Sabbath

Most of us carry the dream of an ideal place to live. I do. I would love to live in a historic house refitted with modern amenities. I would like that house to be situated on a quiet tree-lined street, with a great coffee shop and a serious used book store within walking distance. Put that house in a quiet Victoria, BC neighbourhood and we have a deal. My ideal place. Do you think about such things? I would be willing to bet that you do. But as much as we think about ideal place, I wonder if many of us think about ideal time. Sure, we wish we could slow down the pace of life a little, feel less pressured, less hurried. We all crave more free time to do the kinds of things we love to do. But beyond that, how do you conceive of ideal time? Is there such a thing? Our discussion this past Sunday — the practice of Sabbath — is perhaps one of the most important formational practices we could talk about.

There is a difference conceptually between holiday and vacation. The words seem synonymous to us, but it might be helpful to distinguish them once again. Holiday is “holy day”, time set apart for reverence. Vacation, by contrast, is an emptying, a vacating of place and responsibility. Holiday (holy day) is fullness, presence, attention, remembering. Vacation is absence, forgetting, allowing the taught rope of daily responsibility to go slack for a while. I think we need both. But Sabbath as a re-creating encounter with God as living presence is perhaps most glaringly absent from our practice. Few of us realize how deeply restful the practice of spiritual Sabbath can be. Sabbath is not merely a day off; it is the weekly rehearsal of our hope.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s classic, The Sabbath, makes the case that “the Bible is more concerned with time than with space”. He says that we spend our time chasing down the things that can fill our spaces, and actually learn to dread time. In our culture we have come to see time as our enemy, something we have to manage. But the goal of spiritual living, says Heschel, is to enter sacred moments, to encounter the presence of God in time. If we do this well, we learn to see the reality of the eternal, the source of true livingness.

If you would like to chase down the Biblical understanding of time, and perhaps begin to live in time in a way that redeems and transforms, you might need to do a little reading. I recommend Heschel’s book of course, but it may be a little challenging for some. Dorothy Bass wrote a wonderful little volume called Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time. Its a resource I often recommend to people who want to understand this principle better.

The shift in your thinking about time won’t come quick and easy, but with sustained attention and practice you will begin to realize that by living differently in time you become more aware of the divine presence. This is, after all, how we prepare ourselves for God’s eternal and timeless city. The irony is that by seeking God in time, he brings us to his ideal place.

Bob Osborne