“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.
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.
When I was a Bostonian (or just-outside-of-Boston-ian), randomness was one of life’s essentials. Due to the brilliant construct of the MIT campus, the great ol’ Massachusetts Avenue divided the campus between the student life section on the west side, where most of the dorms, gym, and student center were located, and the academic buildings on the east side. When my classes and research work were done on a random weekday, but before the problem set marathon, I would come out of 77 Massachusetts Avenue in the late afternoon and many times, instead of crossing the street to head to my dorm, I would turn left instead and walk toward Boston.
Upon turning, the Boston skyline across the Charles River would immediately be in sight. I would walk across the river, which would take about twenty minutes one way, and simply enjoy the breeze and the sight of a big body of water. When the sky was clear and blue, it would be very close to what I’d call perfection.
Usually, after I got to the other side of the bridge, I would simply cross the street and walk back. On a freer day during vacation, I would extend the walk into the city, walking along Newbury Street, crossing the Boston Public Garden and Boston Commons, even going as far as Government Center and Little Italy. For what reason, you may ask? Well, nothing particularly, except for the simple pleasure of walking and savoring the moment. I loved the fact that I didn’t need to go anywhere, didn’t need to do anything, and I could just…be.
Sure, the one-hour detour or the Boston loop may heal a case of a cluttered brain, or increase the oxygen intake in my blood stream. But these functional reasons were not really why I went on a walk. I wanted to enjoy the walk not for what it could do, but for what it was.
I believe in enjoying life. I believe in extracting as much joy as I can in various simple pleasures, and walking is one of the ways I find that enjoyment. The air, the surroundings, and the people – I get to experience all of that when I move at pedestrian’s speed.
As I get older, this type of spontaneity becomes less and less accessible. But I still believe in its importance. Perhaps it requires more intentionality in carving out time for enjoyment, especially amidst the numerous tasks that we need to do.
“There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.” Ecclesiastes 2:24
Perhaps because the verse is sandwiched between Solomon’s “all is vanity” litanies, I used to read it in a more bitter tone: things are going to be gone and destroyed eventually, so just enjoy them while they last. But read in an optimistic way, the verse says quite a different lesson: don’t worry that things won’t last, just be grateful that they are here now. Take pleasure in food, enjoy your good labor – these are gifts from God.
Sometimes I think about how I would be remembered, should my life end. In a busy world that puts much value in working, I actually don’t want ‘hard-working’ to be the first thing people think about when they hear my name. Instead, I want to be remembered as someone who enjoys life and everything that I do, someone who lives with joy.
How fitting it is that Sabbath is here, a day to be savored not because it serves as a relief to the week’s burden or weariness, but because of what it is – a time to be.
“There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord… The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath)