Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Rolling Black-out Sabbath


“One of the most terrifying aspects of the technological society in which we live is its loss of intimacy. Many people in our culture are desperate for affection and . . . do not know how to give it or receive it. To keep Sabbath offers us the possibility for learning to deepen our relationships and to embrace others with godly affection. Sabbath keeping offers us a deepening of relationships because of its emphasis on one’s relationship with God, its rhythms of community and solitude, its gift of time and its call to cease striving, productivity and work. Furthermore, the intentionality of the day lends itself to a conscious enjoyment of our relationship with and delight in each other as the outgrowth of our delight in Yahweh.” ~Marva Dawn

Phaedra and I have just picked up a new habit: sabbath-keeping. I knew it was a good idea back in the Regent College days; the "in" thing amongst the seminarians. I practiced here and there, but my conscience always told me I was dumb for the "here and there" part. Why not an "on-goingly" practice? I had work to do--an arts ministry to build, conferences to dream, essays to write, film festivals to concoct, millions to save--who had time to actually regularly do nothing?

But here we are, finally, stopping, when we're supposed to be stopping because of this alleged three-month sabbatical. And it's still hard to stop: stop thinking, stop planning, stop worrying, stop planning, stop anticipating, stop trying to be productive. Or this: What books should I not read on my sabbath day? Books about art? Willard-ian books? Would these keep me in work mode?

I've decided for now I will only read memoirs (maybe a re-read of Buechner's) and books about golf and what I call TV-novels--John Grisham, Michael Crichton, et al--maybe a PEOPLE en Espanol mag, spy tales, stuff that will ween me out of a reading-as-utility mindset where so little is read simply for pleasure but must always have a purpose to produce something. The A-type disease: I must never waste time. I must be needed.

Marva Dawn's book on worship uses that word, "waste," A Royal "Waste" of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World. But the one she referenced at the Laity Lodge retreat was Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting. She reminded us that sabbath-keeping can teach us how to live deep lives. She said: learn to be a resevoir, filled to overflowing, not a canal that simply pours itself out as soon as it knows something. She also said that because they eat oatmeal all week long, they treat themselves to chocolate maltomeal on sabbath day. I like that.

One of the agreements Phaedra and I have is not to turn on our computers on the day we keep sabbath. We looooove that idea, but it's amazing how much our computers loooooove us equally intensely when we ignore them. Our first sabbath a couple of weeks ago I walked by our study twice with the primal urge to check email. It was all inertia, man, my body physically bending into the study. It spooked me. Was I this addicted to checking email? What's happening, who's out there, what needs fixing, who can I help, where's the gossip, who needs me?

Typical exchange in the younger Taylor household late in the evening: "Why're you checking email?" Blank look. "It's late." Blank look, shrug of shoulders. "Because." "Hmm." Exhortative sigh.

We both know it's dumb. We get dumb-sheep-itis with email.

At first you feel like you're not going to make it if you don't turn your computer on. But what's happening in the world out there--ferries sinking to the bottom of the ocean, great basketball rivalries like mean bison head-butting for glory and girls, the latest short-shorts, Zimbabwean madness, the falling price of my home--it's gotta all matter.

Then, when you've managed to outlast the irrational gravitational pull, you feel like you've been set free from Egypt. We like it so much we're threatening each other to take two sabbaths a week to make up for all the years we missed out.

Eugene Peterson told us in class back in the Fall of 1995 that sabbath was a way of saying "Stop, you idiot. It's not all about you." Ok, he didn't say idiot. But he could have. Consciously I don't think it's all about me. I suspect my behavior says otherwise. My pastor pal Geno Hildebrandt gave us a gauge for judging permissible activities on our sabbatical: Whatever genuinely rejuvenates your body and soul, do those things in increasing measure, the rest drop-kick.

So we're going to the pool a lot. I'm hitting at the driving range. We putter around in the yard. We cook. We experiment with home-made bread recipes. We don't answer the phone (which, well, we do that all the time so it's not really legitimately sabbatarian). And I realize this sounds like a lazy, bucolic idyll, but it effectively cuts against the grain of our achievement-oriented personalities.

Psychologists tell me I'll accomplish more if I rested my brain more. The book of Hebrews hints that my present sabbath-keeping is a rehearsal for a great rest; not a great nap or a great eternal lie-around, but a feeling of true rest in my mind, my body, my emotions, my spirit. I'll be living according to a true and truly life-giving rhythm. I'll have lots of energy and know wisely how to use it.

We've given ourselves grace to get our sabbath-keeping wrong--now and down the road. We don't want to ruin it with high expectations. We just had a "high expectations" conversation today and it didn't go so well, so we're keeping a close eye on it with the sabbath stuff.

Mostly we're chilling. Mowing the lawn usually quiets me down. Phaedra likes to get her hands dirty with mulch and garden-friendly, poop-rich dirt. Samuel Taylor Coleridge once said, "I feel as if God had, by giving the Sabbath, given fifty-two springs in every year." I wonder how many years I've lived rushing from summer to fall to winter and back to summer to do it all over again without the refreshing grace of spring.

I wonder how weird my soul must look under a microscope after living most of its life running breathlessly from week to week without a sabbath day, that great leveler of all men, rich or poor, where both rest as God ordained from the very beginning; that day on which Jesus rose from the dead and the Holy Spirit was poured out on the beloved at Pentecost to announce to all that our great rest was at hand, not far but near.

Burritos with Gabe Lyons
I shared a meal of burritos and chili rellenos with Gabe Lyons last week. Gabe is the mastermind behind the Fermi Project and their fertile outburst of auxiliary ventures, including the Q conference that will take place in Austin next April. Norton Herbst was with him. Norton works on staff at North Point Community Church in Atlanta. I'd met Norton a few years back when I'd visited First EV Free with announcements about the Ragamuffin Film Festival. Both were in town to scope out spaces and connections for the Q; good guys both. Here's the bio bit on Gabe from the Fermi site:

Gabe and Rebekah Lyons founded Fermi Project in 2003, a broad collective of innovators, social entrepreneurs, church and societal leaders working together to make positive contributions to culture. Gabe recently engineered Fermi Project's first book, unChristian, which reveals exclusive research on pop-culture's negative perception of Christians and convenes 27 of Christianity's most influential voices to address what he describes as "the steady erosion of Christianity's reputation in America". Prior to Fermi Project, he co-founded Catalyst, a national gathering of young leaders, while serving as Vice President for John Maxwell's INJOY organization.

I'm grateful Gabe is out there doing this work. It's important and complimentary to so many, very encouraging efforts on behalf of the Kingdom.

Cowboy JI Packer has a few words for Cowboy Rowan Williams
When Packer says that archbishop Williams should step down, that's cowboy talk, mano-a-mano. As a once and future Anglican I'm all eyes and ears on the current turbulence. Here's a very interesting development in the cross-Atlantic Anglican tussle: Packer's statement. Praying and fasting, that's what I hope we're doing plenty of these days.

All My Friends from the United Arab Emirates
It's dangerous to put a visit tracker on your blog. I got the cheap version: MapClusters with little, big and bigger blobs. It can become a dumb obsession; or like a really slow video game where red blobs pop up on the screen once a day. It gets you to thinking about your world fame. For instance, I noticed yesterday that I got my first visit from somewhere in the vicinity of the United Arab Emirates. I thought, "I have oil-rich fans!"

The New Yorker article: the gospel according to Bergman and Holman Hunt
Here's a poignant piece in the New Yorker about two fellows who went to see a Bergman movie in the winter of 1970 in Oxford, England. The movie, "Winter Light," was being shown at a church. Both came out of that evening two very different men. I highly recommend reading this piece with a few friends and discussing it over a drink of choice. It'd be a great discussion topic for a small group.
Insanely audacious animation
The guy who pulled off this animation project is the dude. Sent to me by my friend Brie Walker, this art is impressive, zany, astonishing, envy-inducing, Eastern bizarro surrealism. Here.

3 comments:

Tim Stewart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Stewart said...

(oops--2nd try)

David,
Thanks for the helpful ruminations on the practice and purpose of the Sabbath. In this modern age, the work-oriented theology may well be of more concern than the works-oriented one!

Do you know how hot a saw gets when you work it back and forth through a board or a log of wood? Life, with its characteristic friction and splinters seems a lot like that. Sabbath is a good time to pull the saw out of the wood and let it cool down. Brush the saw's blade with oil, bend its stray teeth back into orthodontic alignment, and give the handle screws a clockwise quarter turn.

Gracefully yours,
Tim

w. david o. taylor said...

That's a good word, Tim, and a nice metaphor. Thank you. I like it! I'm going to practice "cool down" days.