Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
This is the season of Pentecost, of honoring the presence of the holy spirit among us. And this is our now annual season of Sabbath at Lyndale, Sabbath summer, when we make intentional time to rest and hone our spiritual practices. The last few weeks, the convergence of these two seasons has been tumbling around in my head and my body and my soul. What can we learn by honoring Spirit and Sabbath together? What do they have to do with each other?
But before we get all theological, let’s just pause for a reality check here. Yesterday Rev. Rebecca and I were both at the Minnesota Conference of the UCC Annual Meeting in St. Joseph Minnesota – she is still there. We had our staff check-in while walking the surrounding corn fields and breathing in the dusk air. I looked at her and said, um, I feel like a total hypocrite preaching on Sabbath tomorrow. She laughed, not at me but a deep, knowing kind of laugh. Neither of us have been obeying the commandment of our scriptures that call us to Sabbath practice. Both of us are just a wee bit bristly about any concept of obeying. But we both know, we know there is a reason the Sabbath day is not just a passing mention, but a full on commandment by God. Because without holy rest to reconnect to divine source, we are ripe for burn out – each of us, especially those of us who feel a calling to heal and repair the world.
One of my mentors of sustainable living and justice-seeking is a man I only met through his books – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. He is best known in our circles for calling us to “pray with our feet,” as in to protest as an act of prayer. He walked the frontlines of the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s arm in arm with Rev. Dr. King. But what sustained his justice practice was his prayer practice, more specifically his Sabbath practice. He wrote in his now classic book, The Sabbath, “What is the Sabbath? Spirit in the form of time.” (Heschel 75)
I love that theological poetry. This is the connection between our two seasons – Pentecost and Sabbath, spirit and rest. Sabbath – the day of rest God commands each week –is divine, IS in and of itself an incarnation of Spirit. We are usually taught to understand God in entirely personalized images or entirely ethereal concepts. But Time. Let yourself sit with that idea. Time in and of itself can be the presence of the Spirit.
How often do we think we have to be in a certain place, like a church, to experience holiness? Or think we have to show up to worship looking or feeling a certain way to know God? Or think we have to be with the right people who believe the right things – the stuff we believe- to get close to God? All of those ideas go out the window when we think of time in and of itself as containing the possibility of rest and reconnection with the Divine.
Heschel continues: “With our bodies we belong to space; our spirit, our souls, soar to eternity, aspire to the holy.” This is the glory and the struggle of being incarnate, embodied beings. When I’m sick or in physical pain or just entirely exhausted, sometimes I joke I want to hang up my body like a dress in my closet and just take a break. Bodies are both our greatest source of pleasure and pain – which means they can be exhausting. They also have a habit of needing things. And collectively they have a terrible track record of seeking dominance, ownership and hierarchy. Our souls, on the other hand, enliven our bodies. They connect us to the divine within and beyond this realm. They are like a wifi hotspot to the divine, the eternal.
Sabbath is the time the two – body and soul – commune. As I’ve become a parent and realized how finite my energy and time actually are, I’m realizing that Sabbath practice is, to put it crassly, a bit like the password needed to actually connect the body to the proverbial wifi network of the divine. You can’t get there otherwise. Another way of putting it is that it’s time we make to remember that we are not just humans seeking spiritual experiences, but as the French mystic priest Chardin famously said, “we are spirits having a human experience.” Sabbath is the rhythm of renewal required by the heart of our scripture: “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”
“Even when the soul is seared, even when no prayer can come out of our tightened throats,” says Rabbi Heschel, “the clean, silent rest of the Sabbath leads us to a realm of endless peace, or the beginning of an awareness of what eternity means. Eternity utters a day [we call the Sabbath].” (Heschel 101). Sabbath is a window onto the eternal experience of the soul in God’s time, kind of like training wheels for eternal rest.
I’ve just spent a significant time explaining how important Sabbath is spiritually. But let’s come back to reality. Like I said, I am REALLY struggling to make time for Sabbath in my life. The work of a minister, a people-pleasing two on the Enneagram, a new parent means I have a pleathora of obstacles to living a Sabbath-rich life. But as I was preparing this sermon earlier in the week, I sat down with a my friend Rabbi Arielle from Shir Tikvah congregation and we talked about her practice of Sabbath individually and as a part of a Jewish community. Sabbath is critical to her tradition and her practice. AND, she said, “Sometimes you just have to make a 5 minute Sabbath.” True rest. Not just stopping and numbing with Netflix. But Sabbath as divine encounter. 5 minutes. There is no excuse. We can all make 5 minutes to pause and plug our souls into the divine source of life and renewal. So as I close, I want to teach you again a simple prayer practice that can be your 5 minute Sabbath practice daily. It’s called centering prayer.
Here is the practice (in the words of Contemplative Outreach):
1.Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
3. When engaged with your thoughts,* return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.