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/.
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?