All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full, says the King in Ecclesiastes. To the place from which the rivers come, there they return again. Vanity, he exclaims, because everything is temporary. I wonder if this was a lamentation or a poetic expression of his observations. In the eyes of an incurable optimist, however, as I am, the metaphor takes on a different light.
Isn’t it a wonder that the sea is never full? All the waters lead to the sea and yet they come back to us. They are transported to where they started, and round and round they go. As they ride in their atmospheric carousel, along the way, they bless all kinds of living things. The soil is dewed and refreshed, the trees drink freely, and the thirsts of creatures and mankind are quenched. Nutrients get transported from one place to another and dirt gets washed away. I am sure glad that the waters move and travel, even though they return to the same place over and over again.
Imagine riding a water molecule, witnessing the trajectory of its life cycle on this planet. The places it visits, the people it sees, the calamities it may take part in—these would make quite a story. When it ends up in the sea, the sun may kiss it and lift it up to the sky. It may get frozen there to return to earth or it may retire in the Arctic.
In an age of declining fresh water resources, I treasure this water cycle from land, sky, and sea as the largest desalination process our world has. There’s much good and meaning in this blessed movement.
The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it arose. The wind goes toward the south, and turns around to the north. The wind whirls about continually, and comes again on its circuit. The sun may be doing the same thing every day, but boy, what would we do if it decided to not arise. How would we miss its warmth and light, and its life-giving power. The wind that goes from north to south carries pollens for the trees, moving animals and humans here and there—a life in transit.
Transience, it seems, is the essence of life. Life moves, and I think it is good that it does so.
The Rhythm of Nature
Nature hums in a rhythmic fashion, and we, humans, are still part of this dance no matter how much we exert our controlling powers. There’s a rhythm that we cannot escape—the rain that falls on us, the flight-delaying weather disruptions, the seasons that happen to us—we are subject to these things. One could take it as a depressive state, being trapped by nature, or one could instead surrender to the rhythm, understanding that it is much better to enjoy it rather than fight against it.
Part of this rhythm, the cycle of life, is rest, a period of dormancy, recuperation, and restoration. The land needs it to continue producing food, animals need it to survive through winter, and mankind needs sleep, among many other examples.
“We are strong and capable people, we can work without stopping, faster and faster, electric lights making artificial day so the whole machine can labor without ceasing. But remember: No living thing lives like this. There are greater rhythms that govern how life grows: circadian rhythms, seasons and hormonal cycles and sunsets and moonrises and great movements of seas and stars. We are part of the creation story, subject to all its laws and rhythms.”
“When we rest, we can relish the seasons of a moment, a day, a conversation… To surrender to the rhythms of seasons and flowerings and dormancies is to savor the secret of life itself.”
This dance of coming close and withdrawing, of giving and receiving, is the essence and joy of living. It is a principle of life, as expressed in The Desire of Ages by Ellen White:
“There is nothing, save the selfish heart of man, that lives unto itself. No bird that cleaves the air, no animal that moves upon the ground, but ministers to some other life. There is no leaf of the forest, or lowly blade of grass, but has its ministry. Every tree and shrub and leaf pours forth that element of life without which neither man nor animal could live; and man and animal, in turn, minister to the life of tree and shrub and leaf. The flowers breathe fragrance and unfold their beauty in blessing to the world. The sun sheds its light to gladden a thousand worlds. The ocean, itself the source of all our springs and fountains, receives the streams from every land, but takes to give. The mists ascending from its bosom fall in showers to water the earth, that it may bring forth and bud.”
White continues to liken this principle with the character of the Godhead in the Bible:
“In these words is set forth the great principle which is the law of life for the universe. All things Christ received from God, but He took to give. So in the heavenly courts, in His ministry for all created beings: through the beloved Son, the Father’s life flows out to all; through the Son it returns, in praise and joyous service, a tide of love, to the great Source of all. And thus through Christ the circuit of beneficence is complete, representing the character of the great Giver, the law of life.”
Sabbath: A Time to Receive
The Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, is synonymous with rest. As such, its inclusion in human life is incredibly appropriate. It is the dormancy to activity, the withdrawing to assertion, the restoration to production.
Going back to Muller,
“Many scientists believe we are ‘hard-wired’ like this, to live in rhythmic awareness, to be in and then step out, to be engrossed and then detached, to work and then to rest. It follows then that the commandment to remember the Sabbath is not a burdensome requirement for some law-giving deity—“You ought, you’d better, you must”—but rather a remembrance of a law that is firmly embedded in the fabric of nature. It is a reminder of how things really are, the rhythmic dance to which we unavoidably belong.”
To stop on the Sabbath when the sun sets on Friday evening requires a surrender, a certain trust, that things won’t fall apart when we’re not attending to them. This stopping can generate anxiety, because we may have been convinced of our importance and responsibility for six days. What if I don’t check my email? What if something goes wrong? We may think we’re indispensable.
Yet honoring the Sabbath is an art of quieting ourselves from these anxieties, a reminder that the world will not likely end because we stop for a day.
“We stop because there are forces larger than we that take care of the universe, and while our efforts are important, necessary, and useful, they are not (nor are we) indispensable. The galaxy will somehow manage without us… enjoy our relative unimportance, our humble place at the table in a very large world. The deep wisdom embedded in creation will take care of things for a while.”
The Earth has been here before us and will be here after us. That’s something we can take comfort in.
A Kind of Nostalgia
The Sabbath is meant to bring a kind of nostalgia—hence the words, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”—of another world in another time. The book of Genesis narrates that mankind was created last, when the rest of creation was finished. Adam and Eve came when the world was already done, to a finished world, and their first day was to be the Sabbath. In it, there was enjoyment, trust, and surrender, because God had done the creative work, and nothing unfinished depended on them.
The Sabbath today carries this memory from Eden. A glimpse of paradise, I’m convinced, because we too can trust the same power that created and sustained the universe to take care of everything for one day. We too can rest, and be carried away in this rhythm of creation.
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“Where did the time go?” we often ask, and no matter the frequency of this conversation, it’s never boring, because we feel its truthfulness each time. Blink once, it’s Monday, blink twice it’s Thursday, and so the weeks, months, and years pass by.
Age, I hear, accelerates this experience, and I can probably agree. It took forever and a half to reach age 10 and another half to 17. But to the observing adults, my aging probably did feel fast. They certainly talk about the flying time with more intensity.
Mathematically, it’s been explained that the ratio of a fixed amount of time, say, a year, to the total length of our growing lifetime will only diminish, hence the increased speediness. It’s perfectly rational. I like rational. But, if the math is the real cause of the experience, how scary is that? It means life will only move faster and faster, like a runaway train that’s gone out of hands. Is there nothing to be done about it?
A Glimmer of Hope
Reading Oliver Sacks’ Gratitude and Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air tells me that there may be a way out. Written when their authors were cancer-ridden—the first, a collection of essays written during Oliver’s last two years of his life and the second, written during the two years between Paul’s diagnosis and his death—both writings seem to know how to slow time down.
Faced with the finiteness of their lives, these authors mastered the art of living consciously (isn’t this why time feels fast—it goes by and we are not conscious of it) and thus put a break to the speeding train of time. The writing certainly feels that way, and in reading their words, my time too slows down.
Consciousness of time, I think, is the kindred subject that occupied both men, evaporating the near half-century gap between their ages. Linked to this is also the fierce quest of meaning and the evaluation of their lived years.
Confronting mortality, humankind is forced to reflect. What of my life? Has it been good, meaningful? Am I contented with who I am? And in reflecting, time is recaptured, somehow.
Whether intended or not, Paul and Oliver’s writings have this recapturing effects on me. Their sense of sacredness in the time they had left produced words that grace their readers with wisdom. Yet, is this gift only possessed by those close to death’s door? I’m not dying–not that I know of, at least–and I too am covetous of this consciousness of time.
Oliver’s last and poignant essay was titled “Sabbath,” published in the New York Times two weeks before his death last August, and one that was very important to him. As his days were closing, he found his thoughts drifting back to the Sabbath.
And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.
After abandoning his Jewish faith and heritage for decades, Oliver recalled one Sabbath celebration in 2014:
The peace of the Sabbath, of a stopped world, a time outside time, was palpable, infused everything, and I found myself drenched with a wistfulness, something akin to nostalgia, wondering what if: What if A and B and C had been different? What sort of person might I have been? What sort of a life might I have lived?
I wonder if the Sabbath was made so that humankind would live, in the deepest sense of the word, with consciousness of time. The gift of rest in the Sabbath surpasses the physical realm into the essence of life itself. This infusion is not automatic—I’ve lived Sabbath to Sabbath my entire life and I know that Sabbath too can be busy—but it is a space and time carved out to stop and reflect each week. Did I do well? Was I good? Did I do things that matter?
Robert John Aunamm, 2005 Nobel Laureate in Economics, said in an interview that Oliver mentioned in his essay,
The observance of the Sabbath is extremely beautiful, and is impossible without being religious. It is not even a question of improving society—it is about improving one’s own quality of life. For example, let’s say I’m taking a trip a couple of hours after the Sabbath. Any other person would spend the day packing, going to the office, making final arrangements, final phone calls, this and that. For me it’s out of the question. I do it on Friday. The Sabbath is there. The world stops.
After the ceremony, Robert John told Oliver, “had he been compelled to travel to Stockholm on a Saturday, he would have refused the prize. His commitment to the Sabbath, its utter peacefulness and remoteness from worldly concerns, would have trumped even a Nobel.”
Peacefulness and remoteness from worldly concerns. What would it look like to live, entirely divorced from even the privilege of winning a Nobel Prize. It seems like Robert John estimated the prize very differently from most people; something else mattered to him more. Perhaps it was an understanding of ultimate things—what is the most important thing in life, what matters most, things we usually understand when death is nigh, when time is short.
Perhaps the Sabbath is like speed bumps, preventing life from being overrun by the train of time. It is a reminder to be conscious of time, like a balance by which everything is scaled against eternity. The things that exist in the Sabbath realm are the things that matter in eternity—they will always matter—like family, friends, love, reflection, peace with God and peace with self. Everything else can take a pause, irrelevant for one day.
I’m writing this at the entrance of a Sabbath. For the next 24 hours then, I’m going to live with consciousness of time.
 I’ll use their first names here to make the post more personal instead of academic.
 Read the whole interview with Robert John Aumann here.
This post was featured in Joseph Nally’s blog last year.
When you open the front cover of a book, you symbolically open a door to your mind. You are letting the author of that book to enter your being and make changes there.
Reading is a form of transaction. You are giving the author—stranger, friend, or foe—a piece of your life, your time, and your thoughts. The author has the opportunity to make claims, explain them, and persuade you to think like he does. In exchange, he is offering you enlightenment, new knowledge, new line of thinking, or perhaps just an opportunity to exercise your brain and refine your thoughts.
Reading is a form of communion. But it is not like any other hangout session as we often have with our friends and acquaintances. Only those in our innermost circle get the license to hearing our deepest thoughts and convictions for an extended amount of time.
In reading, however, you and the author have access to each other’s deep convictions for hours at end. You can’t cut each other’s sentences or rebut thoughts instantly. The luxury of time allows you to understand the other side much more, if you let him finish his thoughts to the end of the book.
Reading changes you. Consciously or not, your mind changes slightly with every book you read. You may conform to the author’s ideas or reject them. In either case your mind will take a different shape than when you first began.
Which is why a Christian should take care when choosing his reading materials, for he may end up conforming to a shape contrary to what he intended. Because of the intimate communion that takes place in reading, the author will always imprint a certain character of himself to the reader.
Yet what better way it is to spend a piece of your life with the Book that contains the Word of life. The Bible, when read with awe and respect, opens up a communion with an Author who transcends matter, time, and space. It is a mind-to-mind communion with God, the Creator of the universe. Who better than Him to transform and change you? Whose ideas are better to agree with? And whose mind is better to mirror than God’s? Any other book, even a Christian one, must needs take a lesser rank.
Visit many good books, but live in the Bible. – Charles Spurgeon
I belong to a community of faith—the Seventh-day Adventist faith—that is presently having its quinquennial, worldwide conference in San Antonio, TX. I am not in San Antonio, but I too want to celebrate my identity. So here are the reasons on why I love being an Adventist.
I love being an Adventist because it gives me a sense of identity as an individual and as part of a people. It sheds light on who I am in the eyes of God and on humanity in the eyes of God. The elaborate plan of salvation as shown in the sanctuary system tells me the high regard that God puts on human souls, and the length and depth of His efforts to redeem a seemingly hopeless race.
Moreover, being a Seventh-day Adventist tells me where I am in human history and subsequently, my role here on earth. It comes with a high and ambitious mission that requires every talent and dedication.
Sanctity of Time
I love being an Adventist because it teaches me the discipline of quietness and rest. The gift of the Sabbath, the sanctity of time, tells me that humanity is not here just to do, but also to be. More importantly, to be with God. Silence and stillness is not easy to master, especially in a hyperactive world, but the Sabbath comes every week, wooing me to practice and enjoy true rest.
This precious time provides a space for awe, reverence, and wonder in my life. And I have come to believe that a life without wonder is an unhappy one. The moments when I am overwhelmed with beauty and grandeur are most refreshing, and in the Sabbath, a door is opened to access the wonder that is God.
I love being an Adventist because I have many opportunities to be reminded of my relationship with God in tangible ways. The opportunities come whenever I eat (or don’t eat), drink (or don’t drink), and work (or don’t work). I love that a relationship with God is not just a mental assent, but is a day-to-day reality. I learn that any loving relationship has requirements, and the fulfillment of these determines whether a relationship grows or deteriorates.
I love that God has something required of me, among which are to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with Him. It elevates my existence and dignity as a human being, knowing that I can do something to please God. He is not indifferent to my works.
Everything I do and don’t do, every initiative and restraint, is an opportunity to say “I love You” and that “You are Lord over me.” It infuses every aspect of life and gives meaning to the daily, sometimes mundane, things.
I love that Adventism demands something of me. A faith that is not worth giving all is not worth having, and a commitment without requirements is questionable. Adventism believes something more in me, calling me to a life that’s not ordinary, and I gladly respond, Yes!
“Academic excellence combined with spiritual excellence.” “Higher than the highest human thoughts can reach is God’s ideal for His children.” These are the ideals that we hold so dear. Following the examples of Daniel, Joseph, and Nehemiah, we desire to achieve and maintain the highest standard in our work so that God’s name can be glorified. Naturally, the enemy will not be happy with these efforts. I want to take some time to write, hopefully as an encouragement, about a trying experience that I believe those who strive for excellence are (most) susceptible to.
Everyone loves the days when the sun is out, the air is fresh, the flowers are blooming, and you just got an A on a test. Or if you’re not an undergraduate anymore, you can replace the A with a successful interview, a word of affirmation from your superior, an accomplishment at work, a thoughtful deed from a friend, an impactful Bible study, a successful event, or any other triumphant moments or instances when you receive a token of appreciation. But I want to talk about the days when these things seem to be miles away. I’m not talking about the regular, mundane, and uneventful days; I’m talking about days when the reality is polar opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. These are days when your effort is never enough, when self doubts arise, and when you feel like a complete failure both in deed and in character.
In moment such as these, there is a voice that starts out faint but grows increasingly loud in your head that you can’t seem to ignore. The voice sounds something like this: “What kind of student/worker/minister are you? You can’t do anything right. Your school work is falling apart. Your ministry is not having any impact. You say you want to glorify God, but how can He look good if you’re being such a failure? You say you believe in excellence, but look at your mediocre school work. Your spiritual life is an unpracticed theory, and you’re not even a decent person. Nothing about you is excellent.”
Have you heard these words before? I most certainly have. In fact, I’ve heard it more than once in my life, and the more I strive to be the best that I can be, the louder these voices seem to be. How did a quest for excellence turn into an endless fall to the mire of self?
The number of times that this voice appears is not the real issue. The real issue is whose voice I thought it was. There was once a time when I thought this was God’s voice. He helped me realize that it wasn’t, and that He loved me even before I discovered my own faults and weaknesses. I know enough to believe that He’s not a condemning God. But as this phenomenon occurred again and more intensely so, I realized that I thought it was my own voice, that I was condemning myself.
Once was a week when I basically went down this spiral, worse than ever before. It was again, the week when I saw “Passion of the Christ.” What struck me powerfully was the scene of Jesus praying in Gethsemane. Lucifer was there. Funny, I always pictured Jesus praying by Himself. Of course Satan was there; it was the most crucial moment of Jesus’ mission! There were two things that Satan whispered in Jesus’ ears as He called the Father’s name and as the Father withdrew His presence from Jesus, “Who is your father? …Who are you?” I gasped as I heard those words being uttered and it gave me the chills as I thought to myself, “I’ve heard that before. That voice sounds familiar.”
It grieved me to realize that I had been listening to the enemy’s voice more than God’s. Yet, I felt so liberated because as scales fell from my eyes, I finally saw that it was not my voice that condemned me. It was the enemy’s. It was comforting to know that this phenomenon is actually a temptation, and Jesus did not succumb to it in Gethsemane. It is not humility when we doubt the identity that God has invested in us. When Jesus did not feel God’s presence, when everything around Him did not testify that He was the Son of God, when His own countenance was so marred that even Lucifer himself looked more majestic than Him, He believed. His faith clings on to His identity which the Father had revealed from before, and praise Jesus, He clings on to His mission.
The Bible tells us in Revelation 12:10, And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. Accused. That was exactly what I felt. The enemy of the soul was accusing me.
The verse before tells us that he deceives the whole world. I was deceived – Satan was the last person I thought of when I heard those voices. In Zachariah 3:1-7, there is a vision of Joshua the high priest in front of the judgment of God.
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.
In front of the judgment seat of God, we have to face our life’s record. May we remember that none of us lives unto ourselves.
The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”
The accuser does not have the last word. God has the power to rebuke Satan. When God chooses someone, no one else can contend with Him. He said Joshua was a brand that He plucked from the fire.
Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel.
Only in verse 3 does the Bible give the detail that Joshua’s garment was actually filthy. But apparently it didn’t matter to God. He still was a brand that God plucked out, dirty though his garment may be.
He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him” Again he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.”
God then did not leave Joshua in his dirty garment, as He does not leave us in our iniquity. He takes it away and clothes us with new garments, garments that we cannot get by ourselves.
Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the LORD was standing by.
When God clothes us, He does it completely. He does not do a shoddy job.
And the angel of the LORD admonished Joshua, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘If you will walk in My ways and if you will perform My service, then you will also govern My house and also have charge of My courts, and I will grant you free access among these who are standing here.
After all of that, then comes the bidding. Remain in my ways, and greater things are in store for you.
Oh the beauty of justification by faith: to be made right in the presence of God! What more grace can God bestow upon us?
So, to my fellow believers in excellence, when you hear those condemning voices, know that you have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. Satan may accuse you of many things and all of his accusations may be true, but God has a stronger claim upon you, and He takes our filthy garment and replaces it with His garment of righteousness.
Revelation 12:11, the verse right after Satan was identified as the accuser of the brethren, says, And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
There is a way to overcome. It doesn’t say that we overcome by consoling ourselves that we’re not that bad. Neither does it say that we overcome by working so hard to attain that excellence back. The key to overcoming is Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The blood of the Lamb justifies us, and we should never stop testifying this good news. God has made a way for sinners to be His children, and there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Rom 8:1).
Don’t listen to the voices, look to Jesus, and keep getting up.