For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance, a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
It seems quite fitting that the first entry of Mystical Ventures be about glory, but also be about a task so mundane that few would seek to engage in forking out piles of wood shavings, hay and goat excrement. Today, however, was a glorious day. The end of January in the Northeast rarely sees temperatures of 50-55 degrees, but today was one of them. The foot of snow we had a few days ago almost was gone this morning since it rained all last night, and the sun was out all day with a slight breeze. It was a perfect spring day, albeit probably a tease, but lovely nonetheless. It takes time to clean a shed (this one is 10 x 12), and there is a rhythm to bending over with a rake or pitchfork and tossing the muck outside the doors. There are two windows in the shed, and I had them both open, feeling the breezes and enjoying the sunlight. The rhythm became a prayer. Every 15 minutes or so, I went outside and raked that “fertilizer in the making” over the melting snow and breathed in even more fresh air. Then I returned to the inside of the shed. The goats were in the adjoining yard and not too happy they couldn’t climb in and out of the shed while I worked, but we spoke with each other in our own ways. They, too, seemed to enjoy this brief and early glimpse of spring. Their winter coats are keeping them warm, but today it felt like taking off jackets and just running around the yard. Goats are kind of funny creatures. They think I’m their herd queen, and follow me around a bit. They’re whimsical and kind, never bite, except maybe a dangling tie or ribbon on my clothes. They’re intelligent and know their names, never come out in a rain storm or when it’s snowing, but love just about all other kinds of weather. They’re also pictured on some of humanity’s most ancient communication in Far Eastern hieroglyphics. People all around the world raise goats, many of them quite poor, and more people drink goat’s milk that cow’s milk on this planet. Taking care of their simple shed offers solidarity with all the others who serve these gentle creatures, past and present. In the midst of enjoying the day and the task, the rhythm of prayer drew me to praise and thanksgiving of our loving God. God is so good. He has given us a world to share with other creatures of the earth. I am reminded of a passage from Jonah that one of my colleagues recently shared with a few of us over lunch: “And should I not be concerned about Ninevah, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons, who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals.” (Jonah 4:11). God’s concern is for every creature in the universe, and God’s love extends covenant to all. Praise the God of Glory!
Remember to keep the Lord’s day holy. That is clearly one of those great commandments. Thomas Aquinas used to say that the primary purpose of Sabbath was to “delight in the Lord”. No doubt, he was building on the Jewish perception that Sabbath was to acknowledge God’s rest after creation, and to enter into that rest in order to delight in the Lord. It wasn’t until the fourth century when Emperor Constantine limited the amount of work Christians were to do on Sundays that anyone began to refrain from some activities. Poor Constantine and surely Aquinas would turn over in their graves if they ever saw our modern observances o the Sabbath. One of my colleagues was recently reading some of the 45 “Blue Laws” of Connecticut from 1664 and we were chuckling a bit over some of the Puritanical civic restrictions, such as #18: no one shall run on the Sabbath day, or walk in his garden or elsewhere, except reverently to and from meeting, or #19: no one shall travel, cook victuals, make beds, sweep house, cut hair or shave on the Sabbath day, or #35: “no one shall read Common-Prayer, keep Christmas or saints-days, make minced pies, dance, play cards, or play any instrument of music except the drum, trumpet and jaw harp”. Centuries have definitely seen that pendulum swing in our understanding of Sabbath. I only have to recall a few weeks back when all the retailers were boasting of keeping their stores open 24/7 for Christmas shoppers right through several “Sabbaths”.
So which is right? We sit still and meditate all day long on our Bibles? or we continue to shop, work, lose hours on those laptops, ipods and cellphones to engage in whatever for 24/7? I think Sabbath is a gift and it calls us to be a little more still that we normally are, not only so we can delight in the Lord, but so we can hear God’s voice amid all the noise. The readings today were about “listening” to God. Moses recounted how God called him to speak to the people, since they were afraid to listen to God (Dt. 18:15-20). Mark told of the messianic secret when Jesus directed the possessed man to “be quiet” so that the people could listen to him and begin to understand for themselves (Mk 1:21-28). We sang at the offertory, “Give me ears to listen, give me eyes to see, give me words to speak and show your face to me”. Here, in rural Massachusetts, it is easy to be still if one turns everything off. We can listen to God if we try being quiet. The goats still need to be milked, the chicken still has to be put back in its yard when it escapes and certainly the dogs will let you know it’s breakfast time. But the highway is quieter. No one is rushing from 6 a.m. on toward Boston. Lights go on later in people’s homes as folks get to sleep a little longer. Thick Sunday papers hit the driveways when they might actually have a chance to be read today. Hopefully, many are rising to “Sunday breakfasts” and getting ready for Church. The gathering at Church (isn’t that what ekklesia means anyway?) allows us to connect with neighbors and hear prayer requests for those who are ill, and those in need, other reasons to celebrate, and other ways to support each other. Back at home, there may be a football game today to enjoy, or a walk outside to breathe in the mild January winter, or a time to play with the grandkids, or the actual option to connect with family members who may not live so close. My students this week were reading Thich Naht Hanh’s text, The Art of Power. TNH is a Buddhist monk who tries to teach “mindfulness” to his followers so they can exercise power over their own lives. Mindfulness means to slow down and listen to the world around us. Examine the blowing leaf. Take in the sunshine. Remember those who grew the food one is eating. Pour that cup of tea slowly and think about its taste. Such a wonderful gift God has given us! Clearly God knows what is best for us. Thank you, Lord God, for Sabbath!