Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘mayans’

The Connecting-Disrupting Love

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

NICA1One of the countries I visited in January with my life partner Maria is an often misunderstood place. Nicaragua is the largest Central American country on the isthmus. It sits right above Costa Rica and below Honduras. Nicaragua is beautiful–full of volcanoes, unique architecture, incredible beaches, and an eye-opening diversity of wildlife and plants. NICA2

It is also home to two incredible bodies of water: Lake Nicaragua and Lake Managua—both of which are important landmarks and natural wonders.

Lake Nicaragua is the 9th largest lake in the Americas and is home to unexpected creatures, like bull sharks.
NICA3

Apparently, these humongous sharks swam and jumped their way over the rapids of the San Juan River that connects to the Caribbean Sea and found Lake Nicaragua’s fresh water very inviting. I was pleased to hear our guide tell us, as we sat in our tiny little boat, that the bull sharks were towards the other side of the lake.

NICA4What’s really interesting about the other famous lake—Managua—is that mysterious human footprints were discovered there in 1874. They are called the ancient footprints of Acahualinca. Fifteen people made these prints, and they are over 2100 years old.

It is true that Nicaragua’s history, like most places, is complicated. The indigenous dwellers of that land, descendants of the Mayans, were overwhelmed by the diseases and weapons that the Spanish, Italians, Portuguese, French, and English brought during the conquests. Known for being farmers, the Nicaraguan’s way of life was completely disrupted by industrialization and over-development and the snatching up of their once-fertile farmland by foreign investors. Currently, Nicaragua is the poorest Central American country and 2nd only to Haiti in the Western Hemisphere. There are many reasons for this—one being the conquest I just mentioned; another one being a terrible earthquake that wiped out more than 90% of Managua, the capital city, in the 1970’s; and another reason being that the United States has invaded Nicaragua on various occasions and even instituted a trade embargo against Nicaragua during the tenure of President Ronald Reagan. Some of you may remember the Iran-Contra affair and perhaps you watched the famous Ollie North trial on TV; or some of you who are younger read about these events. Unfortunately, for Nicaragua, because of periodic foreign invasions and then subsequent revolutions and political turmoil—it seems that Nicaraguans [or Nicas] just cannot catch a break.

But as we walked the city streets of Granada and Leon;
LeonNICA

Gazed at the architecture;
GranadaChurchNICA5

Ate the amazing food, like this Nicatamal;

NicaTamal

Spotted fisher men and women catching their food for the day as they have done for centuries;
NicaFisherPeopleSomething happened. Nicaragua was no longer just a place, or a news story, or a chapter in a history book, or a media clip. The people of Nicaragua are beautiful. They tell stories about their culture, land, and traditions with pride a nd joy. In spite of the many challenges they face, Nicas are overwhelmingly friendly and hospitable. Countless people helped us out along our way—when we were lost they put us on the right path or even made sure we got there; if we didn’t know how a certain bus route worked, they would explain and sit with us and even ensure that we didn’t pay too much money; they told us where to eat and what to eat; they told us about their families and the towns and cities where they grew up in; they liked to laugh, and sing old-school Country Western songs; they are a community. And we were invited to be part of that community.

Of course, none of that would have happened if we wouldn’t have gotten to know people face to face. If we wouldn’t have eaten the local food, wandered through towns and cities on foot, asked questions and expressed curiosity—we wouldn’t really have felt part of their community.

That’s the thing about being part of something—it takes vulnerability, commitment, and time. But I would argue that it’s worth it, for if you are a part of an authentic community that cares, people have a sense of mutual responsibility. What I do affects you and vice versa. People who embrace and live in authentic community understand that there is something more than just our individual wants and needs–something greater. In my life, I know when I have felt most alive. It was when I was part of a real, caring community. It was transformative and powerful.   

Paul, a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, understood this. Paul is the one who wrote this letter to the church in Corinth [Greece]. In spite of how it is often interpreted, this poetic portion of I Corinthians 13 is not about love. At least not the way we think. We often read this “love” passage at weddings; I Corinthians is associated with romance, affection, or even with the marriage act itself.

But this letter has nothing to do with romance.

You see, Paul actually wasn’t happy at all with this church in Corinth. People were too proud. They thought they had theology and God all figured out. They put down others who didn’t believe or think or act like them. They were full of themselves and therefore had no room left for love. Paul’s focus was indeed on community—not just in this letter, but throughout his life and writings. This is the same guy who described the faith community [or church] as being like the human body. Each part, big or small, was of equal importance. And each body part needed the other in order to function and thrive. Everyone in the community, taught Paul, was equal. He reiterated this in his letter to the Galatians, when he said: There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.[1]

But being “one” had nothing to do with sameness. The people in the various house churches of the 1st and 2nd century Mediterranean world were incredibly diverse. They were Jews and non-Jews; Greeks and Romans and Israelites and Egyptians and Assyrians and Samaritans; they were people who believed in many gods and others who believed in one; they were women and men who ate different foods, wore different clothes, spoke different languages, said different prayers, and had different ideas. So being community for these people was not about being homogenous. Hmmmm….

 Radical community was what Jesus of Nazareth taught and lived in his time on earth. This Jesus met people face to face and accepted them for who they were. He then encouraged his disciples to do the same, to bring this message of God’s kingdom community to their neighbors near and far. It became the recognizable mark of the Jesus Way. And society noticed, because this kind of accepting community was not the norm. Befriend people who are poor, widowed, childless, unclean, or of low status? Honor and respect all people, including those whom society kicks around? Reach across boundaries of social level and religion? This kind of new community broke all the rules and angered religious leaders of the temple and the military and political leaders of the Roman Empire. Such a community would upset the order and status they wanted to protect.

But Paul was transformed by this idea, for he himself used to be one of those oppressors, remember. He was changed by a forgiveness he had never experienced before. And the followers of Jesus welcomed him into their community, in spite of all the evil he had done. So Paul was convinced of the power of such a community to make a difference–not just in the lives of individuals–but in the world. I Corinthians is not about romantic love, but about a radical, communal love that enables individuals to imagine life in a community where unity and difference can co-exist.[2] Paul wasn’t naïve. This wasn’t flowery poetry without reality. Love wasn’t and isn’t abstract in this case. For Paul, love was the binding factor in a diverse world. If love was at the center of their life and identity, then they actually had a chance to be an authentic community in spite of their differences.

I wonder. What if churches and other religious institutions today based their existence, not on what they believed [dogma, doctrine] or what traditions they upheld, or their sameness [ethnicity, culture, or language], but instead on these principles of community? Imagine, that in order to be a church:

We cannot make sounds [talk or yell or blog or shout] unless we do it in love;

We cannot claim to know the future;

We cannot be faithful and loyal and then go home;

We cannot rest on our intelligence;

We cannot just be charitable and give a lot of money.

We have to be patient;

We cannot envy other people;

We have to be thankful for who we are;

We cannot puff out our chest and say, “Look at me! I’m awesome!”

We cannot look down on others, thinking that our country, culture, language, or religion are better than others;

We cannot insist that we are right and should get our way;

We cannot resent people and hold grudges;

We never celebrate when someone gets hurt—even an enemy;

We don’t push away the truth, even when it ruins our reputation;

We do more than tolerate, but embrace everyone’s differences;

We believe in love and grace when no one else does;

We hope for justice and good when the world is hopeless and bad;

We love consistently through problems, pains, and bad luck;

We daily decide to love with our actions, even if we’re having a bad day;

To be an authentic community, we recognize that at the end of the day, we are left only with our humanity [our true selves]; and somehow, faith, hope, and love are still around, too.

But faith is elusive and so full of baggage that we’re not sure what we really believe. Everybody seems to have a different “absolute” truth, so what’s the deal? Is there really a “right” belief or a “stronger” faith? Faith is elusive.

Hope is, too, because we have often hoped for things and then been slapped in the face; we have hoped for something good and gotten something bad; we’ve even had false hope in something that wasn’t worth it and we got burned and embarrassed; and we have also seen that hope isn’t all it’s cracked up to be if you’re oppressed, without food or shelter, marginalized, or forgotten. Hope doesn’t save anyone from those things.

So we are left only with love. But love—is greater than romance and emotion. Love is an excellent WAY. It’s a style of life; it’s a choice to exist to love; love is walking, working, studying, relating, moving, sharing the planet. Love is. Love is a WAY.

 But you can’t love people if you’re afraid of them—if you don’t interact with them face to face. Remember, it is written that there is no fear in love, because love drives out fear…

So the “other,” the stranger, is someone we must know and love. Only then will people who are different than us stop seeming like a threat . For in authentic community, we embrace fully all people of all colors of skin; people who speak any language; people with different cultural heritage; all children, youth, and men and women of all sexual orientations; people without money and people left out. In community we choose to love instead of fear, because we know that fearing people leads to hating them and that leads to a broken community.

Friends, we have the choice in life to choose another way.

The community of faith or what we call the church–is supposed to be on the cutting edge of love.

There is a reason for that. God knows us intimately. God knows us face to face. God loves us for who we are. We have communion [relationship] with God. And so, if we are known by God—then we are made to know each other. If we are loved by God as we are—then we are made to love others as they are.

So I encourage you to know other people—really know them face to face. Love them as they are and embrace their differences.

And then be known yourself.

And find love.

And be loved.

And then find community. Amen.


[1] Galatians 3:28, NRSV

[2] Karoline Lewis, Ass. Professor of Preaching, Alvin N. Rogness Chair of Homiletics, Luther Seminary.

Rain, Rain, Go Away?

Genesis 7:11-24

I love the rain. I have a lot of rain stories. I’m sure you do, too. I remember the afternoon rains in the summer when I was in Mexico City. The rain fell, and I could see mountains in the distance–clearly from the pedestrian bridge that I walked across on my way to the Mission Church Betél. When it rained, the busy, chaotic city transformed into a busy, chaotic, beautiful, wet mess. Some people hailing microbuses and cabs; others running with umbrellas in hand; some going about their business as if nothing had changed; kids skipped in puddles; students splashed each other and laughed; business men and women hurried to the nearest overhang for shelter. It was a collective halt to life and for me, a moment of Zen—complete peace and pause. The rain made us all stop.

But I have another story. I was in Des Moines, Iowa, just out of high school. The famous, great flood of 1993–the costliest, most devastating flood in U.S. history, according to U.S. Geological Survey. Sec Taylor Stadium, home of the AAA baseball team, the Iowa Cubs, was filled with water. You can see it here.

Floodwaters covered as many as 23 million acres of agricultural and urban lands in the Upper Midwest for weeks. The Des Moines River overflowed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I went to sandbag. I was able to make it into the northern part of Des Moines with  my parents to help in the great effort to block more water from engulfing the area. For hours we carried and stacked sandbags. Eventually, some official-looking vehicles pulled up. A man emerged from one of them, wearing a baseball hat, just like me. I didn’t expect this, but it was President Bill Clinton, surveying the damage. I admit to you, though, that while the president stood not three feet away from me, I couldn’t help but be more focused on the sandbagging. I was in flood mode. The rain had grabbed my attention, as had all the hard-working people who were giving their time and energy to help others save their homes.

And then, there are other rain stories that others have told me. I am sure some of you have heard stories about Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, Louisiana and towns in Mississippi. Perhaps you remember the tsunamis that devastated Indonesia and Japan. And just recently, the storms that ravaged, once again, the island nation of Haiti. We cannot ignore these rain stories, though we may want to. And we cannot ignore the rain story in Genesis—Noah’s story. I want us to think about location, culture, and time. Think about Israel. In the Hebrew Scriptures [OT], Israel is described as the land of milk and honey. But it was not a land flowing with water, actually. The Holy Land was dry. Water was a limited resource. And this is why, in the Bible, we find water playing a central role in the theology of the ancient Israelites. Rain in Israel and Palestine was a sign of God’s covenantal-promise to the people. Like many ancient people of the world, the Israelites looked up into the great sky and hoped and prayed for rain. They were dependent upon the natural resource that proved to be so elusive. Take a look at Deuteronomy 11:13-15:

If you will only heed his every commandment that I am commanding you today—loving the Lord your God, and serving him with all your heart and with all your soul—then he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil; and he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you will eat your fill.[1]

The Israelites were not alone. People around the world throughout history have depended on rain to soak the land in order to grow things for eating. Our context is the Americas. The ancient people of Mesoamerica who lived in these lands also depended on rain, because their way of life hinged on rain-fed agriculture. Thus, they were devoted to pleasing the gods of rain, who were known by many names. The Zapotecs of Oaxaca, Mexico called the rain Cocijo; the Aztecs honored Tlaloc; and the ancient Mayans’ rain god was called Chaac. Here is a carved figure representing Chaac and an artist’s rendition.

Chaac–the god of rain, lightening, and storms–is usually shown holding axes and snakes that he uses to hit the clouds to produce rain.[2] His actions made it possible for the Mayans to grow maize [corn] and other forms of vegetation. They viewed Chaac’s work as part of the natural cycle of life. The Mayans also viewed violent rainstorms, hail, and hurricanes as visual manifestations of Chaac, meant to be seen and respected.

I bring us back to these ancients of Mesoamerica for a reason. Today you and I have trouble recognizing nature’s acts with awe and respect. Possibly it is because we predict the weather with sophisticated machinery and at any moment, you and I can check our cellphone for the latest updates. How will my morning commute be on Monday? Will it rain? I can find out in a second. Rain is more annoying than awe-inspiring, because it messes up our day. The thought about rain soaking the land in order to produce food so we can eat just doesn’t cross our minds. We’re disconnected from rain just as we’re disconnected from the natural order of things. After all, if it doesn’t rain, we can use our hoses or sprinklers to water stuff. Looking up to the heavens and praying, dancing, or singing for rain just doesn’t seem necessary.

And that’s a problem, if we really want to understand the rain theology of the Noah story in Genesis. Even though Jerusalem is far from the Americas, the Israelites also believed, like the Mayans, that there was an other-worldly source of rain. They too prayed for rain. You see, this kind of theology, or way of thinking about God, is much, much different than our modern-day theology. The ancient Israelites and Mayans understood that they could not control the elements of nature. They were fragile. They saw rain as a gift. And they depended on this gift. Rain was a symbol–a sign of God’s covenant promise to care for humanity. This belief is entirely evident throughout the story of the Israelite’s exile. For 40 years [hmmm…40 days and nights in Noah’s story!] they wandered in the wilderness—the desert. They were dependent upon God for life itself. This was part of how the Israelites understood their intimate relationship with the Creator of all things. They were vulnerable; they were humble; they respected nature and their God.

A couple of weeks ago, I had my first experience with a sukkah.

A sukkah is a temporary dwelling place for those of the Jewish faith to retreat to during the high holy days of Sukkot [Feast of Tabernacles], right after Yom Kippur. A sukkah is built with natural things to remind us of our human vulnerability. It is symbolically returning to the desert and a spiritual state of humility and dependency.[3] Why do this? Because of what I said before—we are so disconnected from the natural world and our dependency upon rain, sunshine, air, etc., for life. I sat in the sukkah, made of tree branches and twigs, large leaves and tarps. On that particular day, ironically, it rained for the 2 hours that I sat and conversed there with a colleague. I did feel vulnerable. And my mind wandered to a certain week a few years ago in Hawai’i.

My wife Maria and I were with some youth from the Community Church of Honolulu, staying about a week at the UCC camp facility, near the place where they filmed the TV show Lost and the movie Jurassic Park. Now honestly, in the three years I lived on the island of Oahu, I did not experience much severe weather at all. Unless of course you count that particular week! It started to rain as it usually does in Hawai’i—very nicely in the afternoon for about 15 minutes. And I expected that after the rain, the sun would emerge suddenly and a Noah rainbow would stretch over the sky. But no such luck. It started to downpour. The wind was so strong that the famous “sideways” rain of the islands began and didn’t let up. For nearly an entire week, it rained. We were supposed to be at this camp so we could foster growth of native plants, clean trails, and help with conservation. But we just got wet. And we had no shelter. This camp was rustic—no buildings. Just tents and some tarps slung over wood walls to make a dining hall/slash meeting space. We were constantly outside. And it constantly kept raining.

The nights were treacherous. Thunder. Lightening. Sideways rain. And then, the realization on night #2 that our tents were not going to withstand it all. Water starting dripping inside and then water started seeping in. Our sleeping bags were soaked. We couldn’t sleep. Some of the youth in our group were scared. They yelled from their tent, “What are we going to do?” We had no way of dealing with this—at least not in that moment when it was completely dark and the rain was flying sideways in our faces. So we waited it out. In the morning we hurriedly constructed wooden platforms to place the tents on top of so we could at least be above the soaked ground. It was a helpless feeling. We had to no place to which to run. Nature was attacking us, we felt. Clothes were soaked. Shoes filled with mud and grass. Spirits were low. Frustrations and exhaustion were high. We were vulnerable.

Perhaps that is what rain theology is all about—no, not necessarily staying in tents for a week during a torrential downpour or wearing wet clothes for a week. But rain theology is all about being vulnerable—understanding that nature and God and life in general are really beyond our control. Maybe we’re meant to wander in the desert for a bit; or stay in an ark while the waters rise; or sit in a sukkah; or sandbag in a city. Maybe we all need to be shut in and shut down for a moment so we stop what we’re doing and consider how we’re living. I think the Noah story is more about reflecting on our lives and reconnecting with creation. So it’s sad that this story continues to be hijacked by lots of people. There is some awful rain theology out there—the idea that God is a destroyer of people and a saver of only the “good” people, whoever we define them as. Some even say that events like Hurricane Katrina or the tsunamis of Indonesia and Japan are signs of God’s wrath. Ironically, the Jesus they claim to believe in once said:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.[4]

Friends, rain is a metaphor for God’s mercy and grace. God sends rain—not to kill or punish, but to restore and provide sustenance. As the Psalmist writes: You sent abundant rain, O God, to refresh the weary land.[5] You and I are meant to be refreshed, too. So notice the rain. Embrace it. Be vulnerable. Stop. Pause. Be refreshed. Refocus and gain new perspective. Discover new ways to love people and to stand up for justice. Let the rain wash over you; let the rain heal the land and heal you; let the rain be a blessing. Amen.


[1] New Revised Standard Version.

[2] Sharer, Robert J., and Loa P. Traxler, 2006, The Ancient Maya. Sixth Edition, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California.

[3] Rabbi Lauren Berkun, SE director of educational initiatives, Shalom Hartman Institute of North America.

[4] Matthew 5:43-45, NIV

[5] Psalm 68:9, NLT

Get Your Sabbath On

Genesis 1:26-2:4:  Down-to-Earth Resting

 Unplug the television
And make way for an old vision
Which will now be a new vision
Yes Headliner, lay the foundation
Dig your hands in the dirt
That’s right
Children play with earth

Gain knowledge of the big
But small earth around you
Dig your hands into the dirt
The dirt that made you
Get acquainted with the earth
The earth that eventually will take you
And the world that hopefully
Will appear to wake you

Children, play in the fields
Play in the grass, climb Mr. tree
Get to know each branch
Give it a name
For the branches resemble the many decisions
You will have to make in life

Eat of the earth children,grow an apple tree
Taste the apple, communicate
Watch and listen to the neglected mother of all
Short, tall children play with earth
Eat rhubarb wet from the rain
Beautiful fruits all the same
Pears, oranges and grapes from the vine
Children it is the earth’s time

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT – CHILDREN PLAY WITH EARTH

One of my favorite hip hop groups of all time, Arrested Development.

The song, Children Play with Earth, is lyrically wonderful even as it is challenging. The earth is big and small; and it made us. The earth will eventually take us. It will also wake us. We should play in the fields, grass, and trees and give the branches names. We should plant in the earth so as to have food to eat of the earth. We are to watch and listen to the neglected mother of all—the earth.

We are in our third week of exploring the first creation story in Genesis. Today we read its conclusion: day 6 includes the creation of humankind, male and female, in the Creator’s image, blessed and given great responsibility to care for the earth, waters, animals, and all living things. Day 7 marks the moment when the Creator views all of creation and is pleased. Time for rest.

The last two days [or ages] of this creation story contain two very important words that we will unpack: adam and Sabbath. Now of course, in our English translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, we see the word humankind for adam, and the word rest for Sabbath. Let’s start with this word adam, a word shared by Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Bahai’s in the creation stories. In the Hebrew language, there are root words that consonants and vowels get added to in order to form variations of the root. ADM is the root word and is masculine. Words in Hebrew are like words in Spanish. They have masculine or feminine forms, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are male and female. Is a chair female? No really. So ADM is a masculine root, but our word here in Genesis 1 is also used with adamah, the feminine derivation, which means earth.[1] So we get, in a nutshell, Hebrew wordplay which leads us to adam meaning humankind from the earth.

And with that, I’m reminded of a childhood memory. I was eight years old, I think. I received my first Bible; I still have it. In that Bible, there were pictures from time to time, along with the words. I particularly remember Genesis. Right away, the word adam is important, because as I learned about this story, I saw a picture of a man. His name was Adam. I assumed [as did the people who drew these pictures and strategically placed them there] that the creation of humankind was really the creation of this man named Adam. Capital A. So as an eight-year-old, I imagined this dude appearing out of nowhere. And he already had a first name, just no last name. Just call me…Adam, he would say.

Look! I’m hanging out with my monkey-friend, bananas! Capital b.

But that’s not really true, is it? Genesis1 doesn’t give us this detail. Instead, we get a generic word that means humankind from the earth. At this point, you may be thinking, Wait, I seem to remember that God formed Adam [capital A] out of the ground, and then this lady Eve out of his rib]. Tsk, tsk. You’re skipping ahead! We’re still in Genesis 1, remember? Adam as a proper name is not in this story. Human life [both male and female], is created by Elohim [God], in Elohim’s image, and that means male and female. And they don’t have names, these humans. They are told to have kids and grow their population. So these are the first humans [plural] and there are lots more of them, eventually. And this is before we get to the proper names—before some dude named Adam and some lady named Eve. My Bible was wrong, or at least it assumed too much.

Why the specifics of this? Well, the Semitic people [a general term to describe the ancients of the Middle East] were used to playing with the earth, digging their hands in the dirt. They were people of nature—in tune with it and certainly respectful of it. Their worldview was akin to the ancients of the Americas, who also honored the natural world and believed that they were created from it and would eventually return to it. The Mayans, for example, in their creation story the Popul Vuh, specifically state that the humans were created from the mixture of corn and water, called atole. Corn of the earth + water from the sky = human beings.[2]

La Creacion, Diego Rivera, 1931

So the story establishes for us that not only are the birds, fish, animals, trees, waters, skies, and land good—not only are human beings good—but the relationship between them all is good. I’ve heard a lot in my lifetime about this concept of having dominion over the whole earth—that somehow as human beings we are given free reign to do whatever we want to the natural order. After all, aren’t we meant to rule over it? Many take this to mean that animals come last. The environment is not our problem. The oceans are for our use anyway, so we can throw our trash in them without feeling guilty. This of course is the problem when we read the Bible like a bumper sticker. The entire rest of the creation stories [and the Bible itself, for that matter] make it clear that dominion over the earth and its creatures means great responsibility on the part of human beings to care for creation so that all living things can fulfill their Creator-given purpose. Having dominion means caring for, allowing the natural order to thrive, to see creation as good, just like God did.

So why do we avoid this challenge? Why do we so often abuse the creation so graciously shared with us? I say it’s because we forget about adam with a lowercase a, we forget where we come from and where we will all eventually go. We neglect the earth, sky, and waters and all the good creations within them, because we only think about ourselves. We forget who we are. In fact, it’s almost like after the 6th day, after humans are made, we end the creation story. Done. Time to move on. I have things to do, places to go, money to make, stress, a full calendar, and no time for creation caring. And then we’re disconnected from it all. We’re not connected to where we come from. We don’t dig our hands in the dirt; we don’t play with the good earth. We’re too overscheduled and busy to care.

But there is another day in the Genesis 1 story, a seventh. The Creator looks over all that has been made and is pretty pleased with it. It’s all good. And it’s time to rest. So we’re to our second word in Hebrew, Shabbat/shavat. In English, we translate this as Sabbath. Here in Genesis 1, it is very loosely translated as rest. I say loosely, because Shabbat, in the Genesis 1 context, is probably better translated as cease or end. The Creator, Elohim, ceases to create, at least for the moment. It all looks good from the Creator’s viewpoint. It’s not like the Creator was tired or fed up with making things. It was time to end. One cycle, one age, was completed. A new one begins.

Of course, Sabbath for many Christians is a laughable subject, really. Take me, for example. Is Sunday supposedly my Sabbath? Since I can remember, Sundays have always been full, full days of classes, worship services, practices, meetings and events. Rest? Ending? Closure? HA! Not a chance! Of course, I’m no martyr here. There are many [besides ministers] who work a lot on Sundays. Or Saturdays. You see, we’ve lost the concept of Sabbath. It’s not a day to sit in a pew or fulfill some religious obligation. It’s not a time to schedule things. Sabbath is unplugging, gaining new perspective, closing and opening; Sabbath is set apart as sacred. Sabbath is a moment to hit the reset button so we remember who we are: all of us people of the earth, created in God’s image, good and blessed, connected to each other, meant to care for the earth, its creatures—meant to care for each other. Sabbath is a time for reawakening.

I believe in Sabbath. I know that when I’m done with my Sunday responsibilities, when the door closes behind me in my house, when the phones are not answered, and I have Monday in front of me—Sabbath begins. As Hebrews 4:10 states, I enter God’s rest. Sabbath is communion with our Creator, a reminder about the image we are made in. And my Sabbath connects me, not just to the earth, waters, and animals—but to my brothers and sisters around the world. My Muslim brother prays in his car five times a day when we works in the city and finds wholeness and peace; my Jewish colleague makes amazing food to share with others and lingers a long, long time at the table counting his blessings; my atheist friend hikes a trail and smiles at the beauty of trees around her. Our Sabbath connects us. We don’t need to run to sanctuaries, meetings, and events. They are not Sabbath. Instead, we feel the rhythm of life around us and in us—all created good by our Creator.

And we realize together that everyone—EVERYONE—is a good creation, deserving of food, of water, of land, and of Sabbath. And we claim the responsibility to care for the creation and to care for the people of the world. We don’t do it because we want to get something out of it; we don’t do it because we feel power; we care because we come from the earth—all of us. And we all our God-images—all of us. And we all deserve Sabbath—all of us.

And so I challenge you and myself to dig our hands in the dirt. I challenge you to recognize where you come from. I challenge you to stand up for others who are denied their good humanity and to help those who are denied their right to Sabbath in their lives. But in order to be who you were made to be, you are going to have to experience Sabbath in your own lives. Living Sabbath, being human, is about joy and thankfulness. It’s about relationship with the merciful, loving Creator. It’s about forgiving and being forgiven; it’s about justice that costs us something; it’s about love without strings; it’s about recognizing that everyone’s full humanity includes God’s creative work.

Get acquainted with the earth–

the earth that eventually will take you

and the world that hopefully will appear

to wake you.

Amen.


[1] The Jewish Encyclopedia.

[2] Popul Vuh.

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