Note #1: In this service we had a rhythm of reading scripture, having a mini-sermon, and then trying one of the practices together. We did this three times. You'll see the three sections as you read through the "sermon."
Note #2: Also, there are soooooo many good resources for rest and Sabbath and I totally gathered from here and there for the practices listed below. I especially relied on Wayne Muller's Sabbath and MaryAnn McKibben Dana's Sabbath in the Suburbs.
And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.
But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.
Mark 1:32-33, 35-36
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him.
Alone. Withdraw. Deserted. In our very connected world, these almost seem like dirty, sad words. But they are words about Jesus. They are words about how Jesus lived his life sometimes. They are words about how Jesus kept moving and getting through his ministry. They are words that often led to prayer. Alone. Withdraw. Deserted. They are good things. They are human things.
Do we allow ourselves, as humans, to be alone? To withdraw from things that exhaust us? Do we provide deserted places where no one can reach us except God and our own thoughts?
Just like Jesus we need time alone, time unconnected, undemanded, unplugged, and private because just like Jesus we live in a busy world with needs and people and community and work. Just like Jesus we need time to sort through our thoughts. We need time to pray. We need time to be still. We are humans, just like Jesus.
And if you need more convincing I’ll highlight some of the benefits of rest and quiet from my sermon two weeks ago. In rest, our brains can make sense of our experiences. In rest, our brains can work on things like empathy, level-headed decision making, and creative solutions. In rest our bodies are able to fight off infection and keep away the common cold. If you read the or listened to the podcast about sleep from NPR this week you were probably convicted of your poor sleeping habits--perhaps because lack of sleep is intimately related to alzheimer's and shortened life spans and failing creativity. Yikes.
So our first set of practices that we’re going to look at today are practices that help us set aside time to be alone and to be quiet. Think, what would Jesus do.
Practices for being alone and quiet:
We’re starting our list of practices today thinking about prayer. We have a whole prayerbook that has been used for thousands of years sitting in the middle of our Bibles--the Psalms. There are prayers of celebration in there, prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of lament and frustraction. If you have an emotion--it’s probably in there.
Or maybe you like to write letters or emails--write one to God. Or think of a simple prayer you can repeat. The most ancient is Jesus, have mercy on me. But you can think of your own.
Another practice of rest and quiet is lighting candles. This is how families who keep Sabbath begin their Sabbath--they light a candle to welcome in the calm and the rest.
Or silence--from specific things like a ding on your incoming email or the sound you hear when you drive outside of the Perimeter. Or being quiet yourself--don’t speak, don’t analyze, don’t trouble-shoot. Just be quiet.
We talked about how amazing meditation and mindfulness are a couple weeks ago. One of the things you work on during meditation is your breathing--the first gift we ever received from God. Take a moment or a few moments and breath.
Sabbath Pause is something that Wayne Muller talks about in his book titled Sabbath. He talks about a village where the head monk will ring a bell every now and then throughout the day and everyone is expected to stop, take three breaths, and then continue in their day and work. Just a pause to bring you back to God and to yourself.
Practicing gratefulness is a lovely way to rest--because then you get to rest in the beauty and goodness of God. Write a list of things for which you are grateful.
The last two take less explanation. Go for a walk. Leave the destination up to chance. Just walk and tend to the sights, sounds, and smells around you.
And last, although this list could go on and include things like napping, but last on this list is creating art. Perhaps it is coloring in those adult coloring books or making a small altar out in the woods of things you find. My favorite artist who does this is Andy Goldsworthy. Do something creative.
Like I said, this list is just to get you going to give you new ideas--there are so many we could think of together. This morning we are going to practice one of these on the list--lighting of candles.
For our moment for mindfulness today, we’re going to take some time to be in silence. Reflect on your week. What hurt this week? Where did you go wrong. Where were you wronged? Also, what joy did you experience? In whose face did you see the face of Jesus?
Come up and light a candle to remember your week. And as you sit down, remember that God is that ancient fire that can burn and not consume. May these candles remind you of that power and that love.
Reader 1: They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. (Mark 1:21)
Reader 2: Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. (John 9:14)
Reader 3: On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. (Mark 6:2)
Reader 1: When Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read. (Luke 4:16)
Reader 2: Jesus went down to a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the sabbath. (Luke 4:31)
Reader 3: One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grain fields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. (Luke 6:1)
Reader 1: On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught. (Luke 6:6)
Reader 2: On one occasion Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath. (Luke 14:1)
Reader 3: Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. (Luke 13:10)
Being alone is not the only way to experience rest and Sabbath. If we look at what Jesus did on the Sabbath, most of the stories are about community.
Jesus was in the synagogue a lot on the Sabbath. Synagogue in the Greek can mean either a gathering of people or a place of assembly. The Jewish synagogue in the first century was all of these things and more. In both Palestine and the Diaspora, the synagogue was used as a school, a hostel, a gathering place for meals, a court, a place to gather and distribute items of charity. It was a place to read together, and interpret religious texts, it was a place of worship, and communal prayer. This place of activity was where Jesus spent many Sabbaths in our Gospel stories and participated in many of the synagogue activities listed above. He taught, ate, healed, and prayed with others. And he didn’t only do these things in the synagogue on the Sabbath, he was with people in their homes and fields as well.
Resting, stopping or giving ourselves a break from day-to-day activities does not mean we are always alone or that we should be. Sometimes our most joyful rest comes from the presence of people we love, from learning from others or seeing Jesus face in their face. Sometimes we need a break from the isolation of our weeks or our work. Sometimes we keep Sabbath holy by breaking bread with each other. Let’s look at a few practices that open up this type of space.
Practices of Rest in Community
Many of us love to read novels or stories and have been changed by this practice. There is a reason--story-telling is a sacred thing. So much is expressed in a story, both in what is said and what is not said. Maya Angleou says that “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” Listening to and telling stories is a holy thing and it can be a beautiful spiritual practice as you are looking for ways to slow down. Listening to someone’s story, bearing witness to someone elses story also provides them with rest.
Another practice I love is the practice of blessing people and things. Blessings can simply be saying out loud the holiness of something or someone--acknowledge that there is something sacred present in a person or place. It can also be a time where we say our hopes for a person. For example: May you be happy. May you be at peace.
Making love is a way to rest in the holy gift of God in another person.
Also, sharing meals together. So much happens during a meal when you’re sitting around a table. Rest in that good company.
Play! With your kids. In a soccer league. With your dog or cat. Play.
Creating an altar is another practice that draws us toward community. An altar is visual reminder of holy things and people and places in our lives. Create a little altar with candles, photos, objects that remind you of who you love, who you are and whose you are.
Communion--we’ll practice this in just a moment together--a sacred meal prepared by God.
And finally, for the introverts in the room--people watching. But not just any people watching. Entertain the possibility that each face you see is one of the faces of God.
When we rest, we do not have to be alone. For parents this is probably a good thing to hear becuase being alone might not be an option.
Today we’re going to practice resting together by sharing in Communion, the last community meal that Jesus shared before his death and resurrection. Among many other things, this meal is a reminder of the heavenly banquet. Chris mentioned last week that we have a lot of images floating around in our head about what heaven is or might possibly look like. But the image that Jesus repeats in his stories and ministry is the image of a feast.
Communion reminds us that we do not do this life alone, now and in the kingdom to come, and in some ways our holy rest and healing that we find here on earth is at the table with others--at Christ’s table where we are guests and all are invited.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Many of us have heard this story many times. We could talk about so much in it: What is the “one thing” that Mary has found? What does it mean to sit at the Lord’s feet? Can we sympathize with Martha even if it seems like Jesus doesn’t? This is a rich, rich story.
Today we’re going to talk about Jesus’ truth-telling moment with Martha. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.” Martha has lots of “tasks.” We can imagine they are similar to things we’d be thinking about if we had houseguests: meal prep, cleaning, serving the food, following the social graces of the time and place, keep with hospitality codes. Because the household was also the place of business in the first century, there were also layers of professional interest and protection included in that hospitality. Necessary, important things needed to be done.
And on this day, Jesus basically said to Martha: NOT NECESSARY. Maybe with a shrug of his shoulders: not necessary. Maybe in a firm voice: not necessary. Maybe with his hand on her shoulder sighing: not necessary. Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things and they, surprisingly, are not necessary. Good, yes. Typical, yes. Expected of us, yes. But necessary? No. So many things and so many of them are not necessary.
What are our so many things that keep us distracted and worried? That keep us from resting, from stopping, from taking a Sabbath? Tidying the house? Mowing the lawn? Bathing the kids? Getting everything perfect and presentable? So many things.
Maybe time commitments. Maybe clubs. Maybe sports. Maybe even social calls. Maybe maintenance of our toys (little kid and big kid toys). Maybe cleaning around and above and below all of our knick knacks we’ve collected throughout the years. We are worried and distracted by the many things we’ve accumulated throughout our years as humans, and especially as Americans.
Not. Necessary. Says Jesus.
So the last set of spiritual practices we are going to talk about today are practices of a simpler life. I like to use the word “thinning.” They are practices of thinning out our lives so that we are less worried and less distracted. Less tired from tending to all of our “many tasks” as Martha was.
There is a great quotation from Ghandi as we start looking at these practices: There is more to life than merely increasing its speed.
In our culture, the accumulation of things and commitments and even relationships sometimes is looked upon as a very, very good thing. But what if it’s not. What if, like Martha, it just ends up distracting us and making us tired.
Practices of a Simpler Life
The first practice on the sheet is the practice of saying NO! Barbara Brown Taylors says that it is hard to find people in the US who would call saying no a spiritual practice-- “No, I want to stay home tonight. No, I have enough work for now. No, I have all the possessions I can take care of.” But Taylor says that saying no is a holy thing--Sabbath, as we know, literally means "stop" in the Hebrew. It’s a holy thing. So try saying it sometimes.
A Sabbath Box: we talked briefly about this a few weeks ago. It is a box you have to put in things from which you need a break. Maybe your laptop. Maybe a stack of unwritten thank you notes.
Withdrawing from the marketplace--from accumulating new things (for which you will have to take time and energy to care)--this is a spiritual practice. Maybe it is just for a day--you spend no money. Or maybe it is limiting your purchases in a specific area that is taking up too much time or mental space. Get out of the marketplace occasionally.
The practice of purposelessness is particularly difficult--especially in circles where the protestant work ethic is like the 4th member of the Trinity. Allow yourself to not be a human doing, but a human being. Allow yourself to stare at the sky all afternoon. Write yourself a permission slip to not think about an end goal. Do something that has no real purpose--be free. I’m going to read a quotation from Thoreaou that is in Wayne Muller's book on Sabbath--it speaks of this better than I am.
"There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of head or hands. Sometimes, in the summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a reverie, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance."
Fasting can sound intimidating for many of us, but it does not have to mean giving up all food for days at a time. Perhaps you can think of one thing to give up for a day--something that drains you--perhaps it’s email. Maybe it is a relationship or a to-do list. Give it up, maybe for a day or even just an afternoon.
Cleaning might not be restful for some of you, but I actually find that it is so restful creating order out of chaos--putting things back where they need to be after a whirlwind week.
Single-task instead of multi-task. Your brain can’t actually multi-task. What it is doing instead is switching from one task to another over and over again. And that is heavy, hard work for the brain. So give it some rest. Maybe let yourself JUST cook dinner--not cook dinner, call mom, clean the counter-tops and, and, and. Maybe just drive your car instead of also driving your car, making your grocery list, and checking in with the news.
Make a to-don’t list. Instead of listing things to do, what are you going to give yourself permission to NOT do?
And finally, recite your precepts. This is a great practice of “thinning.” Write down the things you love deeply and care for. Read this list out loud over and over.
So instead of small groups today, we’re actually going to give y’all 15 minutes to practice being restful. You can stay in this room, you can go outside, you can go on a walk. You can read through this list prayerfully, seeing if there is anything on here that God is calling for you to do--allowing you to rest in that way. I will ring our bowl both inside and outside at the end of 15 minutes.
We have a couple “stations” if you’re interested. There is a coloring station in the back. There is also a station with prayer books, books of poetry, and books of songs in the back.
There is a table with writing utensils if you’d like to journal, write a to-don’t list, write down your list of precepts--of things that are most important to you or write down things for which you are grateful.
You are more than welcome to light more candles.
Use this time to rest in whatever way seems best. If kiddos want to get out and move around a bit, I’ll be leading a walk for them--we’re going to use our five senses. We’ll ring the singing bowl when it is over.
Be blessed in your rest!