Sabbath(ing): spiritual de-activity

Twenty-two years ago this June, I arose at about 4am and carefully slipped out of our Denver hotel room so as not to wake Connie or our sleeping 18 month old. I drove into Rocky Mountain National Park and hit the trail before the sun was up. I crossed over the treeline and scrambled over the final boulder field  to arrive at the summit of Twin Sisters Mountain before lunch!  Pockets of snow and ice hid in the shadows of the boulders and crags.  I felt on top of the world! I prayed with my eyes wide open, prayerfully framing the space to open my soul up to God. Come, let’s sing out loud to the Lord! Let us shout with joy to the rock of our salvation! Come before God with thanksgiving and shouts of joy!  The earth is in God’s hands; the mountain heights belong to our Creator, whose hands formed the earth! Psalm 95.  Where are your holy spaces- places you have met God?

The mountaintop became my cathedral. Framing the space with prayer, I noticed something hidden in the rocks I have not forgotten. There at 11,000 feet, where trees can’t grow and there seems to be nothing but rock, beautiful little wildflowers greeted the sun. The flowers grew in patches of grey sandy gravel between the boulders.  The summer sun melts the winter’s snow until the night’s wind freezes the cold puddles making icy levers that grind the massive rocks against each other to create soil. From the soil, water, light and seed comes a symphony of resurrection and life!Where, Oh Lord,  can I go from your Spirit? If I take the wings of the morning and find rest on the farthest shore, You are there? If I say, “Surely the night will cover me… You are there! (Psalm 139)

And yet, it is possible to sit on top of that mountain, hear birds singing, or hold someone you love and not lose yourself in wonder, love, or praise!.  We can feed hungry people, welcome strangers, and even preach the Gospel and not see Jesus in the faces of others.  Meditation, sabbath de-activity, and waiting are a kind of dying to self (dying to our cravenness for motion and consumption). Our sabbath deactivation that frees us to find ourselves. Sabbath teaches us to be present in the moment: to wait. 

Wowed by big events: Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost we might miss Jesus’ instructions in Acts 1: I wrote concerning everything Jesus did and taught from the beginning, right up to the day when Christ was taken up into heaven… After Jesus’ suffering, Jesus appeared over a period of forty days, teaching the disciples about God’s kingdom. After a three years internship with Jesus, the Risen Lord  puts the disciples through a 40 day refresher course about God’s kingdom before ascending to heaven.  It reminds us of Jesus’ forty days of praying in the wilderness before beginning his ministry.  Luke notes :  Jesus ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Creator had promised. Wait for the Holy Spirit.  Wait 40 days, do not leave until the Holy Spirit empowers you.”  We like to be doing things, achieving things, making things, consuming things. Waiting for the Spirit-Sabbath keeping- framing space and time for the sacred is counter-cultural, not marketable, nor formulaic. 

It is easier to claim sabbath space atop a mountain summit than in life’s unpleasant lowlands. We may need to deepen our spiritual fitness to find God in the lowest tides of our lives.  One of the lower tides of my life was when my father was dying of cancer. I was the family member who could sit in dad’s room for hours on end as he slipped away. I got a lot of work done- shifting from offering dad comfort to silently typing away on my laptop. Still at times, dad’s suffering and my own loss overwhelmed me. I have learned to wait: to do good and pray “expecting nothing in return”. (Luke 6)  So looking up in a mess of anger, love and grief, I began counting the IV towers. I decided to frame my inner space in unvarnished prayer.  Journaling with words was too hard… so I doodled. I sketched the beeping IV pole  with great detail then moved onto my dying dad. His face, gaunt, thinned by the chemo, beard carefully trimmed struck me as a kind of Job. Sketching the room helped me dwell in that hard space. As I added the wall for background I spotted a cross. We were in Central Baptist Hospital. And then I saw the cross in every right angle: the white board’s corners, the door frame,  the tile lines… I filled my journal page with crosses cradling dad. The Crucified One stood with me as I tried to claim space with my journal.“Surely, Christ is acquainted with our suffering and knows our grief”  

Frame the space you dwell in with prayer.

Sabbath practises cultivate the holy. Sabbath gives us eyes to see the sacred in ourselves, nature and others.  Mother Teresa says “without silence it is impossible to hear from God… Not even God can fill what is already full”

  1. Weekly and daily Sabbath breaks our normal routine. 
  2. Sabbath claims and  frames time, space, and our thoughts for sacred pursuits. 
  3. Sabbath is intentional so make an impromptu sanctuary wherever you are. I You might find a special view, sit in a certain pose, make a cross in the pebbles, draw a heart with sidewalk caulk or use prayer beads… but  claim space to wait for the Spirit. 
  4. Silence inner noises. Open your eyes, ears, and heart to the Scriptures and Spirit. I sit outside most mornings in silence, often on  yoga stool, eyes wide open, ears attuned to the birds! 
  5. Dwell in the prayer, prose and poetry of our common faith. We have an on-the-go lectionary worship pack!
  6. Go forth from worship to help heal the world. 

Do not leave but wait for what God promises. Wait for the Holy Spirit.  Do not leave until the Holy Spirit empowers you. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit… You will be Christ’s witnesses from the place where we are now, to the next town you enter, and then on to the next place, and so on all the way to ends of the earth.”  Jesus’ ascension promise in Matthew is much the same: Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”  God is with us, all around us, be still, practice sabbath; see Christ working in others and in the world. 

 The pandemic has scattered us. Social distancing has saved lives but siloed us from each other. We can connect to our livestream anywhere we get a signal and watch the service anytime during the week. That convenience is a beautiful human innovation, a god-send that has helped keep us safer.  In these hopeful days of an effective vaccine, some are now able to catch up on travel, family, and so much we have needed to lay aside for the sake of our common good. In this liminal season, between lockdowns and the unknown emerging post pandemic world, let’s wait for the Spirit. Let’s avoid the cultural rush to fill every space so that we can “get back to a normal” that was deadening us with endless activity, productivity, and entertainment. Let us claim time for the sacred and frame space  for the sacred! Let us learn to be present where we are! Let us wait for what the Creator has promised!  Let us wait so that we might receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon us and we move out with the Risen Christ to the end of the earth.”  
This morning, as I reread my sermon, I wondered what would’ve happened if the disciples had rushed into church activity? What if they had not waited for the Holy Spirit’s flow!  Would they have seen Jesus ascend on that mountain, or would they have missed seeing Jesus in a flourish of Church activity? Come Lord Jesus teach us to take our rest in you, so that nourished by the Spirit we might go forth to help build your kindom on earth as in heaven. Amen

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