Worship Script 2
Worship Script (2 of 9)
Sabbath as Spiritual Discipline
Come Come adapted from Rumi by Leslie Takahashi Morris
Come, Come, whoever you are
Come with your hurts, you imperfections,
Your places that feel raw and exposed.
Come Come, whoever you are
Come with your strengths that the world shudders to hold
Come with your wild imaginings of a better world,
Come with your hopes that it seems no one wants to hear.
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving
We will make a place for you,
We will build a home together.
Ours is no caravan of despair.
We walk together;
Come, yet again come.
HYMN #1008 When Our Heart is In a Holy Place
Excerpt from “Remember the Sabbath” by Barbara Brown Taylor, an article in Christian Century
Sabbath was the day when Israel celebrated its freedom from compulsion. On that one day every week, the people did not work and still they were fed. On that one day every week, they remembered their worth lay not in their own productivity but in God's primordial love for them. Sabbath offered them a foretaste of heaven, when they would lie back in God's arms and behold the glory of creation for all eternity.
I remembered all of this several Sundays ago, when I left home late for church. With nine miles to go and 15 minutes to travel them in, I hardly noticed the dew-soaked cobwebs in the tall grass by the side of the road, which the morning sun had turned into pockets of light. I barely glanced at the herd of deer grazing in the meadow, and had less than my usual appreciation for the red-tailed hawk that lifted off from a fence post as I ruined his morning watch.
For seven miles I had the road to myself. Then I roared up behind a red sports utility vehicle that was traveling significantly below the speed limit. The driver, who was all alone, was sipping a cup of something hot enough to steam in the cool morning air. As I rode his bumper, he admired the mountain view with one elbow propped on his open window. All I could see was the solid yellow line that forbade me to pass him. He slowed down a little when he saw the Holstein cows circling the old Indian mound. As he turned his face toward them, I could see him smiling in his side rear-view mirror. Finally he pulled over to read a historical marker and I zoomed past him, wondering who was doing a better job of observing the sabbath.
A quote from Chinese Taoist Chuang Tzu
I take doing do-nothing to be true happiness, but ordinary people think it is a bitter thing. I say: perfect happiness knows no happiness, perfect praise knows no praise. The world can't decide what is right and what is wrong. And yet doing do-nothing can decide this. Perfect happiness, keeping alive- only do-nothing gets you close to this!
HYMN #1031 May I Be Filled with Loving Kindness
STORY FOR ALL AGES
The Wandering Teacher, from Tapestry of Faith
Once upon a time there was a Teacher who was known far and wide as one who had mastered all the great disciplines of a spiritual seeker. She wandered the country, and whenever people heard she was near, they traveled to seek her wisdom and her guidance.
“Great Teacher,” one would say, “I wish to get closer to God.” “By what path do you travel now?” she would ask. “I study the scriptures, diligently applying myself day and night to unlocking their mysteries,” might come the reply. “Then you should put down your books and walk in the woods—thinking nothing, but listening deeply.”
Another would say, “I do good to every person I meet, doing all that I can to serve their needs.” “Then for a time,” the Teacher would reply, “consider yourself well met and strive to serve your own needs as you have so well served others.”
One day the Teacher noticed someone in the back of the crowd, someone not pushing his way to her as most of the others did. She went to him. “What is it I can do for you?” she asked.
“I do not know,” he relied. “I feel in need of something, but I do not believe in God and have nothing you could call a ‘practice.’” “When do you feel most alive?” the Teacher asked. “When I am playing with my children,” the man said without hesitation. “Then play with your children,” said the Teacher. “And you will find what you seek.”
Prayer by Abraham Joshua Heschel, adapted by Emily DeTar Birt
“Prayer invites God to be present in our spirits and in our lives. Prayer cannot bring water to parched land, nor mend a broken bridge, nor rebuild a ruined city, but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will.”
In that spirit, let us enter into a moment of silent meditation and prayer.
CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN
Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives. As you do, you may briefly share what it is. We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.
Vacation As a Spiritual Discipline, by Jonalu Johnstone, developmental minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Manhattan, Kansas
A series in the Cathy comic strip about vacationing caught my eye, perhaps because it was really about the opposite. In one sequence, a vacationing colleague calls Cathy to ask her to fax him a deal he had left her in charge of. In another, the only messages left for the boss are emails, faxes, and cell phone calls from “vacationing” employees, assuring him they’re easy to access if he needs them for anything.
This little series went on for quite awhile. You’d almost think they were onto some kind of phenomenon.
Then I read a business column whose author was upset at executives who do not get back to a newspaper columnist within a day of their phone call. That’s not good enough for business these days, the columnist asserts, and goes on to describe how one person called her back from the Olympic stadium while watching a gymnastics meet.
To which I say, Oh, come on. Get over yourself. Are we really so hooked into the working world that we can’t escape for a day or two? Or even watch a sports competition in peace without the interference of a phone call?
We may have lost some of our ability to take vacation as seriously as it deserves.
There was, it seems, a time when… well, there was more time. When people had dinner together every night; when Sunday meant gathering with family and taking it easy; when weekends weren’t frantic, and going on vacation meant you were away from it all. I fear we’ve lost the capacity or even the inclination to let go and be gone. And with that, we’ve lost some important spiritual connections. That’s why I want to reclaim the Spiritual Discipline of Vacation.
But first, this is an opportune moment to remind you that preachers often preach what they most need to hear. I begin with a confession: I am overly responsible, one of those folks who naturally gravitate to the kitchen for clean-up rather than the parlor for conversation—a Martha rather than a Mary, if you know the old Biblical story. So, truth is the Cathy comic strip strikes almost too close to home to actually be funny.
I am pretty good at taking vacation, though. When I get in that car and drive away, I leave the day-to-day anxieties. I admit to taking my cell phone, but I don’t worry so much when I realize I’m out of range. I had a really good lesson on this when I accidentally drowned my cell phone while out of town. With no calls possible, I had no choice but to let go of the need for them.
We could blame our drift from the sanity of peaceful escape on the Technology Era—the instant access provided by cell phones and emails and social media, the changing expectations of availability, the fraying of boundaries between home and work. Yet, I know we’re fighting a bigger issue—a human drive.
This problem did not start with the Internet or even the telephone. I’m certain of that because there have always been religious strictures that push us to let go of all that distracts us from genuine living. That’s what I think the Jewish Sabbath laws are about.
I’m not just talking about rest. Of course we understand the need for rest, for a break. Everyone knows that a good night’s sleep makes most problems easier to tackle. And when the mind just isn’t on top, even five minutes’ stretch on the couch can do wonders. What we’re after here, though, is bigger than that.
The biblical Book of Leviticus, part of the Torah, lays out these demands and fits them into an even larger calendar of taking it easy. Every seventh year, says Leviticus 25, you shouldn’t work the land. You can eat anything that just naturally grows on it, but tilling and planting and harvesting is out. This is the origin of our sabbatical, that is, the academic and religious practice of taking significant time away from the regular working grind every seven years.
This may seem esoteric to you. Who cares what rules a group of tribal people put together six or seven hundred years before the Common Era? Well, this matters because it reminds us that there has always been a need to tell people to stop, to chill, to take a break, a breather.
Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor has been practicing a weekly Sabbath for years. She sees it as quite different from the brief breaks most of us try to take. In an article in Christian Century titled “Sabbath Resistance,” she says, “Plenty of us take an hour here or there and call it Sabbath, which is like driving five miles to town and calling it Europe.” Taylor writes that for the first couple years of Sabbath-keeping, her mind swam with questions. Does looking at a catalog count as shopping? Is puttering in the garden work if I’m just entertaining myself?
By the third year, she became capable of resting without leaving home, letting all the work go when Sabbath came. She now describes Sabbath as “an experience of divine love that swamps both body and soul.”
It’s hard for contemporary people to understand such an experience occurring on a weekly basis. For many of us, even occasionally achieving it seems improbable. Summer, though, may be our opportunity to try to stretch our minds around this concept. Authors Gary Schmidt and Susan Felch have compiled what they call a “spiritual biography” of summer.
In summer, they say, time “does not seem to move; instead, time collects, or perhaps it might be better said to pool. To halt in our headlong rush. To be fully in a particular time. To stop long enough to see what lies around us, rather than to be always merely glimpsing.” Maybe now, in the summer, we can construct for ourselves this new/renewed/renewing sense of time. There is a reason that we are ready for vacation. There are lessons we can learn here.
Vacation invites us to go out and play. Remember going out to play when you were a child? You didn’t go out with any intention beyond play. And something happened. Maybe it was ball; maybe it was house. Maybe it was making mud pies or climbing trees or chasing lightning bugs. Whatever, it simply came into being from the gathered children, or from you alone. Play is spontaneous, fresh, lively, and refreshing.
As adults we play when we set out to follow Route 66 and see what comes along. Or walk down an unfamiliar street to see where it leads. Or stream-walk—in the creek more than alongside it. When we remember how to plop down on the ground and stare up through the trees, and watch the clouds drift by. Some of us can set aside our adult judgments and play freely with our children or grandchildren.
Play, it’s been said, is the work of children, what teaches them about the world. For us grown-ups, it’s our refreshment. Vacations remind us to play. And there are no Sabbath strictures against it, no matter what our puritanical forebears may have said.
Significant in playfulness is spontaneity. Part of what vacation frees us from is our regular routines. We don’t have to get up at our usual time. We eat different things, and when we feel like it, instead of on a schedule. We try something new—scuba diving or rock climbing or painting with watercolors. With nothing pressing to do, we notice the texture of the moss on rocks or the exact shade of blue of the lake. We take time to follow the song of the finch and sight him for the first time. Robbed of our routines, vacation demands spontaneity.
Sometimes we become most productive by letting go of the need to be productive. Creativity, particularly, does not come when we are pressed for time. Rather, it grows out of the void, the emptiness, boredom, the same place that produces play, lightness, and spontaneity. Every creative artist knows that you have to let go and play with the ideas, the materials, and the arrangements to get there. You can’t force it.
How often do we keep ourselves from doing nothing because we are convinced we have too much we have to do? We can only let loose—go on vacation, or even take time in our everyday lives—if we can trust the world to go on accomplishing what it needs to get done without us. But it turns out that we are actually not crucial to the world staying on course. We become wrapped up in believing that our particular work, our peculiar approach is required, or all hell will break lose. It’s not true.
As Bertrand Russell said, “One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.”
This is not to say that what we do doesn’t matter. We have to have a sense of purpose in our lives, an idea that we are making a real and valid contribution. The problem comes when we are so steeped in ego that we lose sight of our relatively small place in the scheme of the universe. Too easily, we get caught up in earning money, in producing things—essentially in making idols. Often, our egos are so tied to our achievements that they are very hard to release.
That’s why one of the spiritual lessons of vacation is letting go of our normal drive to achieve, to produce, to accomplish. And simply, instead, to be. It requires humility to understand that others will find a way to take over what we usually do, and they’ll do fine. Or it can just go undone—for a day or a week. It takes even more humility to realize others may do it differently, and maybe even better. Don’t you hate when that happens? But it’s good for us.
It leads us to the play, the spontaneity, the creativity, and ultimately to gratitude. If we make space for the goodness of life to creep into our awareness, we cannot help but be grateful. It’s what we feel lying in a hammock in a gentle breeze. It’s our response to being overwhelmed with the love of family or friends surrounding us as we sing together or eat together or tell old stories that everyone already knows.
It’s not really about a particular time in the summer, or a particular day like the Sabbath, or even a particular event in our lives like a vacation. For we can do vacation wrong, as Wendell Berry describes in his poem, “Vacation,” in which a man so diligently videotapes his trip down a river for later memory that he manages to entirely miss actually experiencing his vacation itself.
No, that’s not the way. The way is to be in it. To be in the moment—Sabbath or not, vacation or not; home, away; summer, winter, spring, fall. It’s core to all the religious traditions.
Alan Watts quoted the T’ang master Lin-Chi as saying, “In Buddhism there is no place for using effort. Just be ordinary and nothing special. Eat your food, move your bowels, pass water, and when you’re tired go and lie down. The ignorant will laugh at me, but the wise will understand.”
Jesus said, “Consider the lilies of the field. They neither toil nor spin. Yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these.”
My favorite teacher, the Chinese Taoist Chuang Tzu, said, “Do not be an embodier of fame; do not be a storehouse of schemes; do not be an undertaker of projects; do not be a proprietor of wisdom. Embody to the fullest what has no end and wander where there is no trail. Hold on to all that you have received from Heaven but do not think you have gotten anything. Be empty, that is all.”
May you make time in your life to play. May the riches of living wash over you spontaneously. May your heart know both gratitude and humility. May your life be composed of one moment after another of wonder, goodness, beauty, and awe.
HYMN #1009 Meditation of Breathing
The courage of the early morning’s dawn,
And the strength of the eternal hills,
And the peace of the evening’s ending,
And the love of God,
Be in our hearts.