Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sabbath Moments

It Christmas time.  And during this time Christians celebrate and event they believe created a “shift” in the universe.  That moved the world from hopelessness to hope. From angst to joy.  From darkness to light.  That event was the birth of Jesus.  But what I find remarkable about this event is that at the time, almost no one noticed.  A few assorted  shepherds, social outcasts, that’s all.  What was the problem?

I’m going to offer a theory - that one of the major reasons was preoccupation.  It was just that everyone was so busy.  First, the town of Bethlehem was crammed with people for the census.  Kind of like a mall on ‘black Friday’.  But it was more than that.  I think the people were just too busy.  They had their own agenda’s, priorities, and tasks.  They were so focused, so busy, that they had neither the time nor inclination to notice God’s presence and action.

Take the priests and other religious leaders.  Not a single one appears to welcome the Christ.  Where were they?  Probably at the synagogue having a Bible study on the coming of the Messiah.  Or maybe they were at a committee meeting. . . who knows ?  What about the rulers?  We don’t see a single person of political importance at the scene.  No kings, no princes, no governors, not even a mayor.  Not time in their busy schedules for the rumor of an infant king.  We see no people of the city.   No merchants, craftspeople, none…  They were too busy.  Everyone was preoccupied . . . so they missed it all.  Sound a little like us?

Everyone but the shepherds!  They shepherds took it all in.  Why?  It was not because they were noble and wonderful.  They weren’t.  They were probably rude and crude – forget the idyllic pastoral scenes from plays and poets.  But there were some things about the Shepherds that made them receptive.  Part of it may have been that their jobs gave them “space”.  A lot of time they were alone.  Since this was a world before ipods and cell phones, they were alone with their thoughts.  I am not saying they were by nature philosophical and reflective.  But there were “gaps” in their lives.  Times of silence, quiet, times when their minds and hearts, times when the sacred, could speak to them.  Like they had a choice.  That is what happens when we have space.  That is why most people try to make sure that never happens.  Hence the cellphones and ipods.

We don’t often have such moments.  Wayne Muller suggests that this is, in part, because most people today don’t have a good sense of what is “enough”  And this is a problem.  He writes, “When we are unable to clearly identify what is enough of anything, it can feel more and more difficult to recognize when to stop striving or grasping in our desperate pursuit of everything.  Unless we feel some certainty that our work, our gift, our time, our relationships are, at the end of the day, enough, we may never feel the permission to stop.”

Thomas Merton suggests that our failure to draw limits.  To have a balance between activity and inactivity, a failure to limit the choice, the tasks, the input… is actually damaging.  “There is” he writes, “a pervasive form of contemporary violence. . .  that is activism and overwork.  The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.  To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.”

And the victims of this violence are insight, intimacy with ourselves, and our connection to the sacred.  Being overly engaged is debilitating.  Having time to think, to pray, to rest?  That is empowering.  There is a Taoist saying.  “To the mind that is still the world surrenders.”  I would alter that just a little.  To the mind that is still, the world becomes open….  and one of the things that it can become open to is God. 
We need what could probably be called “Sabbath moments”.  Moments when we can look in, and find ourselves, and find the sacred.  In the moments of Sabbath, when  we look for God, I believe we find god… we are pulled out of our busy, chaotic lives - we are changed… everything becomes new.  God touches us… and we begin to see life in a new way.  We develop what we might call the divine perspective – the God perspective

This perspective recognizes that God is here, that the sacred permeates the world!  I love the poem by E B Browning. 
Earths crammed with heaven
and every common bush afire with God,   
but only he who sees takes off his shoes;
the rest sit round and pick blackberries.

When we focus on God.  When we pull our eyes away from our houses, our jobs, our activities, our computers… when we pull our eyes away from our agendas, our priorities, our full calendars, our anxiety our fears… when we do that  -  We see the sacred.  We do this not to be pulled out of the world, but so that we can become new people in the world.  So that we can love, and hope, and give.

The question is for us this Christmas season is this  -  Will we do it?  Will we take the time to look to the heavens? Will we slow down?  Will we make space in our lives for the sacred?  “For unto you this day a child is born, a savior.”  For unto you is born.  But only if we hear the news.  Only if we take the time to run to the stable.  Martin Luther understood.  That is why he wrote the words to this hymn.  For us they might be a prayer

Ah dearest Jesus, holy child, make thee a bed soft undefiled
Within my heart
That it may be
A quiet chamber kept for thee  - Amen!

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