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.