Saturday, December 7, 2013

Sabbath: The Exhale of Creation

Well I thought I had posted this sermon before but apparently I didn't. This sermon was preached on Sunday November 3, 2013 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks.  The texts for the sermon are an except from Wayne Moyer's book Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest and the story "No Lists on the Sabbath" by Rabbi Marc Gellman.

As always I welcome your thoughts and comments!

Thank you so much for inviting me to be with you this morning.  Thank you for your warm welcome to me and my family.  I look forward to getting to know you better.

For a number of years now I have been reflecting on and exploring Sabbath and the development of my own Sabbath practice.  I have been thinking about it because the work of ministry includes working on weekends – traditionally days of rest from work. Since I have been job searching and living into working for myself rather than a specific congregation – I am finding it takes greater discipline to rest. I am coming to love this new model of work.  Yet I also know that I can be seduced by just doing one more thing, checking e-mail one more time, and it takes a truly conscience effort on my part to unplug, to set down the work, to stop.

I am also concerned about the state of our world, particularly families with children.  I see families pushed and pulled in all directions, two parents working, school, homework, extracurricular activities, and no time just to be, just to be together and enjoy each other.  I also get concerned because it seems that spiritual practice and a spiritual life becomes one more item on the very long to-do list and all too frequently it is the one that can fall off.

I am not alone in my concern.  Wayne Muller in his book Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, views our lack of rest, or constant “doingness” as a form of violence.  It is a way that we use up resources –  our own, other people’s (including those we love), the earth – and do so unconsciously because we are moving too fast to savor, enjoy, appreciate, notice.  Muller states:  “If busyness can become a form of violence, we do not have to stretch our perception very far to see that Sabbath time—effortless, nourishing rest—can invite a healing of this violence.”  (Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, p. 5) By taking the time to rest, we both refresh ourselves and remember the joy of work.

We have traded rest, time off, for more money and things.  For those in the business of transforming the world, the need is so great and seems to be growing.  Theirs may not be a quest for money and things but the urgency of the need makes it difficult to stop for there is always more work to be done.  All of us need to stop. Yet everything in the culture around us screams to keep going, keep buying, keep working, stay connected 24-7, whatever you do, do not stop, do not step back.  

Sabbath calls us to stop.  Just to stop.  It does not require elaborate tools or objects.  Our consumerist culture tries to tell us if we just have this coffee maker, or this couch or this bed, we will suddenly have the rest we are longing for and that our souls cry out for.  Yet the consumer culture lies.  Muller writes:
“Sabbath is a time to stop, to refrain from being seduced by our desires. To stop working, stop making money, stop spending money.  See what you have.  Look around.  Listen to your life.  Do you really need more than this?  That is, after all, what they are selling in the picture: people who have stopped.  You cannot buy stopped.  You simply have to stop.” (Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, p. 137)

Muller argues that catalogs and commercials sell us Sabbath.  They are selling the promise of rest but they cannot truly provide it.  I invite you to look around, to study commercials, ads and notice how they try to sell Sabbath.  With the holidays  approaching, there will be plenty of opportunity to see how the culture tries to sell us the rest, community and the peace so many are longing for.

Sabbath is about marking time as sacred--to set it apart.  In his book, A Day Apart: How Jews, Christians and Muslims Find Faith, Freedom and Joy on the Sabbath, Christopher Ringwald writes “On that seventh day, God ends Creation.  He ceases and He divides this one day from the others by marking it as holy.  After blessings things that He has created over six days, God now blesses time, the seventh day.” (A Day Apart, p. 36)  A blessing of time, the Sabbath is about entering into Divine time, a holy time…a time set apart.

Sabbath is linked to creation in the Hebrew Scriptures.  It is not just linked in Genesis as we heard in the story, it is repeated throughout the scriptures.  For example, in Exodus, “In six days God made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day God rested and was refreshed.”  Muller explains, ”refreshed…literally means God exhaled..  The creation of the world was like the life-quickening inhale; the Sabbath is the exhale.  Without the Sabbath exhale, the life-giving inhale is impossible.”  (Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, p. 36)

Our bodies know this sacred rhythm; nature knows it.  We see it everywhere when we pay attention, in music there must be a rest, a silence, a pause.  When one watches young children or pets, when they get tired or sick, they stop, they rest.  They don’t say I’ll go fetch the ball one more time or play one more game, they stop.  They exhale so that they can resume the inhale.  Too often, adults only learn it when their bodies simply won’t let them keep doing.  How many people only learn to rest, to take a break, when their bodies finally break down and force them to stop?  If we don’t chose to make time to rest, then our bodies will make the choice for us and I know that our bodies will not consult our calendars and to-do lists when they do so.

Jews have practiced Sabbath for thousands of years and I think have much to teach us all about it.   It is a challenging practice.   It is a practice of what is forbidden…work, kindling fire, carrying items – which in our contemporary times can include turning on lights, driving, cleaning, planting , weeding etc.  As the story tells us, there are no lists on the Sabbath.  The lists are put away, not because the work is done, but because it is Sabbath.

Sabbath is not convenient in the way we have come to think of it.  Sabbath in the Jewish tradition requires preparation and planning.  Yet in addition to all that is prohibited and restricted, there is an invitation to enjoy a specially prepared Sabbath meal, a nap, prayer, time with family and friends, lovemaking, and play.  It is a freedom from menial labor.  It is a day of blessing and thanksgiving.

In the Jewish Shabbat service on Friday evenings, Sabbath is welcomed in as a Bride with joy and celebration.  It is not dreaded as a list of what is prohibited (remember no lists on the Sabbath) but rather joyfully welcomed.  Candles are lit. Children are blessed.  Juice or wine and Challah bread is consumed.  It is both an individual family and communal practice.

Sabbath is sensual and connects with the earth.  We connect with our bodies and other bodies—through conversation, through touch, through really seeing each other and the world.  Sabbath is about being truly present to ourselves and to each other. Muller states “At our best, we become Sabbath for one another. We are the emptiness, the day of rest.” (Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, p. 183)

Sabbath is both personal and communal.  When we come together here in worship we are reminded that work and the tasks of day to day living are not all there is.  Here we sing, we have time in silence, we hear readings and hopefully we receive something here that we can take out into the world.  We are called to go deeper, to seek the holy, the sacred.  As we raise up our community joys and concerns, we listen deeply and hold those joys and needs in our hearts.  It is a way of practicing being Sabbath for one another.

So what might a Unitarian Universalist Sabbath practice look like?   For I believe deeply, that we as UU’s are in deep need of Sabbath.  As a people we are well-educated and hard working.  We are descendants of the Puritans who emphasized hard work and keeping busy.  They were also an austere people, fearful of too much sensuality.  Many of us are perfectionists.  Many of us want to transform the world and believe deeply that there is no one else to do it.  We are also people of the head who often need to be reminded to pay attention to the heart and to the body.

We can begin with worship.  Worship brings us together in community to sing, to speak, to be silent, to lift up the joys and concerns of our lives.  Worship is a spiritual practice…it gives us both affirmation of who we are and a challenge to go deeper.  Yet a practice requires commitment.  We have no one ordering us to be here, we have to choose.  It is not an easy choice for there is much to distract us…sports practices, shopping, sleeping, work, the internet, television.  I believe our children and youth are longing for Sabbath as well.  We are pushing “doing” younger and younger.  Extracurricular activities start younger.  The homework load is heavy.  In and of themselves, there is nothing wrong with any of these things, but all together they take up a lot of time…not leaving much room for stopping, for playing, for just being.

When we participate in worship, we do so with others and we set the example for one another.  We may say that our children, youth and young adults don’t want to come that it is boring.  Yet we need to model for our children and youth the value of religious community and we can only do that when they are here with us.  We need to model a different way of being at least for a certain period of each week.

Sabbath fits into our valuing of the earth.  Sabbath is tied to Creation.  The order to rest was not just given to the people…all of Creation was to rest.  What if each of us set aside some time each week where we didn’t drive? We didn’t buy anything.  Could that become a part of our greening … stopping, resting, playing.

I am also struck that the time is marked not just with rest and stopping.  Sabbath is marked by rest but it also makes room for all those things we just don’t get around to.  Playing with our children, taking a walk, sharing a meal with friends and family.  It is not all about being serious and somber. It is also about play and recreation – literally re-creation.  Sabbath does not have to be quiet to be Sabbath.  It can filled with conversation, with singing, with laughter!  The spiritual life is not just a serious and somber; it is filled with laughter and joy!  Ringwald describes Sabbath this way,  “It is a festival in and of time, freeing us from the shackles of clock time and thrusting us into the freedom of divine time.” (A Day Apart, p. 25)

It will not be easy.    It will mean saying no to some things.  It may mean that people will be annoyed with you…maybe even members of your family.  There will always be an “if only”.  As our reading reminds us we do not stop because the work is done, the work will never be done. It will not always be convenient.  It will require discipline.

Yet we do not have to do it all at once. We don’t suddenly have to adopt a 24 hour Sabbath.  We can begin with a commitment to coming to worship on Sunday morning.  Or we can begin with an evening without tv or the computer and dinner around the table with family.  It can begin with taking 20 minutes out of the day to notice our breathing, to read, to meditate.

So I invite you all into Sabbath..into rest..into stopping. I invite you into re-creation and play.  Develop your own practice filled with things you love but never make the time for – like naps, reading, making music, a long walk, a meal with friends and/or family.  Stop and take the time to notice what is around you.  Take the time to be and not just do.