Sabbath: The Pause in the Rhythm of Creation

Sabbath: The Pause in the Rhythm of Creation

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.

 

Wayne Muller writes in his book, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives,

 

“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.

 

Consciousness of Time: Wisdom in the Sabbath

Consciousness of Time: Wisdom in the Sabbath

“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[1] 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.

 

Sabbath

 

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[2],

 

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.

 

[1] I’ll use their first names here to make the post more personal instead of academic.

[2] Read the whole interview with Robert John Aumann here.

 

Photo by Johnny Loi

 

I Asked for Wonder

“Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.” ― Abraham Joshua Heschel

How would you describe this moment: standing on a precipice, you view the extensive terrains made up of lush green meadows, forests, and blue streams. Or at this time of the year, the orange and red leaves that signal winter’s coming. How would you explain what happens when in silence, you watch the evening’s sun sinks into the horizon? Perhaps this word would do for now: Wonder.

Heschel would describe these as moments when one comes face to face with the ineffable, moments when we part with words.

Awesome though they may be, I thought that these moments are like birthdays. They come rarely (only once a year), far in between, and you can’t ask for it. Until I saw that quote above, I never thought that I could ask for wonder.

But when one has the God of the universe as Friend and Father, why couldn’t one ask for wonder? It’s like saying to God, “Impress me.” Why, of course He’ll do it! Talk about a guaranteed answer to prayer.

A few years ago I made up a list of 10 things I like about God (part one and part two). This was my number 5:

5. God’s Mysteriousness

God is mysterious and His ways are past finding out. I like how there are many, many things that I don’t know or understand about God. He keeps me curious and amazed, and I can actually ask Him to amaze or make me wonder, and be in for a real ’whoa’ experience.

Romans 11:33 – Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unfathomable (inscrutable, unsearchable) are His judgments (His decisions)! And how untraceable (mysterious, undiscoverable) are His ways (His methods, His paths)!

Job 9:9-11 – Who made [the constellations] the Bear, Orion, and the [loose cluster] Pleiades, and the [vast starry] spaces of the south; Who does great things past finding out, yes, marvelous things without number. Behold, He goes by me, and I see Him not; He passes on also, but I perceive Him not.

This post is my gratitude for the little surprises God had for me everyday this week (which is number 4 on the list). I don’t have to wait until I get to a mountaintop or the beaches in Bali to bottle up wonder and store it in memories. I can have a dose everyday, for to wonder is to worship. And far more incredible than to wonder at the grandeur of His creation, is to wonder at God Himself.

Ask for wonder. You’re in for a real treat.

Sunset In My Rearview Mirror

…is the view I get when I head home from campus. I have come to associate it with the peace of homecoming, the quietness of a day’s end, and the coming rest. It is especially precious on Fridays. On this particular Friday, this certain poem seems to match the mood of my day, my week.

Intimate Hymn

From word to word I roam, from dawn to dusk.
Dream in, dream out — I pass myself and towns,
A human satellite.

I wait, am hopeful, as one who waits at the rock
For the spring to well forth and ever well on.
I feel as bright as if I tented somewhere in the Milky Way.
To urge the world to feel I walk through lonesome solitudes.

All around me lightning explodes sparks from my glance
To reveal all light, unveil faces everywhere.
Godward, onward to the final weighing
overcoming heavy weight with thirst.
Constantly, the longings of all born call out, “Is anyone around?”
I know each one is HE, but in my heart there writhes a tear;
When of men and rocks and trees I hear;
All plead “Feel us”
All beg “See us”
God! Lend me your eyes!

I came to be, to sow the seed of sight in the world,
To unmask the God who disguised Himself as world–
And yes, I wait to be the first to announce “The Dawn.”

– from “Human, God’s Ineffable Name,” by Abraham Joshua Heschel

Happy Sabbath.

The Bridge to Eternity

The Bridge to Eternity

Twenty six plus years of being a Sabbath keeper are not enough to exhaust the multifacetedness of this holy day. Perhaps nothing less than eternity will suffice. Sitting in my Sabbath School class last week like a good Adventist, and catching up on the week’s lesson in class like a Badventist, I was kicking myself for not studying it earlier. It was so good! The author of the lesson, Jo Ann Davidson, brought up important lessons on the Sabbath that I never thought before.

The Great Equalizer

In the 10 Commandments, it is written:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. Exodus 20:8-11

On the Sabbath day, we are to rest along with those around us, namely family members, those who work for us, animals that work for us, or guests who are at our disposal. Davidson writes:

The entire family household, including any servants of either gender, the working class along with the “boss,” are to rest together. Sabbath is the great equalizer, the liberator of all inequalities in the social structure. Before God, all human beings are equal, and the Sabbath is a unique way of revealing this crucial truth, especially in a world so dominated by class structures that place various groups “over” or “beneath” others. Glimpses of our God, Sabbath School Quarterly Jan-Mar 2012, Lesson 7.

Mind-blowing! The Sabbath liberates all men and women, and animals too. When we say the Sabbath is a memorial of creation, it not only reminds us of the God who created the heavens and the earth, it is also a memorial of that perfect world that God made and one day will restore, a world where all men, women, and animals are free.

In that world, every son and daughter has full access to God as the Father, there is no master over you, and there is no master over any animal. No one is a stranger, and no one is at anyone else’s disposal, except at His who is the Source of all things. Every living thing rests, relies, and depends on the Creator alone.

In another place Davidson writes, “[Sabbath] is a day for healing and restoration,” and how true that is. By keeping the Sabbath day, humanity is restored to what it is meant to be. We get to experience glimpses of that original creation and be brought back to that perfect world.

Repairers of the Breach

Isaiah 58 then came to mind; that chapter whose promises in verses 13-14 are so dear to Sabbath keepers (i.e., those who call the Sabbath a delight are promised to ride upon the high places of the earth and receive the heritage of Jacob), but whose verses 1-12 don’t… sound… as… sweet.

The Pharisees gave Jesus a lot of heat for healing people on the Sabbath. They wanted Him to be pious like them in keeping the Sabbath, down to every nitpicky detail of what entails as work or rest. But that was not the point of the Sabbath.

Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Isaiah 58:5.

The Sabbath was not made to burden men, but to set men free.

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to lose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Isaiah 58:6-7

These things sound awfully similar to what Jesus would do on the Sabbath. No, they were exactly what He did. He went about doing good, freeing men from the bondage of sin and suffering. He healed and restored them on the Sabbath day. He brought them back to the condition akin to that at Creation – perfect, healthy, free, sinless/forgiven men and women.

And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day. And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones, and thou salt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in. Isaiah 58:10-12.

These things sound awfully like Jesus. They were exactly what Jesus was on earth: His light rose in obscurity, He was guided continually, His soul was satisfied in drought, He was like a watered garden and a spring of water whose waters did not fail. People drew strength, love, and much more from Him and He never tired. He built the waste places and raised up foundations of many generations. He was the Repairer of the breach.

What breach? There was a breach to the perfect world that God created that yielded the world that we live in now with its oppression, sickness, and death. The breach is called sin.

As He healed people, He restored humanity and repaired that breach. He brought to earth something like that world with all things good and perfect. In fact, His death and His rest on the Sabbath day in the grave was the ultimate repair of the breach, giving sinners access to God and setting them on a path towards restoration.

These were why all the things Jesus did on the Sabbath did not break the commandment. They were all in fact in the spirit of the Sabbath – healing, liberating, restoring, recreating humanity.

These are also why it is perfectly within the perimeters of keeping the Sabbath to do good for humanity. In fact, the Sabbath is the very means to override that breach of sin.

In the spirit of the Sabbath, a spirit of restoration and healing, let the world draw out our compassion for humanity and let us act on it. Following Jesus’ example, we are too are repairers of the breach, and let us bring glimpses of eternity to this earth.

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