I feel the most fulfilled are the days when I have a sense of fully enjoying my family. If I'm not mentally in another place, but am able to revel in the gifts that my wife and son (and soon to be daughter) are to me, it's always a good day. I want my Sabbaths to be a weekly cultivation of enjoying each other.
- I want to do something outside. Particularly as I've spent most of my working life inside buildings, sitting behind desks, etc., sometimes I find myself starved for being outside. On my Sabbaths, I want to see nature, because it reminds me both that God is much bigger than I am and also much more interested in every detail that makes our universe work.
- I want to begin this day each week with a slow dinner with my family (and sometimes also with friends), when we can light candles to remind us of God's presence with us and passion for us and say things that we are grateful for, and when I can affirm to my wife and children the blessing that they are to me and ask for God's blessing upon every part of their lives.
- I want to see the sunrise and/or the sunset. West Texas can be glorious two times every day, and I miss 99% of those times. No reason to miss them on the Sabbath.
- Ruth puts rest first in her three categories, so I will love taking a nap.
- I've really come to benefit from the rhythm of fixed-hour prayer (using a prayer guide to guide me at specific times of the day, such as morning, mid-day, evening, and night), and I'd love to have plenty of room to indulge in those prayers at any pace I want once per week.
- If opportunities come up to enjoy being with friends in ways that work with things written above, I'm all for it. (i.e. Don't invite us to do something at the mall. If you have rocking chairs we can sit in... invite us. ...Okay, those two examples actually apply 7 days per week.)
- No hurry allowed.
- Realize that, on this day, if I'm doing nothing I'm doing what God most wants of me. What gets done before the Sabbath begins gets done, and what doesn't, doesn't. Christ's kingdom will in no way be at risk because of my 24 hours of un-productivity, and I need drastic reminders of that. You might need them too.
Any Sabbath veterans out there with suggestions? Or anyone at all with other things this makes you long for?
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