In the Hebrew tradition, petitionary prayer—prayer, that is, that asks for things—is discouraged during the Sabbath. In his book entitled Sabbath, Wayne Mueller writes that in times set aside for rest we should give our heart to what we have, not to what we need. We give ourselves to sufficiency rather than abundance and the practice of this changes us; it does us good. When we are awake to what is around us, a single breath can fill us to overflowing. The touch of one we love, the mist of a gentle rain, a taste, a melody can give birth in us a deep satisfaction and a sense of enough. Mueller says, “At rest, we come face to face with the essence of life.”[i]
It is not accidental, I think, that this Genesis text, this essence-of-life story is paired with Trinity Sunday, and its essence-of-God story: Creation and Creator together. There is a deep connection to be encountered here.
But we’ve wasted too many years, I suspect, on Sundays like this instead trying to come up with visual aids to decode some sacred calculus—that three-in-one egg or shamrock, those three forms of the same substance like water. And it’s not just all those children’s sermons; I remember us giving hours in seminary to these in our attempt to describe a doctrine rather than consider our encounter with an all-encompassing power, an all sufficient ground of being, an all surrounding mystery.
We don’t come here to decode God; we come to hear God’s story, to learn God’s name—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One name, not three, as Matthew notes: “Baptizing them,” Jesus commands, “in the name”—not in the names—“of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” A single name that is more than a name: a story, a promise, a presence. So in Corinthians Paul expands the name into a blessing: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you.”[ii] Father, Son, Spirit. Grace, love, communion.
Contemporary thinkers have tried to wipe the dust off Trinity Sunday, steering us toward the poetry that experience that is too big for us requires—imagining God as relationship, the divine as a holy dance of belonging and creativity and self-giving above us and below us and around us. Perichoreo is the Greek word that the ancients began using as a verb in the 4th century. Perichoresis came in the 6th, and has lately been recovered. You will find it is the name given to the tune of our next hymn.
The play of the Godhead,
the Trinity’s dance,
embraces the earth in a sacred romance:
Peri for “around” and chorein—a word filled with meanings: “to make room for”, “to go forward”, to “contain.” And in these images we find many connections to the loving interplay that we see in this poetic story of creation and what it says about the essence of life—full, contained, balanced, a symphony of beauty and abundance, and interrelatedness, much like this Three-in-one God if we take the time to pay attention.
And that’s where we end up at Sabbath, which is, of course, the destination for this story of creation:
And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it.[iii]
God made it holy. God made rest holy. On that day God rested from all the work God had done in creation. And the story as the ancient Hebrews told it became the self-sustaining foundation for a cycle of work and rest for all the people.
Remember that this story of creation was first told and then written down by an ancient people who possessed technology and practiced methods of farming that were much more primitive than our own. There was no assurance of adequate yields, that disaster wouldn’t strike, that blight or disease wouldn’t wipe out crops and lead to starvation. Life, at least in these ways, was far less certain than it is today.
And yet these ancient people of faith gave themselves to a code in which they chose to rest every seventh day rather than work all the harder in order to hedge their bets. They took a chance and took a break from their work in order to rest, in order to remember, in order to give thanks. It was an act of faith.
In contrast, we possess the technology today to grow pretty much whatever we need to grow. Certainly we must deal with disasters, but our yields and our techniques are so highly developed that we grow more food than we can eat. And yet, some of us still lack for food. Countless people in the world go hungry every day, even in our own country of wealth and privilege. Perhaps the problem is not that we don’t work hard enough, but that we don’t take time for perspective, and reflection, and discernment, that we don’t take time to see God.
You see, in these ancient texts people give themselves to the belief that they were held by something larger. They saw patterns around them that suggested the dance of a Spirit of life, an exquisite, lyrical interplay between light and dark, water and land, plant and creature in abundance and in balance. They rested.
Our family rested a little earlier this weekend. Claire came home for the summer, and we ended up binge-watching the Matrix trilogy. Well, at least we started watching the Matrix trilogy. We didn’t all finish. Some of us fell asleep.
In the first movie, Morpheus has been arrested by Agent Smith who is a supercop program that defends the Matrix from humans who have become aware they are enslaved by the machines. Smith is not a fan of the humans, and as he begins to interrogate Morpheus, he explains why:
I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure.[iv]
So, perhaps this isn’t the most generous observation, but the movie hovers around the consequences of life lived out of balance, and it does perhaps remind us that we need Sabbath.
Mueller says it this way,
a “successful” life has become a violent enterprise. We make war on our own bodies, pushing them beyond their limits; war on our children, because we cannot find enough time to be with them when they are hurt and afraid and need our company; war on our spirit, because we are too preoccupied to listen to the quiet voices that seek to nourish and refresh us; war on our communities, because we are fearfully protecting what we have, and do not feel safe enough to be kind and generous; war on the earth, because we cannot take the time to place our feet on the ground and allow it to feed us, to taste its blessing and give thanks.[v]
We started talking about the idea of taking a sabbath a couple of months ago at a Compassion, Justice, and Peace meeting. We just started playing, imagining how we might create this kind of playful, restorative space in our lives where we are free to enter the dance of God’s life.
What would it look like, we asked, for us as a church to take a break from our hard work to rest and play together? We played with the idea a bit more practically at the last meeting and we realized this is a hard thing to do. We found many challenges to making it work, which is not to say we’ve given up on the idea, or that we should. I suspect we need to grab onto it. I suspect we need to take a chance, to go out in faith, even if all the details aren’t quite worked out. I suspect it might do us some good.
What about you? What patterns of rest might you recover in your life that you might say again with this creating God, “This is good, this is very good.” What does it look like for you to trust in the God who wants to dance with you?
“Like a path through the forest,” Mueller says, “Sabbath creates a marker for ourselves so, if we are lost, we can find our way back to our center. ‘Remember the Sabbath’ means ‘Remember that everything you have received is a blessing. Remember to delight in your life, in the fruits of your labor. Remember to stop and offer thanks for the wonder of it.’”[vi]
Remember this Triune dance, this mothering God, this breath of life.
[i] Wayne Mueller. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives (New York: Bantam Books, 1999), 201.
[ii] Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:13. Thanks to Mark Taylor for pointing this out in his May 18, 2008 Trinity Sunday sermon at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Seattle.
[iii] Genesis 2:2-3.
[v] Ibid., 2.
[vi] Ibid., 6.
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