Love, Rest, Delight
Love, Rest, Delight
Genesis 2.1-3; John 15.9-15
August 25, 2019
Rev. Elizabeth Mangham Lott
St. Charles Ave. Baptist Church
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 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, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
We have been in our new home long enough that it seems we’ve possibly, finally reached the end of cutting down dead things, throwing out overgrowth, fighting against invasive, junk plans, and actually allowing a garden to emerge. With some Netflix inspiration from Monty Don, Britain’s favorite gardener, Nathan and I have been focusing mostly on lush, tropical landscaping, while also working with areas of almost total shade and others of blistering sun. We are delighting in this work. We walk the rows at Harold’s in the Bywater, we pop by Lowe’s on the way home to spy more pots and containers on sale. We ooh and ahh over the display of greenery in places like Auction House Market. We study the names of plants and flowers and delight in the growth we see. We amend the soil and dead head the flowers. We cut off old growth to make way for new. We water. We wait. We move around. We transplant. We watch. We plan.
Aspidistra, liriope, Mexican heather, azaleas, foxtail and maidenhair ferns, hydrangea, and split-leaf philodendron in the front. Bird of paradise, bay magnolia, geraniums, morning glory, blooming sedum, erupting sago palm, papyrus, loquat, satsuma, agave, mint, rosemary, elephant ears, lemongrass, three types of hibiscus, desert rose, bromeliads, and a few varietals of ginger in the back. Not to mention the orchids and succulents rotating from indoors to out and back again.
And then there is the added bonus of living a short walk from the lake. All around us in this work are lizards and geckos and salamanders, tree frogs and toads. I spy the red throats puffing out all around me. Somehow the front walk and porch have been the preferred shedding place for cicadas, and we’ve amassed shells to study as we find them in all sorts of places around the plants. I could do without the murder of crows forever circling the neighborhood, but I’m enchanted by the grey and green parrots that fly overhead and occasionally swoop down low enough to really be seen and heard. It boggles my mind that night herons nest in the live oak around the corner from our house and can be regularly seen walking at dusk as we take the dog for an evening stroll. Ibis and herons and all kinds of shore birds fly overhead on their way to the water as hundreds of dragonflies zigzag above and around us. I can get lost just lying on my back and watching the show above.
I am grateful for the vastness of summer weeks and the slow, good work of being present to the natural world around me. I’m not much of a camper or hiker or kayaker, but a romantic observer of creation? Absolutely. In our Sabbath study, we are right to start with the poetry of creation and God’s daily affirmation of its goodness because rest is the natural response to speaking the world into being. Light and dark, water and land, sky and sea, birds and fish, all called good, good, good. Creation births a mindful rest, and God commands our participation in it. A sabbath pace invites us to join God in the work of seeing and naming the goodness of these things and also to go further in understanding the holiness of that Sabbath practice. We cannot rightly see and name the goodness around if we have not ceased our producing and scurrying and doing.
“The first holy thing in all creation, Abraham Heschel says, was not a people or a place but a day. God made everything in creation and called it good, but when God rested on the seventh day, God called it holy. That makes the seventh day a ‘palace in time,’ Heschel says, into which human beings are invited every single week of our lives.”
How delicious is that phrase: a palace in time? I think we get to this sabbath idea and make it yet another thing we should be doing more of but really aren’t. And all of those should be tasks tend to be joyless because they feel like obligatory assignments and not rewards. Eating arugula, getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, turning our phones off at night and leaving them in a different room, saying no to white bread and sweets, keeping sabbath. Should, should, should.
What if we reframe sabbath as Heschel did and look at this weekly pause as entering a palace in time? In the palace we rest, we delight, and we love. There we find the vastness of time and space and energy we so crave. There we have fresh eyes to see what is beautiful and good and right all around us. There we remember we are people shaped for love and called to love, and that love extends beyond the human beings we encounter to the night herons and the hibiscus. Only by entering a palace in time can we fully give ourselves to this heightened awareness.
And when our awareness of the goodness and beauty of all creation is heightened, the the actions of the rest of our days will be informed and shaped by the essence of our Sabbath keeping. Sabbath is not the great collapse at the end of a marathon. Sabbath is the adjustment of our senses: we keep sabbath so that we see and hear and taste and feel and smell the world in the very best ways. Without sabbath, we lose our senses. And when we lose our senses, we cease to pay attention and care.
I have always had an intense and empathetic heart. I recall learning about the vitality of the Amazon rain forest in 4th or 5th grade and being terrified that humans weren’t doing enough to protect that essential land. I bought a 5’ tall poster that hung on the length of my closet door with all kinds of plants, tree frogs, birds, and wildlife unique to the Amazon. I kept a copy of a book called 50 Things Kids Can Do to Save the World close at hand and attempted to convert my parents into recycling, composting, reusing tree huggers because I was a child of the 80s learning about acid rain and deforestation.
When I first read that the Amazon is burning, I reverted ever so briefly to that space in my memory. Somehow at only 10 I knew that humanity didn’t understand how deeply connected to the earth we are. Somehow I feared back then that our lack of care for the beauty and goodness of creation would be our undoing. We are not just disconnected from one another in this modern age, but we are disconnected from the earth. Our collective hubris is our collective foolishness.
I think that is why the crafters of the Narrative Lectionary invite us today to link the holy palace in time of Sabbath to the mandate from Jesus to love one another. My ability to embrace the lessons of solitude, stillness, and silence within Sabbath aren’t just about my own heart and self-care; my need for great sleep after pushing too hard for too long. To connect with the holy palace of time is to reconnect to the interconnectedness of all creation. And to connect with the interconnectedness of all creation is to abide in the deep love of God that shapes every thought and action and priority. In Sabbath time we hear a sacred story that undergirds every action and thought and priority we carry into ordinary time.
We need Sabbath as a collective people because Sabbath reminds us WE ARE a collective people. We are not autonomous islands that can go on existing indefinitely. We are not immortal beings that can just create more oxygen and life after we have burned the jungles to the ground. We are finite, delicate creatures who need each other and who need the earth. We need the desert rose and the white ibis. We need the Amazon and the jungle trees. When we do not rightly practice a sabbath that draws us into the holy palace, then our awareness is dulled to the point of caring more when a cathedral burns than when the lungs of the earth do. Our love is dulled. Our capacity to fully care for our neighbor is diminished.
We need Sabbath on the individual, soul level just as we do on the collective. All the more reason for us to call one another into the practice. Sometimes we are bone-crushingly exhausted. Sometimes the news cycle, the work culture, the scope of oppression that needs desperately to be interrupted, caring for the aging parent, tending the fragile marriage, fearing for the child whose pain is just beyond our healing touch, just keeping our head above water weigh on us so heavily that we don’t know how we can show up or take another step. And somehow, when we are too overwhelmed, we become convinced we cannot possibly slow down to practice sabbath; our lives on fire just as the great rainforest burns. We trick ourselves into believing that holiness comes in pushing through the pain and working even harder. Bonus points for working even harder without asking for help!
Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Limiting my activity does not make me feel holy. Doing more feels holy, which is why I stay so intrigued by the fourth commandment. ‘Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God: you shall not do any work.”
We need each other to get this practice right—by that I mean I need for you to practice Sabbath keeping because it expands your capacity to love well, and I need for you to encourage me and teach me to practice Sabbath keeping because it expands my own capacity to love well. We’re hopeless without each other. This is why we still ourselves together, we breathe together, and we remember together. We practice together here as a people and then bless each other into holy rest for the rest of our souls, the love of our people, the delight of creation.