Monday, April 18, 2005

Sabbath Rest

Richard Carlson, professor of Ministry and Director of Field Education at North Park Theological Seminary, spoke often in his classes about the importance of living according to the rhythm of the Sabbath rest. Not necessarily ceasing to do work on Saturday or Sunday, but recognizing that we need both spiritually and physically patterns of activity and rest. While I was in seminary this was not a point of difficulty. I meditated regularly, Kate and I would make time to go to poetry readings, Sunday worship (since I was not working at a church while in Seminary church was not yet work). clubs and art openings. Patterns of rest and rejuvenation were not foreign to me. So at the time Richard's exhortations did not hit home and seemed a little unnecessary, though I did take it to heart and was encouraged that I in fact was able to have such a rhythm. I actually did not understand at the time that practicing Sabbath rest was difficult thing to achieve. Part of this had to do with the fact that up and until graduating from seminary my life had either been fairly simple or governed by the patterns of academic life, which has patterns of work and cessation work built in. I unlike many of my colleagues was able to live into that pattern and with meditation and taking time for art, painting poetry film and music, allowed me at the time to live into patterns of Sabbath rest without effort.
Free of the academic rhythms, it has become increasingly difficult to enter any sort of pattern of Sabbath rest. This is especially so now that Sunday and weekends are work days as a pastor. I am continually astounded at how much energy it takes to lead even a small congregation in worship even when that leadership is shared between three pastors. I am especially exhausted after preaching. On top of this my living space is itself a ministry, this intentional Christian community. It is work to live as a community, it is work to give it leadership. Simply being home is no longer automatically restful as it was when Kate and I lived alone.
Now I am coming to understand and am very thankful for Richard's emphasis on the rhythm of Sabbath and the need for patterns that allow us to leave aside work and rest in God as the source and energy of the work we do.
I preached yesterday at Reconciler and so woke this morning particularly tired and struggled to get out of bed to pray morning prayer. As I prayed though and gave this weariness to God, and I was reminded of the need to rest in God. I Remembered that I had worked all weekend. Saturday I spent cleaning the communities kitchen and finishing preparations for my sermon. Sunday was spent preparing for and leading worship and preaching. I was reminded that the community keeps the hours of prayer in part for the need of patterns and rhythms of activity and resting in God. When I keep the hours when I allow them to pattern the activity of my day, I am more rested and generally (not always) have more energy.
The principle of Sabbath rest has to do with acknowledging the source of our life and all we do as being in God. The psalmist exhorts us to be still and God will give us the desires of our heart. The divine office is one way the Church offers to us the pattern of Sabbath rest. We come before God sit to hear God's word to pray to meditate, to set ourselves all we do and all are cares on God.
We cannot do it all, even what we want to do we in the end will not have the energy to do with out God. Our activities our work our vocations and avocations can end up being likeprofesor Grady Tripp's novel, in the film Wonder Boys. At one point he simply says of his couple thousand page single spaced manuscript, "I couldn't stop writing." He was exhausted ,his life and art had become chaos. I am like Grady at times "I can't stop". The temptation, with all that seems to be on my shoulders, is to simply plow forward waiting for the end of the novel that never comes. The Sabbath, the divine office and the patterns of the monastery of work and prayer remind me that I can stop. I can stop what I am doing and rest in the one who will give me the desires of my heart. The one who is the creator and shepherd of my soul. I forget at times and I don't put down what I am doing to pray, but our rule the divine office calls me back to God and the principle of Sabbath rest.
Now, I understand Richard Carlson's insistence on Sabbath rest, I am now very thankful for the reminder of what I would need to know in the life of ministry.
May you find your rest in God, and find that source of your desires and dreams. May we all learn the true meaning of Sabbath rest.

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