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.