Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Superman and Sabbath

Superman has a fortress of solitude.

As a kid, I loved watching the Christopher Reeve 'Superman' movies and was mystified at how this scrawny dude could possibly pick up a car (not to mention figure out a way to send the whole world back in time!... but that's a post for another day).  Some of the most interesting scenes were the ones showing the Man of Steel's Fortress of Solitude.  In the film, Superman chunks an alien crystal into the ice and this crystal constructs a sanctuary for him there in the Arctic.
Here we have Superman, the only person from his world left alive in the universe, a man totally alone, and yet what is it that he needs to keep going?  A Fortress of Solitude.

There is a quote from an old book that has rocked my thinking lately.  Abraham Joshua Heschel's 'The Sabbath' talks about the way that humanity has tended to value space over time.  He develops the idea that God was ultimately concerned with creating holy time - not holy spaces.  At creation, the only thing God declared both 'good' and 'holy' was a day - one set aside as Sabbath.  And those holy places we think of - his instructions for tabernacle and temple - were only introduced after the Israelites tried their hand at making an (un)holy object. 

While humanity values holy objects and sites, God emphasizes holiness in time. Heschel writes that,

"Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent streams of a year.  The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals... Jewish ritual may be characterized as the art of significant forms of time, as architecture of time."   

So, by practicing Sabbath, we build cathedrals of time. 

Humans certainly go to great lengths to create holy spaces.   But, for most of humanity the space we inhabit is not ultimately under our control - it is shaped significantly by other forces, such as family and finances.  Our time, though, is more under our discretion.  We may not have the ways or means to head to a sanctuary, but we have been allotted the same 24 hours as everyone else on the planet, and we can choose to use those minutes well.  Wherever we find ourselves under the sun, our power lies in the way we use our time. 

I've been trying to follow Heschel's counsel and see time, and not necessarily real estate, as God's holy commodity. I'm picturing the hours of my day turning into bricks.  Some of them broken or misshapen, only good for the rubble heap.  Some of them sturdy and ready to build a worthy structure.  By using my time well, I imagine myself constructing cathedrals of time.  And my hope is that as God is sanctifying that time, it is forms something worthwhile. 

For the past 7 or 8 years our family and our team have set aside Mondays as a day of rest.  We try to follow Eugene Peterson's advice and see Sabbath as a day made for 'praying' and 'playing'.  We enjoy a breakfast of pancakes and a slow start to the day as a family.  We play videogames and board games together.  I read books to the three year old.  Rachel sews a little and helps the older girls make crafts.  We take naps.  More reading of books to the three year old.  Rachel and I give each other time to be alone for word and prayer.  We might play ball outside, I may write a little and then there's more reading to the three year old.  And while these days are not perfect (we still have interruptions: visitors show up unannounced, funerals happen, sick people need help, or the car must be repaired), this day is the highlight of our week.  Inside these cathedrals of Sabbath time amazing things can happen: rest, love, and attention.

The practice of Sabbath has made me a better father.  When I relinquish the day to praying and playing, I am able to focus on my kids.  When one of the girls wants to sit on my lap and hear me tell a story, I can leave the to-do list on the shelf and remember that today was set aside for this.  The practice of Sabbath has made me a better husband.  I remember that my wife is my Sabbath queen and we linger around the table and try to make the time to really listen to each other.

Practicing seeing the world this way not only helps us value 'Sabbath time', it also helps us properly value 'Ordinary time'.

In falling in step with the rhythm of six days of work and one day of rest, I am reminded that the world continues to run without me.  The Maker is the one who keeps the earth spinning... thank you very much.  Humanity has often needed this reminder.  The children of Israel lived as slaves in Egypt for 400 years - there was no rest.  So, in God's gift of the Law, He makes it clear that his children should rest and that those who choose to not practice Sabbath are returning to the slave-ways of Egypt (Deut. 5:15).  Sabbath is rooted in creation and if we want to live well as creatures we will follow that rhythm.   Even when life gets busy, there is too much to do, and we are tempted to skip Sabbath in that busy season of harvesting or plowing, God specifically tells his people to keep practicing Sabbath (Exodus 34:21).  The good news of the Sabbath is that God gives rest to the rest of us.

In Frank Herbert's novel, Dune, one of the characters is struck by a thought, "It occurred to her that mercy was the ability to stop, if only for a moment.  There was no mercy where there could be no stopping."  We have a friend who has been in full-time ministry for over twenty years and he told us a few months ago that he hadn't taken a vacation in over fifteen years.  That's not how we were made to function.  Being a workaholic is not holy.  If we as ministers are to be full of mercy, then that mercy must extend to ourselves - we must be able to stop.

In practicing Sabbath, we sanctify time, constructing cathedrals that, in turn, shape us into the people we were created to be.

Superman was able to build his fortress of solitude out of crystals, we get to build cathedrals out of our time.  

And if Superman needs solitude and Sabbath, then it should be okay for us to admit that we do, too. 

Grace and Peace,

(There are some really good resources on Sabbath out there.  Heschel's book The Sabbath develops the theology and philosophy behind Sabbath from the Jewish tradition in a very deep way. Marva Dawn's Keeping the Sabbath Wholly and Dan B. Allender's Sabbath both talk about theory and make practical suggestions.  James K. A. Smith has a very helpful chapter called "Working at Rest" on the challenge of Sabbath for 'type A' personalities in his book The Devil Reads Derrida.  But, my favorite resource on Sabbath and the one that got us started practicing it as a family comes from a chapter on prayer in Eugene Peterson's book Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity.  Unfortunately, I have yet to find a resource that gives many ideas on practicing Sabbath while in the life stage of parenting small children.  Most resources that describe this spiritual practice are in a different life stage.  If they have children, they are grown and their descriptions of Sabbath practices include taking long walks in silence and eating peaceful reflective meals... while that certainly sounds wonderful - it doesn't work so well with three active kids!  So, if you find a good one please pass it on.)

1 comment:

  1. My husband, Bob, has been taking time for 'silent' retreats. (We know Rachel from years ago in College Station!) He loves a contemplative life style. We often discuss how God must feel about 'busy-ness'. A concentration on 'still-ness' might be the more faithful choice! God bless your family as you live and work in His service.