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Sunday, July 14, 2013

permission to suspend time: thoughts on sabbath

I believe the Burundi team recommended this book to me (The Sense of the Call: A Sabbath way of life for those who serve God, the Church, and the World).  This week I hit a wall of weariness and sickness, and when the fever ebbed I started delving into the pages.  Marva Dawn is a thoughtful scholar, a beautiful writer, with the credibility of a person who has suffered.  I first read her book about Revelations and strength in weakness when my Dad had ALS, and have been a fan ever since.  I'm only on the third chapter of this one, but it comes at the right time.  Spain and back with the whole mission, son #2 come and gone all-too-quickly, Uganda and back with crises there, the end of the school year with goodbyes to staff and students, impending changes in our department as people move on, and a two-day bout with a nasty infection, well, it is just all a bit too much.  What is God's call, in all this traumatic mess, and can I possibly follow?  Dawn takes us into Scripture to look at the concept of sabbath:  ceasing, resting, feasting, and embracing.  Taking a step out of the confines of accomplishment to taste the timelessness of eternity:  no pressure to perform, no schedule, a day of being.  Of restoration and refreshment, of community.

She looks at the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah, one which has been central to my heart since it jumped out during preterm labor with Caleb in remote Bundibugyo and the possibility that faith and calling meant hard, permanent, disastrous outcomes for our kids.  Dawn sees the story as one of provision:  God will provide.  God took Abraham right up to the climax of horror, right into the heart of common religious practice of his day, to show him that the LORD did not operate that way.  That our God provides the sacrifice, requiring the ultimate only of Himself.

Because faith in God's provision is the necessary foundation of sabbath.  Six days of labor, six days of collecting manna, six days of scramble and struggle and thoughtful hard work, plowing and reaping, reading and diagnosing and meeting and teaching.  The only way one can cease and rest on the seventh is to believe that God can provide beyond what another day's labor can accomplish.  That in fact, He ordered things this way, and wants to.  "Not by our own efforts will we best serve the Church and the world.  Sabbath ceasing teaches us how useless are our society's exertions, money, power, fame, gimmicks, and glitz.  Sabbath ceasing instead immerses us in the presence of our benevolent and extravagant God and in the LORD's provision for our future." (Dawn)

Today is Sunday.  And I am on call. This is one dilemma of medicine, the inability to completely set aside a specific day. So it is not exactly a full Sabbath.  But after a much-interrupted night, and an hour of problems in the early morning, even an on-call Sunday has offered some rest.  Worship and coffee cake with the family (in which I made them listen to a handful of pages from this book).  Nothing more restful than a dog and a blanket and a Psalm, this time 50, another reminder that God does not need my Paediatric skills to save patients just as He doesn't need more cows sacrificed.  He can be pleased with both, offered freely, but He can raise up cattle and doctors at will.

This truth about God's independence from our sacrifice must be held in tension with the truth of God's call to us to sacrifice.  The generation following mine is all about boundaries, rest, rhythms, saying no.  I learn a lot from that.  But I honestly don't completely buy it.  Abraham got the provision AFTER he climbed the mountain and raised the knife.  I know I have been grumpy and faithless and discouraged, but I don't think the solution is to risk less, plan safety.  I still think we're called to the edge where we are thrown upon God's provision or death.  And that we climb Mt. Moriah all-out six days out of seven, then take a complete breathing rest.

Which is easier said than done.  At our WHM conference, friends Joel and Cindy Hylton led a seminar on sabbath rest.  As we met in our small groups I got this mental picture of why our life can be so stressful.  Four competing massive good circles of life, all with their own independent agendas and schedules.  The tiny darkened overlap is where we try to live, the place where Kijabe Hospital Medical Life, RVA School/Kid Life, WHM Teams and Colleagues Life, and USA family and supporter Life, all intersect.  I take Yale's and USAFA's and RVA's school schedules and put them into my calendar, overlapping 7 Africa-team locations, central mission requirements, and then try and plan coverage for three Paediatric services at the hospital 24/7.  Sometimes it isn't pretty.  I think my prayer this year is to live in that small dark center with a six/one rhythm.  To climb up for sacrifice when called in any of the four spheres, in faith that God will provide time with my kids, and sleep and food and exercise and joy.

Sabbath is essential to life, and yet we can't stay in sabbath all week long.  Like everything else in life, truth is in the paradox rather than the compromise:  The four spheres will spin on without me while I am called to sabbath rest/ The way of the cross is to lay down our life in each of those four spheres.


Rosita said...

Beautiful and timely reflection. Thank you.

Unknown said...

Actually I believe the Scriptures teach that we can live a Sabbath rest at all times...Jesus is our Sabbath rest and according to the Word in Hebrews 4:9-10 "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his” We are continually filled by His Spirit and it is only this truth that brings peace and wholeness (Shalom) into my crazy life each day..