Sunday 10 November 2019

Sabbath-keeping and care-casting

Life has been feeling very relentless recently: I'm pressured by lots of Just Kai possibilities, there's various complicated people things going on, and I'm still learning to manage my different (and much less predictable) energy levels.  But I wanted to share something I started doing about two months ago that's made a huge difference: Sabbath keeping.

Ever since I gave myself pneumonia from working non-stop in my second year of university, I have tried to keep Sundays different from other days.  I haven't done anything I would consider work and, instead, have used it to focus on people and God.  So, over the years I was sick, Sundays were a day to email friends, do fun stuff and listen to a sermon, rather than days to work on my current project.

I tried to continue with that after I got better, but it hasn't been working.  I now go to church every other Sunday (going weekly is still too much), and those Sundays are anything but a day of rest.  I appreciate being able to connect with the community, but I come home utterly shattered and just needing to sleep.  And, on the non-church Sundays (like today), I've generally done something of substance on the Saturday and am then exhausted and needing to recover.  Neither of my current Sundays is the restorative, connective day that I need.

Off and on over the last 18 months or so, I've been reading A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife by Lynne Baab.  In it, she looks at various approaches parts of the church have taken over the centuries to better connect with God and their neighbours.  One section was on the Sabbath.  She talked about how she discovered the Sabbath when they lived in Israel for 18 months in (I think) the 1970s.  They happened to live in an Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood, where everything stopped from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday: not only were the shops shut but there was no public transport and so, as a household without a car, they had little choice but to rest.  It was transformational, and they've kept the practise of a 24 hour weekly day of rest ever since.

But one thing that struck me was this.  These days, Lynne is a minister, so Sundays are a work day for her.  So she takes her Sabbath from Sunday afternoon to Monday afternoon.  It hadn't really occurred to me previously to disconnect church observance and weekly rest, but I decided to try it.  So, for the past two months, my 'Sabbath' has been Sunday dinner through to Monday dinner (except where I've had unavoidable Monday commitments, in which case I've tried to make Saturday not too exhausting and then rested Saturday dinner till Sunday dinner).

When I come back to the bedroom after dinner, I light a candle to remind me of the light of Christ's presence, and I set the computer to play music.  From then until the following evening I avoid playing games on the computer or looking at social media: not because those things are 'bad', but because they are things I can become obsessive about so they're not conducive to deep rest.  That first evening I don't even listening to the radio or talking books - just music - so I can unwind.  It initially can feel quite tedious!  I also read a psalm to remind me of God being in charge in the world.  Lynne's suggestions are Psalms 29, 92 or 93.  Eventually I may need to look more widely if they become too familiar, but for now those are sufficient.

A big purpose in doing this, other than the actual resting, is to remind myself that I am superfluous.  Yes, God does give me work to do in life, but that's not why I exist.  I exist because he loves me.  God's love is pure grace: He is the giver of every good thing, He alone runs the universe.  I am not 'in charge' or 'responsible': I am a beloved creature, dependent on Him.  I can get very focused on the work I am called to do, so it does me good to set aside a day for praise and thanks, a day to receive God's grace and love, a day to let go of worries and productivity and just be.

The next day (the main 'Sabbath' time), I try to listen to how I'm feeling (something I'm often not that good at) and do what I want to do.  Other than that, my only goals are to rest, pray and spend some time in the sun.  So, last Monday, for example, I went for a wander around our street and ended up sitting on the berm for half an hour or so, watching the world go by and making a daisy chain.  Other days I've slept several hours both in the morning and the afternoon.  A couple of times I've phoned or emailed people.  Sometimes I've worked on a sewing project I'm doing just for me.

I've also several times done an exercise, recommended by Gordon Smith in a lecture series on Spiritual practice that Martin's been listening to, which he calls 'Care-casting'.  He takes the name from 1 Peter 5:6-11:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.
He's also inspired by Philippians 4:4-7:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Gordon Smith thinks that we need to be intentional about giving up our anxieties if we want to be care-free in God's providential goodness, so he encourages people to ask God to reveal their worries to them, write them all down, then explicitly hand each of them over to God.  He wants people to particularly focus on whatever is troubling them the most: chances are, that's something you'll want to hang on to, but that's also the thing you most need to let go of.

This care-casting is a newer idea for me, but I've done it on three of my last four Sabbath days, and it has been helpful.  There's a few things I'm finding quite worrying/trying at the moment, and it's good to deliberately let go of them - it also makes it easier to keep on letting go of them as they come up again during the week :-)

It's also made me more aware of God being in charge of things.  One time when I was praying through these things, a verse I love from Handel's Messiah came to me: "Why do the nations so furiously rage together, and why do the people imagine a vain thing?"  It's from Psalm 2, and goes on to say that "He who sits in the heavens laughs".  I rage, I imagine a vain thing, I think I'm in charge and powerful... but it's God who is really in charge, and letting go of my cares helps me to rest in that.

So today will be a fairly 'normal' (if quiet-ish) day, but after dinner regular activities will be set aside as my focus turns to resting, accepting God's grace and remembering I'm superfluous :-)

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