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Finding Our Sabbath Rhythm

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Guest Post by David Schmidt

As I write this, an early morning fog hugs the surface of Long Lake here in northern Wisconsin.  An occasional loon call and squawk of a blackbird punctures the quiet.  The leaves on the trees, near their peak now, immerse me in a world of vibrant color, forest smells and scenes.

On this particular Sunday morning, the unforced rhythm of Sabbath comes easy.  Creation humbles one to a point of quiet reflection.  The stillness of the water invites me to join in, to be still and quiet too.

But back in the Chicago suburbs where we make our homes, work, and do life with those we love, finding any kind of Sabbath rhythm is much more difficult.  So we do goofy things seeking a Sabbath rhythm.

When I was growing up in the 60’s, (I heard that, you Millennials,) we had one such goofy rhythm in my home.  Saturday nights were straightforward:  baths (no shower in our house) and then at 10pm, the TV show “Gunsmoke” (in black and white, no color TV either.)  But at the end of that show at 11pm, my dad, a pastor, would go to the wall and pull the plug on the TV set.  And it would sit mute until Sunday night at 11, when my dad would often plug it back in to watch the news.  We did that for years, with the only exception being a weekend in November 1963, when President Kennedy was shot.  For my dad, unfolding history was a legitimate exemption.  Unplugging the TV, coupled with the required Sunday afternoon nap, created a rhythm.  It all sounds so quaint now and if my dad were alive today, he would laugh at it all.  But if we could look past the weirdness for a moment, I wonder if there isn’t something to mine from this.

The rhythm of suburbia absolutely creates its own set of beats that conflict with Sabbath rest.  And it’s a little naïve to say in 2014, “Let’s unplug, too!”  Unplugging is easy where I’m sitting in a forest, not so easy in the suburbs.  Soccer games, errands left over from Saturday, homework, Bears, Bulls and Blackhawk games, getting ready for Monday, can all conspire to make unplugging pretty tough to do.

In his book, Death by Suburb, David Goetz says, “The suburbs are all about saying yes to opportunity and the immortality symbols it promises. Its deep current pulls under your good intentions. We must learn to pursue an affair with time itself, to fall in love with a day.”

I think he’s on to something here.  He’s not suggesting that Sabbath is one more thing we have to “practice to DO right.”  He’s hinting at it as a way of BEING in life. 

So what might we consider in our tribe to resolve the conflict between suburbia’s demanding rhythm and a Sabbath rest rhythm?  Two quick thoughts:

  • “Pursue an affair with time itself.”  Translation:  How might we find Sabbath in the days between them?  This is about taking a sacramental view of time.  There’s nothing easy about this.  But even the intentional effort to create a bit of Sabbath rest in a day makes it more likely I will be emotionally present and available in my relationships with God and others.  Maybe that’s what the writers in Scripture were trying to say to us.
  • “Fall in love with a day.”  When was the last time we stepped back to reflect on how our Sabbaths are going?  We can’t be legalists about this. It’s a historic challenge to figure out how to be enriched by a weekly day of rest.  My hunch is that when Saul was killing his thousands and David his ten thousands, they probably kept running swords through their enemies, Shabbat or not, until the rhythm of the battle stopped. For me, I am comfortable gardening, but not cutting my grass. It’s a gift of quiet to my neighbors and me.  Often I start my Sabbath early with coffee, my Bible, journal and a book.  This centering time of disciplined reflection sets the pace for my day.  Intentionality seems to be the key. The unplugging, the letting our limbic systems calm down, the seeking of joy to heal the wounds of trauma in our lives, and allowing the space of this day to do a bit of this important work, seems good to me. But it takes effort.

Goetz also said, “For centuries, the classic spiritual disciplines or practices have enlarged the capacity of ordinary people to engage the Sacred in the ordinary…some days, they seem stupid, quite worthless, just one of the many activities that keep me from God, even. Yet over time, they awaken us to a brave new world that is, ultimately, more satisfying and true to who we are than what we encounter without them.”

There is a brave new world in our Sabbaths to come—to find some of the rest of the north woods right where we live.  May we as a community find the satisfaction that comes from this gift God will keep on giving to us in the weeks and years to come.

God’s Goodness on the Sabbath

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A couple weeks ago, in the midst of my Sabbath day, God caught me totally off guard with a moment.  In this moment, I tasted his goodness in a way that surprised me and delighted me.  I hadn’t planned for it or expected it, but suddenly, there it was.  It rushed over me and reminded me.  Check out this short video….

How have you experienced God’s goodness on the Sabbath?

How has God surprised you?

Grace and blessings,


Sunday Reflections, October 5, 2014

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Sabbath and Identity

I left our gathering last night wondering: What if God is actually good?  I know this is a strange thing to ponder as a follower of Jesus and someone who has experienced God’s goodness.  But, as much as I believe that God is good, I don’t know that my actions always reflect that belief.  Last night, some things started to come together for me.  The topic of Sabbath is fascinating.  It’s the only one of the Ten Commandments that we would call outdated and old-fashioned.  It’s the only one we carve out as an unnecessary requirement for the modern-day follower of Jesus.  And yet, at the same time, we are almost secretly drawn to Sabbath, kind of like when we dream wistfully about the “old days” when we didn’t have access to the whole world on a device in our pockets or experience life as a Facebook post waiting to happen.  Could there really be something called rest, in which we simply delight in the actual world around us and see in small, quiet moments the everlasting goodness of God?

In his teaching, Steve Carter reminded us of the origin of Sabbath in the creation story when God rested and pronounced what he had created as very good (Gen 1:1-2:3) and the gift of Sabbath in God’s emancipation of the Israelites from their seven-day-a-week, back-breaking, brick-making slavery under Pharaoh (Ex 16).  As Steve shared, by gifting a day of rest to the Israelites, God was reminding them that he was nothing like Pharaoh.  He was not a taskmaster tyrant who would reward them for meeting their brick quota and punish them if they fell behind.  Their identity was not tied to what they could build and how much they could accomplish, but rather to their status as the children of a good and holy God.  The Israelites would only remember this, though, if they remembered to set apart one day, the Sabbath, to rest in the goodness of God.

Download Steve’s message: The Gift of Sabbath

As I listened to Steve’s teaching, I felt an increasing unease.  I continuously walk in slavery to my own “pharaohs,” trading my identity in Christ for my identity in achievement, approval, and activism.  But who am I without these things?  What do I have to show for myself?  What would I talk about at cocktail parties and social gatherings if not the ways in which I have built, created, and designed?  I am afraid to stop and rest because I don’t know what I might find there.  I wonder if God is good enough to love me even if I stopped all my striving.  Could he actually love me just as I am?

Last night, as a community, we held this question in God’s presence: In what way am I working, struggling, and hustling to build an identity other than the one You have given me?  And to prompt our thinking and reflection we considered these questions from Tim Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods:

What do I daydream about?
What do I have nightmares about?
Where do I find my most unyielding emotions?

I filled up a page with a long prayer/random list of fears as I considered these questions.  And this morning, I’m holding this page in God’s presence again, with tears in my eyes, not out of fear, but because I am stunned by his gentle care and goodness.  I want more of it.  I want to remember it, to breathe it, to live in it.

Would you join us this week in continuing to hold this question in God’s presence and see how he might help us identify our “pharaohs,” showcase his goodness, and invite us into the sacred gift of Sabbath?

Also, let’s keep learning and diving deeper.  Some resources we recommend…

(1) Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, Wayne Muller
(2) Sabbath as Resistance: Learning to Say No to the Culture of Now, Walter Brueggemann
(3) Sabbath Booklet and The Revolutionary Act of Sabbath-Keeping, Pete Scazzero

Last thing: Have you looked at your calendar for October 17 and 18?  We would love for you to join us in practicing Sabbath on one of those days for a 24-hour period, or if you can’t do it for that long, maybe an 8-hour period.  We’ll dive into the practical, nuts-and-bolts questions of Sabbath-keeping this Sunday, October 12!

May you soak in the goodness of God today,

The Rhythm of our Gatherings

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The Practice is an experimental gathering where we immerse ourselves in God’s dream for humanity, practice the historic disciplines that align us with His dream, and carry each other along the way.

Kingdom / Practice / Tribe.

What is the big Story God is inviting us into?
What are the practices that help us say “yes”?
How do we do this together?

The three values of Kingdom, Practice, and Tribe are foundational for our little community.  In fact, they frame and guide everything we do.

And so this fall, they are helping us engage one Practice for the Suburban Stronghold each month. Centering Prayer, Sabbath, Simplicity, and Advent. Gathering the first three Sunday nights of each month, our rhythm is…

(1) Kingdom. Week one is the big picture. “What is Jesus inviting us into?”
Exploring the WHY?  A Kingdom vision.
(2) Practice. Week two is learning how to practice. “How do I align myself with Jesus’ invitation?
How do I tangibly say ‘yes’ to God’s work in me?”  Practically exploring the HOW.
(3) Tribe.  Week three is the communal journey.  “How can we flesh this out together?”
Exploring the communal HOW?  The WE.  Carrying each other.
(4) Off.  Week four (and five in November) is off.

We’re hoping that this rhythm helps us authentically engage each spiritual practice.  Obviously, a month can only dip our toes in these deep streams, but we trust God to keep drawing us deeper.

Does this make sense?  Is it helpful to see a bit of the roadmap?  Any questions?

Friends, it is pure joy to be on this holy adventure with all of you.  I can’t wait to see what God does in us this fall…

Practicing Centering Prayer

By | Kingdom Practices, Reflections | 2 Comments

On Sunday night, we learned from two contemplative activists – Phileena Heuertz and Lynne Hybels – about the discipline of Centering Prayer.  As you practice this week, here are a few more wise thoughts.  So helpful!

(1) After The Practice, we sat down with Phileena to ask her advice for those of us who are giving Centering Prayer a try this week…

 (2) A few years ago, Lynne wrote a letter to her dad about Centering Prayer.  This is a wonderful, loving, and humble explanation of the ancient practice…

Centering Prayer
Lynne Hybels

In 1999, my father had a heart attack.  Though he eventually recovered fully, his recuperation was slow and accompanied by extreme anxiety.  While praying for him one morning, I decided to share with him a spiritual discipline that had been helping me.  I wrote him a lengthy letter, explaining this discipline.  I think the letter served him well, but I know it has served me well, for each time I get careless in this discipline I reread this letter to remind myself why I started this to begin with and why I need to continue.  

Read Lynne Hybels’ Letter to her Father

Finally, please remember to be compassionate with yourself as you begin this practice.  Centering Prayer is not something to achieve or conquer…but simply a way to allow ourselves to get swept up in God’s unforced rhythms of Grace.  It’s all Grace!

Blessings as you get swept up…
Aaron and The Practice team

Practices as INVITATION: a beautiful framework

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the invitation

the invitation

For many of us, the journey into spiritual practices is loaded with anticipation and fear, desire and ambivalence, calling and confusion.  We can feel God drawing us onto the path, but there are so many competing voices along the way.  Are spiritual disciplines clever ways of impressing God?  Or human techniques of self-improvement?  Or extra-credit points for the overly-spiritual?  Or something entirely different?  We need to get very clear on WHAT God is inviting us into and WHY?

Our friends at Trinity Pres in Charlottesville have been on this journey for the last couple years…slowly and deeply moving into a more practice-based way of following Jesus.  I respect this community like crazy and have learned a ton from them.  In 2011 their senior pastor gave the best lecture about worship I’ve ever heard, and last Sunday, he shared a powerful teaching for why God is inviting us into spiritual practices.

hint:  It’s all about love and inviting us into the life we were made to live for the sake of the world.

I would highly, highly recommend listening to this teaching this week.  It will be a phenomenal framework as we enter into the fall together.  Please let us know what you think!

“The Invitation of Hope” by Greg Thompson


What Do You Want Me to Do for You?

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About a year and a half ago, I mined the gospels for the questions Jesus asked the people he encountered during his life on earth.  Maybe it’s the lawyer in me, but I find questions fascinating.  And Jesus’ questions are no exception.  In fact, I have found them to be incredibly helpful in my own spiritual journey.  As I think about the practices we will focus on this Fall — silence and centering prayer; sabbath; and simplicity — one particular question Jesus asked came to mind immediately.  It’s the one he asks in this story from Mark 10:46-52:

Then they came to Jericho.  As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up!  On your feet!  He’s calling you.”  Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.”  Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

The thing that got me first about this story wasn’t Jesus’ question, but how quickly Bartimaeus answered.  It seems that Jesus barely gets the question out before the answer comes. Bartimaeus knew exactly what he needed.  It got me thinking:  How would I answer this question if Jesus asked me?  Jesus asks this same question in a slightly different way in Matthew 20:21: “What is it you want?”  What is it I want?

In his book Befriending Our Desires, Philip Sheldrake says, “Desire lies at the very heart of what it is to be human.  There is an energy within all of us that haunts us and can either lead us to set out on a quest for something more or frustrate us with a nostalgia for what we do not have.”  He also says that God can be found at the heart of all desire.  I have come to believe this to be true in my own life and like Bartimaeus, I have encountered our grace-giving, healing, compassionate God at the heart of my desire.

This week, consider spending some time in silence with one or both of Jesus’ questions.  Try starting out by sitting in a comfortable, but attentive position, set a chime or gentle-sounding alarm that will let you know when 10-12 minutes has passed, take three or four deep breaths, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you.  Imagine sitting with Jesus and him asking you:

What do you want me to do for you?  

What is it you want?

How did God speak to you as you sat silently and listened?


by Kellye Fabian

Half way through our Summer Journey

By | Reflections, Summer Experience | One Comment

For the past two weeks we have been immersing ourselves in the experience of listening as a spiritual practice. We are learning to attune to ourselves, to one another, and most importantly, to God. Much is being harvested in silence. As we engage in listening as a spiritual practice, our curriculum is our present day stories. Listening to one another in community, we are learning to use listening guidelines that help us to invite souls out of hiding. We are using selected pieces of Listen to My Life as a tool to facilitate our learning.

Last night we used the My Life Now map from the Listen to My Life portfolio. We pondered our lingering questions for God and had time to share and listen to one another deeply in community.

What we are doing in The Practice and in this summer experience is affecting how we live and how we are able to recognize and respond to God in the midst of our stories.

Feel free to join us for one or both of the last two weeks as we use the Reviewing My Days map to help us engage in the spiritual practice of the Examen. We will continue to create space for deep sharing and listening.

“Our challenge is to unmask the divine in the natural and name the presence of God in our lives.” (David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself)

We’d love to hear about how this experience is going for you!

Lori Shoults


A couple resources to keep diving in…

article: “The Wisdom of Recognizing and Responding to God in My Story” by Sharon Swing

book:  Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer

website:  One Life Maps

Listened To and Loved

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Week 1 of A Taste of Listen to My Life


So….how did your first experience with A Taste of Listen to My Life go?

Those I have talked to have used the words “holy,” “deeply connected,” “heard,” and “loved.”  I can’t help but think of the David Ausburger quote: “Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.”  I spent Sunday night listening and being listened to by a dear friend and left feeling totally loved by her and by God.  She didn’t give me advice, try to fix anything, or try to fill the silence.  She just listened.  Yesterday, as I thought about what happened in living rooms all over our community and in the facilitated gathering at church, I imagined God delighting in our collective practice of community and spiritual listening.

I’m looking forward to diving into the first map — My Life Now — over the next few days.  As I prepare to work on it each morning, I’ll be praying through Psalm 25:4-6, as suggested in the Map:

Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths.  Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.  Remember, LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.

If you want a little preparation for next week’s time with your tribe, check out this talk by Brene Brown about the power of vulnerability.

We’d love to hear how it’s going so far and we’re praying that you feel God’s presence as you practice over the next few weeks!

Blessings and peace,


So what are “tribes”?

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This week, we’ve been asking people about their experience with The Practice so far:  “What has been helpful? Not helpful? What do you sense God is doing and where do you think God may be leading us?”  (These have been FASCINATING conversations, and we’d be thrilled to hear your response also!  Feel free to email me any thoughts.)

One of the biggest questions so far:  What do you mean by “tribes?”


sharing a cup

Great question!  It’s become clear that I’ve done a poor job of explaining what we mean by this, so thanks so much for the chance to clarify…

Basically, all we’re saying is Don’t try to live the Christian life alone.  You can’t do it alone.  I can’t do it alone.  We need to live and walk and practice with at least one other person.  And this is why we’ve been encouraging everyone to “find your tribe”.

Does it have to be an official Practice community sanctioned tribe?  Certainly not.  Many of us have been in small groups for years…which is great.  Or some may want to be a part of another kind of tribe during the week, but just attend the Practice gathering on Sunday night.  That works too.  There is no one-size-fits-all for community.  But isolation is not an option.  We need to find a tribe that works for us.

One more thing.  Talking about community often unearths deep emotions.  We ALL long to be known and loved deeply, and we’ve ALL been know and loved imperfectly.  Whether it’s our family of origin, broken past relationships, or current loneliness, we ache for the kind of connection that is possible through Christ.  And it IS possible!  But it’s certainly not easy…or common…or quick.

Personally, I’ve only experienced this kind of deep, transforming community a couple times in my life.  It took a long time to build, was gloriously messy, and only lasted for a season.  I am profoundly thankful for those seasons, and have begun to see glimmers of this kind of connection again recently.

So let us take this very seriously, but not be discouraged.  And may we never give up.  God is community, God designed community, God desires that we be in community, and God will lead us into community.

Even in our search for connection, we are not alone.

many blessings to you,
Aaron and The Practice Team