|Rest After Work, Vincent Van Gogh|
When I was in 5th Grade, we did a unit on “pop art”. Andy Warhol, the Marilyn Monroe print, you remember what I mean. We were to create a pop art item – something in life writ enormous, advertizing out of context or with odd color, or repetition.
I made a watch.
A huge watch that I could sit inside of.
The face of it was bigger than an extra large pizza, and the straps were twice as long as I was tall, and painted royal blue. When it was nearly complete, I needed only to add hands, but couldn’t figure out what to make them from.
I brought my dilemma to my dad, who both fancied himself a deep thinker, and also liked to expend as little unnecessary energy as possible, so instead of helping me come up with a material to design hands from, he flippantly suggested, ‘Why not leave the hands off? Then you could call it, “How will we know when to rest?”
So while other kids had a giant awesome stick of Wrigley’s gum, or a comic strip of neon Snoopy heads, I had an enormous watch with no hands and an esoteric statement about our culture’s obsession with work and refusal to stop.
I was the weird kid in the 5th grade at Sunny Hollow Elementary.
How will we know when to rest?
We wont. We don’t even know how to rest anymore.
In our culture, we see rest as weak. You must earn rest, rack up your vacation hours, and then don’t do too much of it at once. Resting is kind of lazy or unmotivated. Slackers and freeloaders rest a lot. Also sick people, old people, and infants.
We don’t feel very good not doing. It feels kind of rotten. We’re really good at doing. We do all the time, non stop. We do more than one thing at a time to “save time”; we pay bills and watch TV and eat dinner simultaneously. I never saw my mom put mascara on anywhere other than in the rearview mirror as she was driving me to swimming lessons or girl scouts. Doing is what we know.
And the more we get done in the day the better we feel about ourselves. Like the Israelite slaves of Pharaoh, we matter only if we produce, produce, produce. In our modern day slavery, it’s a little more sophisticated – we also matter if we consume, consume, consume. And we measure our worth - and others do too - by how much we produce or consume in a day.
And woe to you if you get mono, or cancer, or have a nervous breakdown, and you find yourself unable to produce or consume - for who are you now?
(And also, secretly, kudos to you too, because as terrible as illness is, you finally get permission to rest).
But resting is not just a good idea saved for those who earn it, can afford it, or can’t help it. It is actually a commandment of God – oddly enough, right alongside the biggies of not killing or stealing. In the top ten most essential things to live by in God’s view is this command to regularly and purposely stop doing. To rest.
Why? What’s the point of Sabbath?
First, Sabbath reminds us who we are.
Sabbath refuses to let us be defined by a lifestyle of slavery and relentless production. When you are just being and not doing, your worth cannot come from what you contribute.
You are more than what you make, earn, buy, sell, own, produce or do, Sabbath says. You are free.
Also, Sabbath as God commands it is when everybody rests, even the land! So my neighbor and my daughter and the kid who mows my lawn and my boss, and the person on TV who seems so important and essential, and the one in the war-torn, starving, forgotten place are all people, just like me. Loved by God, and caught in the cogwork of an overextended, under nourished life, just like me.
We are all God’s beloved children, and we are all made in God’s image– each one different. Each one with specific things that fill us with joy and satisfaction and express our true self and God’s unique delight in us.
Observing the Sabbath reconnects with one another and celebrates who God made us to be.
Sabbath makes us human again.
Resting on purpose reminds us who we are.
Secondly, Sabbath reminds us whose we are.
You belong to the God who brought you out of the land of Egypt! begins the Sabbath command. And this God who delivered you is the God who looked on creation and called it good.
God rested and enjoyed what God had made. And that rest in itself was part of creation’s cycle. And actually, rest is part of how God created everything on earth to function, you and me included.
We are made in God’s image and called to participate with God in the world. How can we do that if we never stop to rest?
We are actually supposed to enjoy what we are part of in this short life, and to call life good, like the God in whose image we are made.
We belong to God, the creator, sustainer, enjoyer of life.
When we stop doing and allow ourselves the space to be, things slow down and we notice. And we can see, sometimes in tiny, ordinary and surprising ways, God’s pervasive presence in the world and our own place within it.
And our capacity to praise our creator, and to delight in life, grows deeper.
God is God and you are not, Sabbath says.
And neither is any one of the thousand other things that would seek to dominate your life, clog up your mind, soak up your attention and eat up your time.
Outside forces can’t dictate the terms of your existence. Only God can.
And this is God’s world! So relax and enjoy what God has made.
Remembering the Sabbath reconnects us with God and celebrate God’s world.
Sabbath returns God to God’s place in our lives and returns us to God’s care.
Resting on purpose reminds us Whose we are.
The other nine commandments God gives the freshly freed take the people out of slavery. The Sabbath commandment takes slavery out of the people.
Three years ago this summer at Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church, we decided to begin intentionally practicing Sabbath rest as part of our life together, so we created a Saturday night service twice a month so we could take those Sundays as a Day of Rest for the whole community.
The guidelines we gave ourselves were: To try to do nothing from obligation. What do you enjoy that you never have time for? Do that. Are you alone a lot? Be with others. Are you overly busy and surrounded by noise? Spend some time alone and quiet. What will make the day different than your ordinary days? What will give you joy? We decided that for one day, we would pay attention to what our souls needed. For this day, we would try just being.
The first “practice” Sabbath Sunday in my house was strange and wonderful. I felt incognito, a little guilty, a little elated. We did what came to us. Read. Napped. Played legos, took a walk together. My 2 year old daughter and I ended up together in a big bubble bath filled with toys, that became for months after our Sabbath Sunday ritual. The day was a delicious conundrum. It stretched on forever. I cooked lunch instead of throwing pb&j on paper plates.
That evening we all returned to church to share how we had experienced the day. Walking into the room, I was stopped in my tracks by the feeling, a calm energy, a happy buzz.
We gathered together and people began to share.
Diane said “I knew I couldn’t do laundry, so I opened the paper and there was an article about the butterfly exhibit at the zoo. So I got in the car and drove there. And I spent the morning walking through the butterflies.”
Lois said, “I called my sister in law, whom I haven’t seen in a year, and she came over for brunch.”
Barb said, “I sat on the front porch with a cup of coffee and read the whole newspaper, from cover to cover.”
Norm said, “I walked around the lake, listening to birds and didn’t rush at all.”
I listened, amazed.
We had been talking for months about the gifts of Sabbath, the way God would meet us if we stopped long enough to be met. But here they all were, telling me that it was true after all.
Had I really believed it?
We are three years in now, and getting better at it.
Sabbath Sundays are both beautiful and frustrating. They’re beautiful because here and there, all over the city, individuals and families are purposely stopping. In some sacred “TIME OUT” we set down our doing to allow time for being.
But our Sabbath Sundays are also frustrating, because we are part of a people who has forgotten that we’re free, and we don’t remember how to rest. So the day is a little like a drug withdrawal. We might feel stir crazy, restless, a little guilty. We might judge ourselves as not holy enough because we can’t figure out the “right” way to Sabbath.
But frustrating as they are, these feelings themselves are a gift. They show us the slavery we normally live in and the freedom we’ve forgotten, and so we are invited to even offer the discomfort as a confession to God, receive it as a gift of awakening, feel it as a deeper invitation to rest.
So hear the message of Sabbath:
You are free and loved just for being you, and for no other reason.
Wholly apart from all you produce or consume, you are God’s precious child.
This is who you are.
And despite what everything around us would lead you to think, there is no God but God, the Creator, sustainer, enjoyer of life.
This is whose you are.
So I want to invite you to accept the gift of Sabbath.
Let God reconnect you with others and celebrate who God made you to be. Let God reconnect you with your creator and celebrate God’s world.
This week, set aside a day. Or if you need to start slower, a half day, or an evening, an hour early in the morning, and STOP.
Turn off your phone and the TV. Put your work in another room. Ignore the dishes in the sink and let the laundry wait for tomorrow.
Pause to hear the voices that compete to tell you who you are supposed to be
and let them go.
Listen to the lies that try to tell you what owns you
and let them go.
Close your eyes and look deep in your soul and ask yourself,
What would give me joy right now?
What does my soul need?
Look into the face of your kid or your partner, or call up a friend, and ask them,
What do you need to say no to today, to remember that you’re free?
Want to rest with me?
And then let God meet you at that place. Because God will.