Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sabbath Practices

On the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend, we celebrated worship around the theme of rest—an all too often rare experience among many of us in the congregation. There are many demands on our time that seem to fill up more than 24 hours every day! The theme of Sunday’s service, besides being related to the Labor Day holiday, arose out of a devotional time that Pastor Greg offered at Council in the August meeting. He began by asking if everyone had enjoyed a restful summer. It was clear by our responses that rest was the last thing we had enjoyed lately! In fact, we were feeling more frazzled than ever in recent months.

The purpose of our “Sabbath Service” was to provide a space where we could come to rest in the embrace of the Divine. We hoped to experience a still point in the week and to provide a counterbalance to the stresses, pressures, and demands in many of our typical weeks.

But to emphasize rest or Sabbath in worship is not to engage in escapism from the real world. Quite to the contrary, Sabbath is a radically countercultural and even prophetic concept. In a culture that demands productivity, acquisitiveness, and 24/7 consumer activity, Sabbath’s stillness stands in stark contrast. There is something in that stillness that reminds us of our need for the Sacred. But when we are running ourselves ragged, trying desperately to keep up with everything required of us, we too easily slip into the delusion that everything depends on us. Even worse, when we are so busy we can’t think straight, there ceases to be any ‘us’ at all: everything seems to depend on ‘me’—and we forget not only how much we need God but also how much we need one another.

One of the dangers in a worship service that celebrates Sabbath was that it would result in folks feeling guilty at not “making time” to rest; that is, Sabbath becomes one more demand on our already bursting full schedules! Rather than experiencing Sabbath as an invitation from God to wholeness, we end up experiencing it as a judgment or an unrealistic, idealistic expectation.

The differences between invitation and expectation are all too often blurred beyond recognition. How often have we received invitations to parties, invitations to serve, invitations to give that were really expectations in disguise?

There is a gentleness to invitations that sometimes gets overcome by the harshness of expectations. The trick is to try and go beneath the surface of the rough waters of expectation and see if there is a quiet, more peaceful current that runs beneath. That peaceful current is God drawing us in toward health, wholeness, hope, and joy. This is the feeling of invitation.

Sometimes we need the rough waters to disturb us enough to want to dive under the water. The struggle comes in when we think the rough waters are all there is.

But how do we avoid talking about Sabbath in very abstract, conceptual terms without giving a sense of what Sabbath looks like. How can we practice Sabbath?

The curious (miraculous?) thing about Sabbath is that the more we engage in the practice, the more time opens up for it.

If you think you might be experiencing an invitation to Sabbath, here are a couple concrete practices that might interest you.

  • Set aside five minutes every day for yourself. Light a candle, if you wish, as a way to mark these moments as separate from the rest of your day. As you light the candle, you might wish to say silently or aloud: “Jesus Christ is the light of the world; the light no darkness can overcome.” Sit in silence for five minutes. You might want to repeat a phrase that helps to focus your mind: “Holy Spirit, I breathe you in.” or “Jesus, meet me in this space.” or “Holy One, illumine my day.” or “I give you what I can’t bear.” or “Help me listen to you now.” Or any other prayer that emerges from your heart. Keep it simple though. You don’t need to create a grocery list of needs for this prayer. After five minutes, say thank you to God for accompanying you in that time and throughout the day. Extinguish the candle at the close of the time.
  • If you can’t yet set aside five minutes a day just for prayer, you may wish to take a moment while you take your daily shower or bath to acknowledge the presence of the Holy One in your life and world. You could sing a phrase from a familiar hymn or song. “Jesus, I adore you. Lay my life before you. How I love you.” or “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. And all these things shall be added unto you. Allelu-, Alleluia.” or “Day by day, day by day, oh dear Lord, three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.” or “What does the Lord require of you? What does the Lord require of you? To seek justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”
  • If you have internet access you might want to set aside about ten minutes a day to pray at your computer! One website sponsored by the Jesuits in Ireland offers a gentle, structured, scripture-centered prayer experience which you move through at your own pace. You can find the site at http://www.sacredspace.ie/.
  • Another website you can visit offers mp3 files that feature music, scripture, and brief, open-ended questions to guide you through your prayer. Each session lasts between eight and twelve minutes. You can listen to these directly from your computer, if it has speakers and a broadband connection to the internet. Or you can download the files (a week at a time) and listen to them on your ipod while you’re going about your day. This website is sponsored by the Jesuits in Britain. You can find it at http://www.pray-as-you-go.org/.
These are just a few suggestions of concrete Sabbath practices that can help you get started if you feel the desire to do so. But they are not requirements. You are not failing if you don’t do them! And they may not work for you. Something else will, though. Ask around and see what other folks do that works for them.

We will be returning to the theme of Sabbath on occasion throughout the year ahead. So we invite you to pay attention to how you experience these Sundays. Where is God’s invitation in your life? Toward what is God’s gentle current drawing you?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Come, Let Us Worship!

Gathering together in worship is what makes my heart sing. And to do so at Shell Ridge causes my heart to sing all the more! This is why I was truly delighted when the Council asked me to take on a larger role in planning worship and providing spiritual growth opportunities at Shell Ridge over the next year.

One of the most common questions I’m asked when folks find out I’m a Baptist studying liturgy is: Why?! It’s a fair question! Many Baptists will be quick to tell you that we are nonliturgical. By this we mean we have a lot of freedom when it comes to worship. We don’t use prayer books. Our orders of worship are not set in stone. We tend to value extemporaneous prayer over written prayers. We can try new practices on for size and jettison old ones that don’t speak to us anymore.

This is precisely one of the big reasons why studying worship as a Baptist makes sense! With great freedom comes great responsibility. And Baptists truly have a great responsibility, indeed, to learn what we can about why we worship the way we do, what meanings we find in worship, how we come to know God in worship, and how worship affects the way we are as Christians in the world.

As you begin the new year at Shell Ridge the Worship Ministry Team invites you to consider joining us in planning worship throughout the year. We would love to have you join the team either for the entire year or for a short-term commitment to plan a special season or service. Also, if you have any interest in serving as worship leader please let Karen DeWeese or me know! The more people we have involved in the planning and leading of worship, the more organic (and fruitful!) our worshipping together will be.

Also, we are always interested to hear how you are experiencing worship, what you value about worshipping together, as well as if something isn’t working for you. We are eager to have the lines of communication open!

There are also plans in the works for an exciting and engaging year of Adult Sunday school and small group study opportunities. Any ideas or thoughts you may have about these occasions are more than welcome!

We are truly excited about the upcoming year at Shell Ridge. The Spirit of God is moving among us. May we open ourselves to God’s gentle fire!