Sunday, November 16, 2014

Personal: Retreat Recap (Resurrection Life and Sabbath)

To Lisa, Brenda and Barbara (and anyone else who wants to know about the women’s retreat Saturday), here is my best attempt at sharing what I heard.  It may not be what you’re looking for or hoping for, as what one person brings back from a retreat can tend to be kind of idiosyncratic.  (Shout out to others who were there – if you want to jump in on the facebook thread that this is linked to and share what spoke to you at the conference, please do!!)

Anyway, it was basically a half-day retreat in 3 parts.  The speakers were Pastor Mary Hulst and Christian blogger Aleah Marsden.  Pastor Mary had the morning and afternoon sessions, and Aleah had the lunch presentation.  The last presentation of the day, which was on Sabbath, spoke most strongly to me, but the others led up to it well.

Preface – I wasn't sure I was going to make it to this retreat.  This semester has been even busier than normal (if possible!) work has been piling up all week; I was grading papers until almost midnight Friday night (the night before the conference) – and have all the work-related things mentioned in my original facebook comment to do yet this weekend, but I just knew I needed this and that it might help me find a different way, a better way.  Since my attendance was a last minute decision I wasn't entirely clear going into the retreat on the details of what the day would hold, but I knew it was supposed to have something to do with Resurrection Life and Sabbath  .  .  .

MORNING SESSION – The first topic was Resurrection Life – yea!  But Pastor Mary started out by saying, “What needs to happen before resurrection?”  And we all knew the answer: Death.  Then she began to talk about sin, and I thought, “Oh no.  Here I've been so burdened and overwhelmed for the last year or so – totally on survival mode and barely that – and we’re going to start out all heavy and negative and talking about sin?!  Ugh!  I need to hear about REST!”

But she went on into a reading from C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce – the story of the “ghost” with the lizard on his shoulder – basically his pet sin – the need for it to die - the struggle involved – the outcome.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it!  This portion starts partway through chapter 11, beginning with the sentence, “I saw coming towards us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder.”

She read half of the story of that “ghost” and then talked about the Seven Deadly Sins, one-by-one, which sounds really dreadful but was really well done and actually quite “light” if I can use that word.  She used examples that hit home for all of us – allowing us to chuckle, but also to see clearly (in other words her approach didn’t deepen the oppression I already feel).  After going through the "seven", she read the end of the story of the “ghost,” which is quite triumphant!  (Aside – I was so taken by her speaking on the Seven Deadly Sins that I think I am finally going to finish reading “Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies” by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung – also an excellent book.)

LUNCH SESSION – Aleah Marsden spoke of something I hadn't heard of before but seems like it might be a current catch-phrase in “bible study circles” (of which I don’t have time to be a part right now) - the God Margin.  She spoke of how we “disqualify” ourselves for what we are called to do (or might want to do) – disqualify ourselves by seeing ourselves as too broken, not good enough, lacking this and lacking that.  She mentioned Abraham, who was called to be a great nation, though his wife was barren – and of Moses who was called to lead Israel, though he had a speech impediment – and of Peter who was an uneducated fisherman but through whom Jesus chose to build His church – of David, who was so lowly that his own father didn't think to call him from the field when Samuel showed up.

She spoke of our need to come to the end of ourselves, which can be scary, but that when we are moving in the direction God leads us in He provides abundantly, but that we don’t see that until we get to the place where we can’t make it work on our own – and that God bridges that margin between what we are capable of on our own and what it is that we are being called to do.

She also spoke of being genuine and vulnerable – not putting on a show for each other, but ministering to each other genuinely in community by being genuine.  Her passage was from I Corinthians 1:26 through part of chapter 2, and she pointed out how Paul spoke of doing what he did with much fear and trembling, so she encouraged us to, “Do it afraid – do it anyway.”  Some closing ideas were that we need to reach the end of ourselves to find out that our sufficiency is in Christ alone, and she reminded us that if we are still breathing, then we are not finished yet, and God is not finished with us yet.

AFTERNOON SESSION – Sabbath/Resurrection Life – How do we make a habit of it?  (Aside – I’m not sure I have a lot in the way of tips and tricks; what spoke to me more was of vision – a fuller vision of Sabbath that might allow me to more effectively have it happen in my life.)  Pastor Mary began by asking us (most, if not all of us having grown up in the church) what Sabbath was to us in our childhoods  .  .  .  the picture that people shared was pretty bleak – lots of rules and what we could not do, but no discussion of why we were not doing them.  But then she moved on to describe what Sabbath was meant to be.

She emphasized Sabbath as a gift, and she asked us who rested first.  God, of course.  And then she asked us what the reason was – was it that he was worn out?  No.  He was enjoying His creation and seeing that it was good.

She spoke of Genesis as being written in the context of Exodus and that in part it makes a distinction between the God of the Hebrews and the gods of the Egyptians and other nations.  Other gods didn't rest, nor were they contented.  The gods of other cultures fought with each other, and they oppressed their people and messed with them.  Our God rested and gave rest to His people as a gift.  (She jokingly play-acted an Israelite talking to an Egyptian whose main god is Ra, god of the sun, and she said, “Yeah, well our God waited around all the way until day four before He got around to creating the sun.” – kind of like it was an afterthought rather than the be all and end all.)

She talked about the first time Israel was impacted with Sabbath was with the provision of manna – and how they couldn't collect extra on days other than the day before the Sabbath (or it would get wormy) – and how they had to collect extra manna on the day before the Sabbath because they were not to work on the Sabbath AND because they were to trust God to provide for them.  (Personal note – I hadn't thought about that story in a long time.  I go around collecting manna every day and every night feeling I have to keep so many things working – and I do have a lot of responsibilities.  Can I make the leap to trusting God to provide if I do obey His command and receive His gift of Sabbath?  I don't know, but that’s my goal now, and it is a trust issue, and an obedience issue as well as being other things also).

Anyway, despite God leading them out of Egypt and out of slavery, some of the Israelites were resistant and didn't obey – collected extra manna on other days – didn't prepare for the Sabbath. 

What Pastor Mary asked and said after that is what impacted me most about the whole day.  She asked why the people would resist such a thing.  Her conclusion was that it was so ingrained in them from their time as slaves in Egypt with Pharaoh constantly calling them lazy and pouring more work on as they slaved for him that they had internalized the message, “Work sets you free.”  By commanding and giving Sabbath God was trying to teach them that they were under new management and that He would take care of them – that they were no longer slaves but were in relationship and that He was giving them the gift of Sabbath.  She challenged us to think about the difference between being a slave and being in a relationship and how Sabbath speaks to that.  She shared what I find to be a truth in my life, “We mark who we are by how hard we’re working, and by so doing we are putting ourselves back into slavery.”

That message right there is what I think will be most powerful as I work to change this in my own life.  God has set me free and has gifted me with Sabbath, but I am defining myself by work and therefore willingly putting myself in slavery.

She spoke also of how the Sabbath is “  .  .  .  to the Lord your God.”  And there were many things meant by that – that it isn't about what other people do or don’t see you doing on Sabbath, that it is between you and God – that it is a relationship, God saying, “How can you and I be in relation together?”  Additionally it isn't about “me time.”

Now that one kind of stopped me in my tracks, because I am in such desperate need of “me time,” so I started to feel a bit resentful – thinking “Oh, lovely, so God is yet ANOTHER being who wants something from me and wants to take time from me.”  But I realized I need Sabbath relation with God AND I need “me time” too and that this isn't something I can multi-task and “double-dip” on.

It’s hard for me even to write what I’m writing; I'm so work-oriented that I fear people will read it and think I’m lazy.  I am so defined by my work and so scared of anyone thinking I’m not working hard enough, but I realized yesterday I cannot be healthy emotionally, spiritually or physically – nor can I even do my work well – if I do not have both rest and Sabbath.  So this is not optional.

She spoke of Sabbath as a “saying no” – saying no to kids in soccer on Sunday – saying no to doing our shopping on Sunday – saying no to doing our normal work on Sunday – and that by saying no we flex our moral muscles to say no to other things and to say yes to a different kind of life.

She spoke of writings of the prophets in the old testament, and this is something I need to research, as scripture reading for me is another thing that has been more and more sacrificed to my job, so I don’t remember the details of all those books anymore, but she said that the reason the Israelites were often in exile was not due to adultery or murder but due to them not keeping the Sabbath holy.  She especially referenced Nehemiah and the commerce that was being done on the Sabbath and how Nehemiah had the gates to the city shut when the evening shadows fell at the beginning of Sabbath in order to keep the vendors out.  He set a guard on the gates in order to keep the Sabbath Day holy.

Another very interesting thing she pointed out is that many other gods sanctify space, but our God sanctifies time.  God doesn't call us to make pilgrimages to places that are holy – every square inch of creation is to be redeemed.  What God has set aside as holy is time – one day in seven.  Not all people own property, but all people have time.

She went on to share about how Jesus came on the scene and really messed with people's heads because by that time the Pharisees had taken the Sabbath and made it about a bunch of rules and regulations – that if your hat fell into a well on the Sabbath you couldn't get it out, but if your ox fell into the well you could - you could only walk so many steps on the Sabbath Day, etc.  It seems that Jesus' favorite day to heal was on the Sabbath (which was against the Pharisaic law).  He was making a point.  What is more important - obeying a man-made rule or caring for one of God's children?

While sharing the story of Jesus healing on the Sabbath she went on a beautiful tangent about Him healing a man's withered hand, and that our hand is what we typically use for work and for creating things, so it is something by which we express our image-bearing nature. In some sense through that particular healing on the Sabbath Jesus was sanctifying work as well.  My take was that work and Sabbath are two sides of one coin.  Both are needed and each benefits and blesses the other.

Pastor Mary did give some suggestions about how to live out the Sabbath day – letting it be about investing deeply in relationships that matter – choosing to engage in relation with God and others rather than in our normal work activities or errands.  She shared what her Sabbath day looks like – part of which involves not being on the internet at all – having a day of quiet – of being able to listen to God.

She also mentioned three things to meditate on during Sabbath:
1)      I am enough.
2)      I have enough.
3)      God takes care of everything.
She expanded on those.  With “I am enough” – it is as the hymn says, “Just as I am without one plea.”  With “I have enough” – it is “I don’t need to use today to strive to get ahead or to improve or be better or have more; I have enough.”  To not keep Sabbath is rebellion against God because we don’t believe God can take care of things (and this is very counter cultural!).

HOWEVER!!  She did acknowledge that some people are blessed with more of an abundance of time than others are – different seasons of life.  She mentioned people with young children for whom six hours of sleep a night would be a vacation.  She mentioned people who work two jobs seven days a week just to keep food on the table.  And what she challenged us with is that those who are blessed with an abundance of time should find ways to give time to others who do not have it so that they too can be blessed with Sabbath as well.  Just as we give money where needed we can think similarly of giving the gift of time.

Additionally, she is a minister, so Sunday is not her Sabbath, so hers doesn't look like what it does for most others, so somehow we each have to find our way of keeping Sabbath, and that doesn't necessarily mean it is Sunday, but somehow we need to find the way to have time set apart in which we don’t do our normal activities (i.e. rest from our labors), in which we invest in relationship with God and others, and in which, by so doing, we move into (live into) Resurrection Life.

ADDITION – I found out that she was preaching this morning in our area on the topic of “God’s Care for Elijah and Us” from I Kings 19:1-18.  I needed to hear that too, because in all the busyness I have lost the ability to truly know that God does love me and care for me.  My writing here is already far too long, but just in closing let me say that passage is about where Elijah is at after the showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and then Jezebel threatening his life and him running – upset, exhausted and despairing.  And what is the first thing God does?  God gives him “a snack and a nap.”  Isn't this what a parent does for a child?  We know our little ones can't cope when hungry and tired.  God knows what we need too, and he provided Elijah with "a snack and a nap."

Another thing I noted from the sermon is the statement that satan keeps us busy and spread so thin that we can’t hear God.  I know that's where I am and have been for a while (and it sounds like others of you are too otherwise I don't think multiple people would have asked me to share).  This weekend I've been  challenged to change that, and I've been shown the beginning of the path.  So, to those of you who asked to know more about the conference, I hope you find something in here that is helpful to you, but let me add that I’m glad you asked because it gave me a chance to process all this and to now have it in a format that I can go back to and remind myself of as I continue my journey!

PS I've written a lot very quickly without a chance to edit and have also gotten pretty vulnerable in this post, so, as Emily Dickinson asked in one of her poems, I would ask that as you read you "judge tenderly of me."  This is written only to be helpful and with no other intent.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

The End of an Era

Today was our youngest child's last cross country meet, so this was officially our last sports event David and I attended as parents of a participant.  It is beginning to feel like a countdown at this point as we head towards "empty-nesting!"

We're super proud of Caleb for his efforts at cross country over these last four years!!

Today's race was the sub-section race up at Angel's Camp (aka "Frogtown".)  Here is Caleb before the race.  His school arrived quite early, so they once again (thanks to Caleb) laid claim to the gazebo as their "base."

At the starting line:

The pack at the beginning of a hot and dusty race!

Partway through - at a spot that was a little less dusty and much more scenic!

Caleb bringin' it home!

Happy post-race face!

The line above his ankle shows how dusty the race was (and this isn't a tan line, as he is a barefoot runner when not in an official event).

It was good to get up to the hill country.  I hadn't had a chance yet this semester to get out of town - so thanks for the good excuse Caleb!!!  I needed this!

Bye Froggie!

The best part of the day was practicing Messiah together on the drive home - three parts: me on alto, Caleb bass, and David tenor - GOOD TIMES!!  (Official practice begins tomorrow - 'tis the season!)