A few years ago, I came upon some letters of Albert Camus, the existentialist writer. In his later years, Camus’ heart had been warmed by God, by Christ, by the desire for meaningful community.”In the depth of winter,” Camus wrote, “I finally learned that within me there lay an Invincible Summer.”
As we face into Fall and the inevitable Winter, the thought of an Invincible Summer sounds pretty good. And what would that Invincible Summer look like? Warmth and sandals for sure! But also… you know that kind of lazy feeling that summer can have? One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to come home from work and go outside to sit in my hammock chair (which I might add, I just had to bring in!) Settle in with a good book, and feel the day unwind around me. It’s like a mini-Sabbath, when the world can fall away, or better, fall into perspective.
God did that, right after God finished creating the universe and everything in it. God finished work, went out in the holy hammock chair, and picked up a Good Book. And, according to that Good Book, that’s when our Sabbaths, our deep rest, began.
Why did God rest? Well, because God was tired of course, and needed to rest so God could do the same thing on Monday! That’s the reason you and I usually give for why we take time off from work, isn’t it? So we can be more effective workers? So that we can do even more! be more productive! do more things! get more done! Dear friends, that might be why gerbils rest, but that’s not why God rested.
God rested… to take pleasure in all the beauty and wonder that those Holy Hands had just created. God rested… because the only way to find meaning, to find joy, to understand the purpose of our labor… is to step back, and smile, and say, ‘Isn’t that lovely?’ God rested… so God could be grateful.
I had a fly fishing lesson when I was living in Washington State. I went to the Wednesday night fly fishing lecture at the fishing store. We were a pitifully obvious bunch- 8 driven, no-nonsense adults gathered after work to learn the art of fly fishing in 2 easy lessons.
Wednesday night, we learned how to tie the basic knots, learned the parts of the fishing rod. Seth, the teacher, gave us papers and diagrams. It was productive. Whenever you have papers and diagrams, you know you’re being productive!
Sunday evening, 4:00, we all gathered up on the Snoqualmie River outside North Bend. All but one of us. Jack was late. He came roaring off I-90 just as we had finished strapping on our waders.
When Jack finished getting on his waders, (the rest of us glaring at him) we all hiked down to the Snoqualmie River, and actually start casting for the first time. I was trying my best; I was trying hard: brows furrowed, eye narrowed into the setting sun.
About an hour into this soggy exercise, I was starting to wear out. My arm was aching, and I was starting to cheat- using two hands. Seth, our teacher, came over and he said, “That last cast was really beautiful, Nansi. Did you see how it arced and dropped so gently? Now, slow down some. Don’t just keep casting and casting: take a moment as the line is falling to appreciate the beauty of the cast. It is so lovely…”
And it was. And oddly enough, after that, my spirit began to lighten. I stopped squinting and furrowing, and I began to hear the sounds of the water around me. I felt the breeze in my hair. This is why I was there: not to catch a lot of fish, but to experience the beauty of the river, and all the life therein.
The core of Sabbath is play- doing something not out of compulsion or gain, but for the joy of the thing itself. We are never so much ourselves than when we are at play. And it was good. It was very good.
I lived in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Between my cedars, I could see Mt. Si out my kitchen window. The Raging River was a couple minutes’ walk. The forest was lush and lovely. I loved looking at my mountain and my river- when I noticed them. I loved poking around in my forest- when I noticed it. And I loved all the people who shared my mountain, and my river, and my forest with me: My daughter, my husband, my neighbors- when I noticed them.
And God worked hard for 6 days creating all the beauty and majesty and wonder that surrounds us- and then God sat down and noticed. The Bible says God noticed. And God enjoyed, and delighted, and appreciated, and laughed with joy, because that is what gives meaning to any creation. And so God sat down, and noticed, and smiled, and called it good.
Dear friends, you and I can accumulate a lot of stuff. We can accumulate beautiful homes and gardens and boats and fishing rods. We can accumulate information and experiences- “Have you taken the ferry across Lake Michigan yet?” “Oh, I did that last year; this year I knocked off all the Great Lakes .”
God help us, we can accumulate people. In a classic work on the Sabbath, Rabbi Abraham Herschel says this kind of accumulation- whether it’s homes or money or mountains or people- this kind of accumulation is labor, and belongs to the realm of Space. Time and Space are the elements we live in. Accumulations- things over which we have control and power- belong to the Realm of Space.
But what God seems to value is not an amassed quantities of things- (you know: ‘The one who dies with the most toys wins’.) What God seems to value is… Intimacy. Contact. Insight. What God seems to value are encounters which cannot be grasped and held, but only recognized, valued, appreciated, when we stop and rest in the Realm of Time.
Rabbi Heschel wrote that the Lord God of Israel made a habit of transforming annual harvest festivals into historic, transforming encounters. That’s how the God of Israel wanted to be remembered and worshiped.
Take the Passover: In Judaism, Passover was originally a spring festival- a celebration of the new-born lambs. But God revealed Godself to the Jews by taking this ancient farming ritual and transforming it into… the Exodus- when God led the people from the slavery of Egypt into freedom, into intimate covenant with the Holy.
Or take the Feast of Weeks: The Feast of Weeks was originally a celebration of the wheat harvest. But God revealed Godself to the Jews by taking this ancient farming ritual, and transforming it into the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, when God’s people were taught how to live as a loving community.
God took the repetitive cycles of the farming year and transformed them into unique, historical moments of insight and recognition and transformation. God took Space, and made it into Time.
Time, you know, is the one thing we have no control over. I can try to dye it away, or surgically remove it- but I have no actual control over it. And events in time- insights, recognitions, intimate connections- we have no control over those either. We can’t accumulate revelations like we accumulate CDs or fishing poles. But we can… be open. We can be grateful. We can notice. And in the depth of winter, we can be warmed by that interior, Invincible Summer.
God created the world in 6 days, on the 7th day, God sat back. And Time swirled around, and Space swirled around, and God just sat there. And God noticed the beauty, the gracefulness, the silliness, the loveliness… of us. And God smiled, and said, “It is good. It is very good.”
And that, dear friends, was the Sabbath. When Time kissed Space, and made it Holy.
O Lord, You’re beautiful. Your face is all I see. And when Your Eyes are on this Child, Your Grace abounds in me.
In the Name of the One who will never let us go; even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Resources: Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath; Tilden Edwards, Sabbath Time
Scripture Reading: Genesis 1:1-2:4a, adapted
In the beginning, it was a raging chaos, dark and terrible. But the wind, the breath, the Spirit of God was moving over the chaos. And God said, “Let there be light!” And behold, the light burst forth. And God pulled the light to one side, and the darkness to the other side, and called them “Day” and “Night.” That was the first day; and it was good. And God pushed the sky into the heaven, to separate it from the ocean. That was the second day; and it was good. Then God brought forth the life of the trees and flowers and fruits. That was the third day; and it was good. Then God brought forth the lights of the sky- the Sun to shine by day, and the Moon to shine by night. That was the fourth day; and it was good. Then God brought forth life in the skies, and life in the oceans: the birds and the fish. That was the fifth day; and it was good. Then God turned to the earth, and brought forth its life, the animals of the fields and forests. But something was missing. Someone was missing. And so God created us, woman and man, God created us in God’s own image. And God told us to care for it all- the life, the beauty, the waters, the earth and the skies. That was the sixth day; and it was very, very good. Thus all the heavens and earth were made whole, and all the life within them. And on that seventh day, God rested. And God blessed the seventh day and set it apart as holy.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.