Sunday, August 22, 2010

On Mini-Sabbaths

In the 1980s, while I was at seminary, the professor of pastoral care had a great one-liner: “People came to seminary to become Godly, and often ended up somewhat Lordly instead.” It is so true, so often, for so many of us, and it’s always been that way. We, the church, the people of God, still tend to get caught in Lordliness as much as the religious establishment in the Gospel for today,

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”

That response takes the focus away from what had been a story of a woman being healed, removing the yoke, satisfying the needs of the afflicted, opening to mercy, healing the wounds of time, and that Lordly response confronts us with the wrong kind of religiosity, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, and the narrowing of Sabbath, time set aside for the most intentional refreshment recollection and renewal, whittled down into a time when certain things just shouldn’t be done,

But what should be done, what is the right way to live into the Sabbath, to remember our lives belongs to God? Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote” "Living is not a private affair of the individual. Living is what I do with God's time, what I do with God's world." But how do we get there from here, into God’s time from the nonstop noise and numbers of our increasingly busy world? How do we remember to keep the Sabbath as a time and place we remember the big questions and the bigger answer?

My working hunch is that you start with something small and do it often. When the poet Rilke was asked, “How do I learn to love?”, he replied, “Start small: love a rock for a little while, then a tree, work your way up.” So instead of keeping a day a week to honor and remember and recall God and the who where and why of it all; maybe we just can take a few minute every day, perhaps a few times a day, for a mini Sabbath, starting small.

One of the best ways to do that is the Lord’s Prayer. Almost everyone knows it, lots of people say it every day already, we say it a little later in the service. But if we said it several times a day, taking a little time for it in our daily ritual as an exercise in sacred time, it might stretch Sabbath into the middle of everyday, everywhere: to remember the who and where and why of God’s time, God’s world.

Listen to how the prayer begins:

“Our Father in Heaven” is literally close to “Dada of the Universe.” And what does that say? That the realm of the prayer is both so big, before the sunrise beyond the night, beyond all the black holes and supernovas and any notion of space and time: and yet still so intimate, that this great God invites us to call out  “Abba,” like Dada, or Mama for that matter. Common and close as the father or mother of a newborn babe, close enough to trust, close enough to call out to under any circumstances, at any time, That God could go that far yet come that close has to make us pause, begins take us to the realm of Sabbath.

Then there are three imperatives that we call for and proclaim: First, may your name be hallowed, holy, may I keep my understanding of your name, your attributes, your power, beyond my tendency to manipulate, beyond my business day trips, and nighttime fantasies may I keep your holy knowing beyond all my profane imagination. Instead may your kingdom, your values, your vision, your compassion and justice and love come and may your will be done, here, on Earth as in Heaven, and (here’s the clincher) may I be part of that ongoing liturgy, work, action.

That part of the prayer is weaving the world into one, into our daily lives, and weaving us into the world of saints, pilgrims of Sabbath times of all times: like Mary, “Be it unto me according to your word,” like Francis, “Let me be an instrument of your peace.” commissioning us as part of the great call and ministry of mercy, of creativity, as part of the ongoing work of God, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, Nicholas Berdyev wrote that “we are the eighth day of creation. And it starts right here.

That is a stretch, but the genius of the prayer is that it takes up from there to the starkest necessities of human life together, to being children of earth.

“Give us today our daily bread.”

Food can mean so many things, it can be junk food, or feast, both nature and nurture, it means refreshment and fuel, ecology and economics, connection and company, The bread we eat, the wine we drink means grapes and water: yeast and fat and oil and wheat mixed and kneaded, warmed and transformed, many backs have been bent; many hands have stretched out over the seasons to give us food at our daily tables. Many have gathered to ensure this harvest to make that daily bread rise.

And when Jesus says, “This is my body, this is my blood!” He is saying I am willing to be known in this Eucharist, and I tell you I will be here, but prepare to meet me in the entire world, because in my love I have taken up with the body and blood of all humankind and all creation. This bread and wine are means of my love to you, but I mean to love you in everywhere, in everything, in everyone! Give us today our daily bread, let us know who we eat with, and how and why!

So in Sabbath we learn to celebrate God meeting us in the particulars of our own flesh and that of our neighbor, our lover, the stranger, the enemy, God is coming to meet us in the wideness of the whole world, and that means we need to be careful: because the prayer is taking us into tough territory, maybe the most difficult part of being a Christian, following Jesus, living this prayer.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us

I was in my thirties when it hit me that how you judge might be the way you will be judged, and if God were only just, than that might be all we can expect; but there may be more in the Sabbath. For Sabbath means rest and renewal and forgiveness and a new beginning; it is best if we can participate in that creative renewal fully, and let everyone else do so as well. And that means participating in God’s forgiveness fully as we participate in the rest of God’s creation, even when it’s tough, and letting people, even people who’ve sinned against us, all poor captives, be forgiven, go free, to seek their own Sabbath.

Then the second, “Lead us not into temptation (Save us from the time of trial) and deliver us from evil.” Nobody wants to go there, but the glory of the community of the church, when we gather in that place where sabbath makes an end and God grants a new beginning, to the week and to the world, is that we find out we all go there, even God goes there. Everytime we gather as the church, when we pray, when we share peace, when we eat the bread of life, the cup of salvation: someone is dying, someone is born, someone’s in trial and someone’s been tempted, someone’s found peace and someone wakes to glory. This is the way of God, where we share in the cup of salvation given by the one who knows all about it, who will carry us all the way home right through the time of trial, , like a mother hen, like a just and faithful king, like the ruler of the universe.

So wisdom adds the ending like a coda: “For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours, Now and Forever” and the prayer ends close to where it begins, deposits us not far from where we started, but now changed, by remembering the close caring and compassion in which we are held, recalling where we come from, where we’re going and the one who meets us on the way, who is our Lord and our God. Amen

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