Entries in rest (4)
Dan Allender loves the Sabbath. That much is clear. I appreciate this. As one who does not observe Sabbath faithfully (at times I engage in outright rebellion), Allender's love for this ancient practice kindled my own. The Ancient Practices Series has had that tendency, as on the whole I have greatly enjoyed these volumes.
Within this installment Dan Allender writes in clear, enjoyable prose concerning the practice of Sabbath. I devoured this book in a couple of days, and after I had put it down, I was eager to return. With three clear divisions (Sabbath Pillars, Purpose, and Performance), the reader is shown theological and biblical foundations for Sabbath observance, the reasons this practice has been given, and how this day can be most deeply enjoyed. Throughout his book, Allender quite thankfully avoids a bland description of Sabbath, and instead opts for the language of pure delight, play, and abundance. Allender also avoids legalistic prescriptions, and rather inspires the imagination for how Sabbath might be engaged with the totality of one's being.
Despite the fact that I read this book quickly, and on the whole found it enjoyable, I did find it lacking in a couple of ways. First, this book did refer to the biblical foundations for Sabbath practice, most notably the fourth commandment. But as has been true of more than one volume of The Ancient Practices Series, I found the level of engagement with Scripture lacking. What significance did Sabbath practice have for the people of Israel? And, for those in the Christian community, in what way did Jesus challenge Sabbath practices and open up new possibilities for Sabbath observance among those called as his disciples? Such questions deserve attention, for the Scriptures serve as a foundational and critical narrative for the establishment of these practices in the life of the Christian person.
As another critical observation, it was quite clear that Allender made a choice to avoid discussion of the Sabbath that focused too heavily on our need for rest in a world addicted to work, hurry, and busyness, a move that took something away from the overall value of this volume. Though teachings on Sabbath commonly take this angle, the value in stressing rest as a gift to be received as part of our life rhythm clearly remains, and all signs within American culture (and perhaps others, but I speak from my location) tell us this lesson has yet to be learned. Allender does nod in this direction, but does not treat this aspect of Sabbath fully enough.
Simply because Allender's love of Sabbath is contagious, I would recommend this book. The shortcomings I have noted do not outweigh the potential benefits this book could bring. Allender describes this practice as something to be cherished, and I believe that his description, in many ways, provides an uncommon lens through which to see God's good world that includes his gift of Sabbath.
When a lull hits in the spiritual life, people look for a cure. Why does God feel so distant? Why can't I reclaim a previous experiential connection to God? Why is it that my faith, which once felt so vibrant, has taken an apparent recess?
Oftentimes, pastoral counseling in the face of spiritual dryness or depression amounts to more regularity in public worship, more commitment to the spiritual disciplines, participation in a small group, taking up a new Bible study, or engaging in acts of social concern. And all of these things, in and of themselves, are good. They may serve as a cure. But they may not.
A surprising truth may be that we are doing too much, rather than doing too little, causing our spiritual life to suffer.
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in a sermon entitled "Weary in Well Doing" observes well that a critical step in diagnosing the reasons for spiritual depression is self-examination. One must get to the root of the problem. And while it may be the case that there is presence of sin or the failure to discipline oneself in the practices of the Christian life, the cause may also be sheer exhaustion. Lloyd-Jones states:
You may be in that condition simply because you are working too hard physically. You can be tired in the work and not tired of the work. It is possible that a man has been over-working--I do not care in what realm, whether natural or spiritual--and has been over-taxing his energy and his physical resources. If you go on working too hard under strain you are bound to suffer. And of course if that is the cause of the trouble, the remedy you need is medical treatment.
Extending pastoral counseling to another person, or to oneself, may require the offering of the choice to stop doing, rather than to start doing. We live in a culture of over-work, having neglected or obscured the value of the discipline of rest. If you feel exhausted and far from God, pause and reflect if the neglect of the physical, bodily dimension of your personhood is the root. It may be the case that altering the rhythm of your life and incorporating rest may serve as the needed course correction, allowing other Christian spiritual practices to then flood and nourish the soul. We are embodied creatures, this much cannot be denied, and in order for the soul to thrive, the body must be properly tended. Christianity, inclined to gnosticism, has too often forgotten this truth.
During the final three weeks of January I took a break from my day job to focus on another kind of work. For the past few years I have been working toward the completion of a Master's degree at The University of Kansas in Religious Studies. My focus has been religious ethics, and the topic of my thesis project has been the debate in The United Methodist Church on human sexuality in general, homosexuality in particular. My task has been to map the landscape, identify points of disagreement, critique the terms of the debate, and to suggest possibilities for the future of the discourse. If you know anything about religious studies as an academic discipline, you will know that arguments cannot be made theologically. Therefore, I'm outside of my passion, and, as an insider (of sorts) within Methodism, I have faced a conundrum of sorts. In no way have I attempted to solve the problem within the church, though my conclusions might help others working on the issue. My study has been fruitful, I believe, and after plenty of manuscript work, I think I'm nearing completion of an initial draft. At that point, the future will be determined by my committee.
My break from my job with the bus company was good. I was able to focus my thoughts, crank out some words, read and research my topic further, and solidify the direction my study was heading. This has been a blessing. The work that I'm doing is incredibly hard, not only because it relates directly to the Christian community of which I am now part, but because those that engage with the topic hold such deep and passionate convictions. I haven't brought up my area of focus too often for this very reason, as any discussion on this particular matter takes care, time, and patience. It's more complex than anyone might realize, and therefore isn't something that can be discussed in passing. Space for conversation is needed, listening is required, and a willingness to reason together is critical.
After spending time primarily within the realm of ideas, it was good to return to my work. I still have to solve problems at work, but the problems aren't quite as complex.
While I took my time off, I couldn't help but wonder if there were others who had the freedom and flexibility to do the same. Most of us take vacation, but in those cases the goal is to relax. During my sabbatical from bus driving, my objective was to write and research. In doing so, I was refreshed and renewed for my work, both in the form of my day job, and in my efforts to blog, research, and continue to write. It is as though I was able to reserve some energy to then pour forth upon my return to the normal rhythm of my life.
If you're able, I'd recommend taking a sabbatical, of sorts, with some regularity. Perhaps it is five minutes of doing absolutely nothing at the end of the day and allowing your mind to go where it will so that your thoughts can naturally evaluate and gravitate toward new ideas. Perhaps it is an entire day where you put aside your regular routine. Or perhaps it is like my case, where I took a full three weeks from work to shift gears to something else entirely.
Give it a try.