20 January 2015

Brainstorming: Sabbath Rest and Stricter Separation From the World, etc.

In the last couple of weeks I have done more thinking than I have ever done in the past on the Sabbath. Now that is embarrassing to admit. How could someone do theology and miss focusing on Sabbath? It also means though that this post is more a matter of initial  and somewhat chaotic brainstorming than finished post. There are several threads below that I am hoping to flesh out in more concrete and helpful ways.

As part of my reflection on last Friday's first reading from Hebrews I was moved by Walter Brueggemann's book, Sabbath as Resistance, and as a result have moved on to Elton Fishbane's, The Sabbath Soul: Mystical Reflections on the Transformative Power of Holy Time. What struck me most last week was how far from the real understanding and practice of Sabbath we have come. It is remarkable and tragic how easily we have transformed it into a time which has nothing to do with God, our deepest selves, or with genuine rest and even more remarkable how little we tend to understand what it even means to truly rest. I was especially struck by how similar Sabbath rest is to many dimensions of the requirement of canon 603 (or monastic and eremitical life generally) described as, "stricter separation from the world," and how truly prophetic the Sabbath actually is.

One of the most unfortunate terms that comes up in monastic literature is "contemptus mundi" (hatred of the world) or, similarly, "fuga mundi" (the imperative that we flee the world) and in canon 603 there is another form of the same demand, "arctiore a mundo secessu" (a stricter, closer, tighter, or more narrow separation from the world) in canon 603. In Scripture we know that the term "the world" has several meanings and that in its negative sense it means that which is resistant to Christ. In it's more ambiguous sense it means the world around us that is not completely as God created it to be but is still essentially good. We are generally called to be in the world but not of it and we are called to this relative separation so that we might actually help in the transformation of the "ambiguous world" into one where God is all in all. What fuga mundi and related terms NEVER mean, is the wholesale rejection of material reality. Neither is it the rejection of all reality outside the monastery or hermitage. Instead it is primarily a state of heart and mind brought about when we rest in God. That requires some physical separation, of course, but I am convinced that monastic literature would be more helpful to many if we understood that "separation from the world" is better expressed as a form or variation on "Sabbath observance" or "Sabbath rest."

It may surprise us that one of the most significant ways in which we achieve this "flight" or "live in the world without being of it" is to learn to rest. Dependence upon God means learning to rest in faith -- that is, rest in the trust we have for God and God's sovereignty. Renunciation of the driven, sometimes frantic attempts to secure ourselves whether in work, investing, overscheduled and addictive behaviors of all sorts, etc, is really a commitment to rest, to stop, to step back, make a clear break with so much of the dominant culture and adopt a different rhythm in our lives. It also means a commitment to ground our lives on the rock of God's love and mercy rather than on the shifting sands of our own unceasing and futile efforts to bring meaning to those same lives.

The attitude of one who has learned to do this efectively is identified in today's readings as being hope-filled. The certainty of hope is rooted in the certainty of God's faithfulness and in our trust in that. The restfulness of hope is similarly grounded and depends on similar renunciations. Learning to really rest, to stop and let God be God will involve all the kinds of weaning, unlearning, and "detoxification" that addictions demand. After all, we know how to do and do and do; we think we know how to BE --- if being is defined in terms of doing. Even prayer is too-often seen as something we do rather than as something we allow God to do within us while all-too-often spirituality is a matter of struggling to "climb" or "achieve", etc. Sabbath is profoundly prayerful and certainly leads to spiritual growth but it does so by resting in the God who makes all things holy.

 We find ourselves in a culture that does not know how to truly rest or celebrate Sabbath. There is nothing simple either about how we have come to this essentially "Sabbathless" place in our culture or, should we choose to make the journey, in our way from non-observance to observance. As I think about either dynamic they seem almost overwhelming in their complexity and difficulty. Especially I wonder how do we move from being persons who do not even know what Sabbath and Sabbath observance are to being persons who understand in the depths of our souls the profound light and joy of these realities? Still, Christians struggle to find effective ways to proclaim the Good News to the world and to do so with our lives. How powerful it would be, and how tremendously countercultural and authentically prophetic if we each and all of us undertook to do what we are legitimately expected to do as a sign of our baptismal consecration, our freedom in Christ --- our covenant existence with God (Exodus 30) --- and simply rested in all the ways Sabbath observance calls us to!