Breaking out of Bablylon

 We spend a lot of time wanting, doing, getting and having. 

by the Rev. Lera Tyler

In spite of our many gadgets and machines to do much of our daily labor, in spite of all the computers to assist us in thinking, we are a weary and anxious people.  How often we say I’m exhausted.  When will I ever catch up? There aren’t enough hours in the day!  The pressure to get it all done companions with the pressure to have the latest electronic devices, the perfect weight-to-height ratio, the most successful child, the house of our dreams.

 We spend a lot of time wanting, doing, getting and having. 

We want to hold onto facts, money, all the things we’ve worked for and what we’ve always believed is right–all these self-made idols that we think so essential.  I’m reminded of Emmylou Harris’ song “Doin’ Time in Babylon.”  The lyrics name our “needs” for things like high-speed networks and our need to “get results, get ’em fast, because someone else will be laughin’ last.”   The refrain warns what happens to weary and anxious people: you “put that conscience on the shelf, keep the best stuff for yourself, and let the rest fight over what is left.”  It’s doing time, making busy, in a harsh and ungodly place.

We spend a lot of time in Babylon. 

 We spend a lot of time captivated by false gods and angry words, beautiful idols and the siren’s call to have and keep everything we can.  We fill up with diversions that crowd out what is good and soul satisfying.   

As a safeguard against Babylon–against our excessive need to do and to have–God commanded God’s people to set aside one day in seven to cease work, to give relief to their souls and bodies and also to give the parts of creation that supported them a time of relief and rest. 

It was to be a time of holy ceasing.

Last fall I decided to take seriously this commandment to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.  I decided to practice Sabbath as closely as possible to its traditional intent. But my Sabbath seemed complicated before it started. What day of the week would it be? What practices would honor the holiness of the day? Which would really be meaningless?  I made plans: I set apart from early evening Sunday to early evening Monday.  I cooked and cleaned ahead of time.  I decided that shopping (even for groceries), watching movies, playing solitaire, and checking Facebook were not Sabbath activities. 

Then came the hard part: what then should I do?  How could I make good use of my time? Read, study, rest, and sketch?  What should I do ALL day?  Finally, it became obvious I was “doing” something wrong.  Sabbath seemed so weirdly complicated because–I finally figured out–it was not created as a “doing” event.   A time of holy rest invites us to join God in being holy.

Holy ceasing is time set aside to practice who WE ARE in the world I AM is sharing with us. 

According to Jewish tradition, Sabbath enters into lives as a beautiful and bountiful guest, inviting her hosts to break away from daily routines and usual patterns of thinking: to stop work and strife; to break away from the idols of money, position, and productivity; to let go of anxieties, needs, misgivings, grudges, and fears.  Jewish psychologist Erich Fromm describes Shabbat as rest “in the sense of the re-establishment of complete harmony between human beings and between them and nature.”  It is a time when nothing is destroyed and nothing built, “a day of truce in the human battle for the world.”

Holy ceasing also prepares us to receive and to release, to enjoy for a time and give up in time, the blessings of our lives: good jobs, good health, sound finances, good friends, loved ones. 

Perhaps the vision comes best when we imagine Jesus as our Sabbath guest, inviting himself into our harried and heavy days, and saying: “All you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, come and I will give you rest.  Take my wisdom. Learn from me.  I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29).

Holy ceasing invites us to make time to establish inner sanctuaries in our bodies and souls, to be still and embrace the gracious presence of an eternal moment; to make time to hear God’s word and room to receive holy gifts, like courage, faith, hope, a call to serve others. 

We are invited to rest in the natural rhythms of God’s gifts and our relationships and to welcome with joy, expectation, and openness God’s presence.  We are invited to practice receiving and letting go, breathing in and breathing out, coming in fear and going in peace, seeing sunrises and sunsets, loving and releasing.  We are invited to inhabit spaces of time and being that are far, far, far away from Babylon.

 

The Rev. Lera Tyler is associate rector at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in San Antonio TX. Reach her at ltyler@tom1604.org. Or leave a comment here.

 

 

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