Sunday, August 30, 2015

I Don't Do Nothing Well

You know how when you decide to fast or start a new diet, all you can think about is food? You know how you can sometimes hold out until around lunch time and then you decide this wasn't a good day to start and you'll try again tomorrow?

Or is that just me?

Yesterday, I experimented with Sabbath Rest.

It didn't go so well.

I woke at five in the morning and all I could think about was rearranging my bookshelves. I lay in bed for quite a while reminding myself that it was supposed to be a day of projects that had to be done. By 6:30, I was in the kitchen tearing everything off the shelves.

"It will calm me to have this project done," I told myself. "I can't rest when they're so messy."

That was just the start. Before I knew it, the shelves were tidy, the plums were drying in the dehydrator, and I was half way through the application process for a new business license.

I'm pretty sure starting a new business goes against the spirit of what a day of rest is supposed to be about.

There's something deep inside of me that says resting (think: doing nothing) is, at best, a waste of time, and at worst, an unpardonable sin. But God didn't call his people to do nothing, he called them to be still, to honor him and his presence among them. I don't do nothing well. Even if I'm watching TV, I'm probably folding clothes, pitting plums (did I mention we've got a bumper crop of plums?), or thumbing through recipes.

The day wasn't a total loss. In the midst of all the things that kept pulling me to busy-ness, I found a few reminders that the measure of a day isn't always in what you accomplish. Here are a few of those nuggets:

In the process of cleaning off the shelves, I found my book on spiritual rhythms and a book on celebrating Jewish holidays, both of which had chapters about Sabbath.

Because I hadn't prepacked my day, I was able to spend time in the kitchen with the young'un and teach her how to make pancakes.

I did some reading, much of it reminding myself what Jesus did and did not say about the Sabbath (more on that in a later post).

I find myself looking forward to next Saturday when I will set aside time to try again.

Photo credit: queercatkitten via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

Friday, August 28, 2015

Take a Rest

When I imagined what it would be like to observe and embrace a year of spiritual rhythms, I pictured it being like floating lazily down a river on an inner tube.

What I did not expect was that, less than two weeks into the experiment, I would slam full force into the brick wall of my own stubbornness.

It seems appropriate that, between MY new year and THE new year, I would visit the idea of Sabbath. This weekly pattern of work and rest copies the rhythm God used when he created the everything. It sounds so peaceful.

Or it sounded peaceful until I started reading what's involved. Keeping in mind that Sabbath is not about rules and laws, but about honoring God, here are some of the guidelines and the reasons behind them.

Principle: God rested from creating on the 7th day. We, too, should rest from creating.

Action: No creating anything. No writing, knitting, sculpting, composing, building. Let your creative side rest.

Resistance: I can't remember a day when I created nothing. Without that outlet, I am restless, fidgety, unproductive. (Ah, there's the rub. By definition, God was unproductive on the 7th day. So why does the very idea of it make me feel guilty?)

Principle: Don't light a fire on the Sabbath. Don't use heat to change something in any way.

Action: No cooking. No boiling water. And no driving since the car uses a spark to start the engine. Oh, and don't turn on any lights.

Resistance: The act of turning on a stove or turning the key in a car seem much less like work than making all the arrangements ahead of time to make sure I don't need to cook anything (apparently a crockpot dinner is okay if I turn it on before sunset on Friday) or drive anywhere.

There are many, many other rules for the Sabbath: No tearing paper towels or toilet paper (pre-tear to avoid this law), no using electricity, no using money, no telephones, no harvesting. All of these are supposed to bring us into closer relationship with God.

I'm not as interested in keeping every minutia and the Mishkan (the set of 39 principles to follow) as I am to explore and experience the sensation of rest. Jesus defined what that meant when he healed on the Sabbath, when he and his disciples picked and ate grain on the Sabbath, when he challenged the purpose of the Sabbath.

Don't expect to hear from me on Saturday this week. I'll let you know how it goes.

Photo via Visualhunt

Sunday, August 23, 2015

More Questions Than Answers

As I gaze ahead into the next weeks and months, I find I have more questions than answers. How will a year in the Torah affect me? What will I see that I've never seen before?

I can't possibly learn everything there is to learn, do everything there is to do, or read everything there is to read. That's the power of a yearly rhythm, that each year is a reminder of the years before, and a chance to discover something new. Almost everything this year will be new.

I'm looking forward to being part of a shared consciousness that takes place around the world as millions participate in the largest, longest group Bible study on the planet. For centuries, the Torah has been divided up into segments so that a reading of the scripture happens every week to cover Genesis through Deuteronomy in a year. All around the world, synagogues and certain churches read the text aloud. Jesus was part of this tradition when he stood to read in his home synagogue. (If you're wondering why he read from Isaiah, that came from a second set of texts from other books of the Old Testament which is read after the Torah each week).

Here are a few of the questions I am mulling.

Why does Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, fall on September 14, but Simchat Torah (the rolling back of the scrolls to the beginning of Genesis) doesn't happen Genesis until October 10?

Which holidays do we know Jesus observed? What did he do on those days? Did he stick to tradition or buck the system?

If God and the son are one, what will I discover about Jesus and I walk through the Torah this year? How will the vengeful God of the Old Testament and the Loving Savior of the New Testament meld into the One they have always been?

Will I find a Friday evening to Friday evening rhythm that feels natural or will I still function Monday to Monday?

Will I discover enough about God, his people, and myself through the year to keep my attention or will I be distracted by new ideas, new projects, and whatever happens to pop up in my path?

I am fully aware that I am stepping into a river of history. Whether I float or drown or get washed back on shore, the river will continue to flow without me.

Photo credit: Marco Bellucci via Visual Hunt / CC BY

Monday, August 17, 2015

Blowing the Shofar

A herald blast ushers in a holy day.

It opens the year of Jubilee.

It awakens the slumbering soul.

Listen carefully.

Hear the shofar trumpet the news of the Lord's victory.

Wait and see what the Lord will do.

Today is my birthday. It may not mean much to anyone else, but it's one of those days in my year when I look back over the past year and look forward to the next. Like a personal New Year's Day, it pauses me long enough to say, "What do I want to do next?"

In a word, plenty.

I am constantly setting goals, marking things off to do lists, and scribbling in new notes of new things to do. I have an ever-growing bucket list, an ever-expanding list of places I want to visit, languages I wish I could learn, books I want to read and write.

This year, one of my "goals" is to listen to the spiritual rhythms of the year as God designed it. From the contemplative beginnings of cleansing and forgiveness to the spring celebrations of deliverance and new life back to another new beginning in the fall, the cycle repeats itself year after year.

The new year starts in the western world on January 1. For the Jews, it begins in the fall.

For me, it starts today.

Photo credit: Government Press Office (GPO) via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA