. of view

Earl Marshall

Month: August 2008

A Mudhouse Sabbath – Part Two

I just watched Rob Bell’s Nooma video on sitting shiva, on Maggy’s advice, and I am thinking again about Winner’s writing on mourning.  I have been profoundly impacted with this concept not just in death and the grieving process but also in life and the ongoing occurrence that we all experience with significant loss (vocation, identity, friendships, relationships, community).  Sitting shiva for most of us is not something we are very good at.  Actually many of us don’t have meaningful enough relationships in our lives that when loss occurs there are those who will sit shiva with us.  Why is that?  Although their motives may not have been always right Job had a few friends who were willing to sit with him during his time of loss.  What is our problem?

Winner speaks to prayer and how Jewish prayer is essentially liturgical and ordered.  This does not mean that one can not pray their own prayers but that the essence or skeleton of prayer is liturgy.  For most evangelicals the idea of prayer being liturgical seems dull and perhaps even dangerous (repeating the same thing over and over again can lose its meaning).  Add to this the often quoted comments of the Apostle Paul to pray without ceasing, or in everything give thanks and our sense of prayer as a spontaneous outpouring from our hearts becomes primary.

But, as Winner points out, Jesus did teach his disciples to pray a liturgy.  I think Winner is on to something with this.  She says, "I have sometimes put aside my prayer book for days and weeks on end, and I find, at the end of those days and weeks on end, that I have lapsed into narcissism" (page 60).  I sense a trueness to this in my own life. 

We should not only celebrate and promote the spontaneity of prayerful conversation with God in all circumstances but also root such in the discipline of  a biblical liturgy of prayer.  Praying the Psalms and The Disciples Prayer or other prayers in scripture as our prayer book will root us in a theology of prayer and keep us from slipping into self oriented requests or perhaps even lapsing from this important practice all together.

A Mudhouse Sabbath – Part One

Mudhouse_sabbath I am blessed.  Over time God has consistently dropped books into my lap that have allowed me to reflect on his goodness and have been used to speak into my life.  Lauren Winner’s Mudhouse Sabbath is a small book that I have read slowly the last couple of weeks.  The title is based on the coffee shop in which the book was written, the Mudhouse in Charlottesville.  Winner (love the name) is a Jewish Christian who converted to Christianity from Judaism.  This book is about some of the things she misses about the "Jewish Ways".  It is a book about spiritual discipline and it gives rich insight for followers of Jesus into some of the ancient disciplines that God uses in our relationship with him.

As I read the introduction to the book it got me to thinking, "what is it that I miss"?  Here I am on this extended sabbatical rest and the thing I miss the most is my church family.  As is so often the case we don’t learn what we truly value until it is gone.  While I understand the need to break away right now I also know how much I miss the richness of my interaction with so many that I love.  We were in Staples the other day and one of our grade six students came running up to me shouting in the store "Pastor Earl, Pastor Earl".  That was so cool.  His mom and dad followed, somewhat more subdued (what’s up with that, lol), and we stood and talked for what seemed like a while (I confess to a growing loss of a sense of time while being away from the structured busyness).  It was good.  This Sunday six of our students will be baptized.  I am so excited for them.  I miss these moments.

This of course is not what the book is about but books have a funny way of triggering thoughts in different directions.  These are good thoughts.

Winner talks about Sabbath as a Jew as that which the rest of the week revolves around.  What would my week look like if it was spent preparing for and reflecting on Sabbath?  Perhaps what stood out the most for me as I pondered weekly Sabbath was that it was to be a day "unto the Lord".  In our Christian culture we have taken Jesus’ words that the Sabbath is for man and have forgotten that while this is so it is "unto the Lord".  If you and I were to live a day a week as "unto the Lord" this day would be a dramatic cessation from the norm, and something much deeper than a day of leisure or play.  I cease "from" so I can be "unto" the Lord.  As Winner notes the Puritan’s use to say, "Good sabbaths make good Christians".

Her chapter on mourning was enlightening.  I believe she is right when she implies that Christians do funerals well but aren’t very good at grieving.  The Jewish way has a greater emphasis on grieving and it is done in community.  There is too much here for me to say.  Get the book it is worth this chapter.  There are different stages to Jewish mourning.  One of them is shiva.  Shiva is the first week after the funeral and if anything it is marked by the "crush of people" in one’s life.  As Winner says, "the mourner who wants to weep in his cups alone is out of luck".   Community is important.  Alone time is important but the "crush of people" is also important.  In our private world we have elevated the need for people to be alone to work things out.  Certainly there is a need for that.  I feel this need even while I am resting these days.  But there is also the need for the lifting up of community.  There is great purposeful energy extended in the Jewish community to help the mourner get back on their feet and back into community.  Sometimes I think what people need the most is the "crush of people".  My mind goes to the book of Hebrews and the importance of the community of faith to inspire, encourage, and hold accountable one another in our walk of faith.  We all need a "crush of people" to remind us of God’s love in our lives.

I am guessing that her chapter on hospitality is a foreign concept for most of us.  In general we are not very good at this.  When Winner speaks of hospitality she is not speaking of entertaining per se.  This is a lost art in itself in our culture.  When’s the last time you were invited over to someone’s house for dinner, coffee, or whatever?  Hospitality, however, is the inviting of people into our lives and forging relationships with them.  When Abraham hosted the angels he wasn’t just throwing a party for them.  There was covenant relationship going on.  True hospitality is about inviting people into our lives.  And as Winner says we don’t find inviting people into our lives much easier than inviting them into our apartments.  Why is it that we are so "hospitality challenged"?

I will return to "prayer" and "aging" at another time. 

Rest is hard work

Turns out that this extended period of sabbath rest is harder work than I thought it would be.  Now I am not expecting a chorus of violins but I have found the stillness of these weeks can be exhausting.  I am struggling with being "idle".  I have found that the default of doing what I always do easier than the newness of the life patterns of this sabbath. 

Perhaps it is because

  • Being busy and productive is where many of us get our sense of worth from.  I fear that many of us derive our value from what we do not who we are.  When rest comes some even feel guilty about it because "I should be doing something".
  • We love talking about wanting more "depth" in our life but we really don’t want to travel the awkward path that leads to such "depth".  I think many of us either fear it or don’t have a clue as to how to go about seeing that happen.  "Listening" to the still small voice of God takes rest.  Many of us would rather not deal with the questions and emotions and just keep going on.  The examined life can be difficult.

So what I am discovering is that the perseverance required to continue this journey well takes great courage and strength of character.  We should all ask God for that.

Things I am Learning While on Sabbath Rest

As of the middle of July Brenda and I are on a three month extended period of "sabbath rest". We are doing well.  After a couple of weeks of previously planned vacation in July we started our three month "break" attempting to concentrate on "rest".  It sounds easy but as we are learning not always so.  As time progresses we are getting better at it. 

Cottage_201 One of the first things I did before beginning this break from routine was buy a Kayak.  I have always wanted a Kayak, so I now own my own ship.  Best part about it is that I don’t have to pay launching fees.  I am calling her "Sabbath".

Last week I was able to spend a few days on my own in a "spiritual retreat" with God.  I had an awesome time and God spoke very clearly into my life.   

We are both grateful for your continued prayers for us as we seek rest and renewal.

So here are some of the things that I am learning over the past month . . .

Life goes on.  This is a good reminder.  Things continue to happen whether I am present or not.  Summer camps have come and gone, student mission trip to Jamaica (ya mon), babies are born (congrats Sonya and Chris – Avery and Emerson to). plans and decisions are being made. 

God is in control.  I was reminded of this one early morning while I was paddling through the stillness of the lake and talking to God about how I was feeling about things.  While I was focused on the conversation a Loon popped up beside me, just a few metres away from where I was sitting.  Loons are majestic birds.  This one was very comfortable with my presence and I with it.  Then as fast as it appeared it was gone under the waters surface.  As I paddled further it reappeared.  We continued this process for the next 30 minutes.  As I continued my conversation with God the Loon became a reminder to me of God’s ongoing presence, his control in my life.  From our perspective He appears, then seemingly disappears, only to "pop up" again.  We may go through periods of silence when it feels that God is not near or even present but He is indeed.

We seldom dive in.  I learned this lesson from a Blue Heron that swooped past me one morning to land on a neigbours dock.  Heron’s are magnificent in the air and awkward when they are standing.  This Heron landed on the dock, awkwardly walked to the edge of the dock only to strain its neck to the water’s surface as if to take a long peek.  He then retreated from the dock and flew across the bay to another dock where he repeated this strange ritual.  I am not sure what he was looking for or whether he ever did find it.  But this ritual struck me as a reminder of how many of us treat our relationship with God and in particular God’s love for us.  We swoop in for a landing, awkwardly walk towards the edge of our relationship with God, and take a long hard look.  Some of these looks leave us satisfied for a moment only for us to once again repeat the ritual perhaps from a different perspective.  We look, and we even learn new things about God, His character, His love for us.  We appreciate these things as we serve a passing glance but how many of us just dive in?

I have completed two books so far, "The Rest of God" by Mark Buchanan and "The Deeper Journey" by M. Robert Mulholland.  It is from this last book that I leave you with this thought.

So many of us are "busy being in the world for God that we have failed to be in God for the world".

I will check back in sometime near the end of August.

© 2019 . of view

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑