Sabbath Tuesday: Advent, Week 1

As I was writing an essay yesterday evening, I glanced up from my work and gasped. A brilliant pink had spread across the clouds, the leaves from the nearby oak juxtaposed in black. A few minutes later, the pink had faded to brown, the sun swiftly leaving the sky to be enveloped by darkness.

Advent is like this. It appears for a few fleeting moments, rushing by in all of its glory, and we catch a glimpse that—if we’re paying attention—stirs our imagination and longing. But it is a brief season, shorter than Lent, much shorter than ordinary time.

What is Advent? It is the season of waiting and expectation that precedes the celebration of Christ’s birth. It is the beginning of the liturgical calendar, which marks the cycles that Christians walk through each year in remembrance of Jesus’ time on earth and our calling as His followers.

Perhaps Advent begins the liturgical year because it encourages a particular stance of waiting and expectation, of invitation and hope. Throughout the liturgical year, we are aware of the work being done within us by living through the narrative, but it is not something that can be forced. This season of waiting, of longing, reminds us of that grace that inhabits the liturgical year. And soon, we’ll experience those glimpses of beauty, hope, and light—reminders of His coming.

A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices.

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

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Sabbath Tuesday: Giving Thanks

img_4960“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…”

It is impossible to encounter  a Tuesday without thinking of the students I’ve taught the past three years. They were the inspiration for Sabbath Tuesdays, and they in turn shaped my own experience and concept of Sabbath.

Today, I re-read the letters and poems that some of my students wrote for me this summer. Yes, that’s right–they sent me off to Texas with a letter for each Tuesday of the summer, Sabbath reflections to remind me to rest in God’s grace each week. I’m still amazed at how Christ’s love shone through my students–they are fragments of His grace, and I was honored to teach them.

This Thanksgiving, I have many things to be grateful for, but I want to thank God today for the students that convinced me to remain in education–i.e. every student I taught in the past four years. I’m humbled to have spent the time I did with them. Yes, even the difficult moments. I didn’t teach a host of angels, and there were days when my patience wore thin. But for all of that, the community that we built together is one to remember.

To all my students: fullsizeoutput_556

“The Lord bless you and keep you.

The Lord make his face shine upon you,

And be gracious to you;

The Lord turn his face toward you

And give you peace.”

 

 

Sabbath Tuesday: The Wasteland of the Soul

“Lord, hear my prayer, and in your faithfulness heed my supplications;

answer me in your righteousness.

My spirit faints within me; my heart within me is desolate.

I remember the times past; I muse upon all your deeds;

I consider the works of your hands.

I spread out my hands to you; my soul gasps to you like a thirsty land.

Show me the road that I must walk, for I lift up my soul to you.”

from Psalm 143

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In Idylls of the King, Tennyson’s Victorian version of Arthurian legend, many find themselves lost in a desolate land, or attempting to conquer it. Typically, the wasteland is all at once lawless, lifeless, chaotic, and meaningless. It is a place void of music yet full of noise, empty of purpose but ever-warring. The wastelands exist on the outskirts of Arthur’s kingdom, and though many attempt to conquer its various tyrants, it is an ever-present reality.

The Psalmist seems to be saying the same thing about his own soul: it is a place of desolation, a thirsty land. The absence of his Creator is a journey into chaos and meaninglessness, a journey away from order and justice, music and purpose. Sabbath is a time to echo the Psalmist’s words, leaving behind the wasteland of our souls: “Show me the road that I must walk, for I lift up my soul to you.”

Sabbath Tuesday: Silence and Remembrance

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The most common question I’ve been asked as a mentor to high school students is this: why isn’t God speaking into my current situation?

It seems this is a universal question for Christians. At one point, we’ve all asked this; my struggle with the question is an ongoing one.

And this question could be answered multiple ways: perhaps we’re not listening closely enough, perhaps He’s given us an answer we don’t like. But answers are not the point of this post. Often, for those experiencing the silence of God, simple answers will not suffice in the midst of anguish.

This time in a spiritual desert is not specific to the modern mind—church fathers mention a time of darkness in their spiritual journeys—even David cries out to the Lord: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13).

Part of keeping Sabbath is remembrance: in the very act, we remember God creating this pattern of work and rest in the beginning; we remember God calling his people to rest to reflect this practice; we remember Christ disrupting the ingrained assumptions of Sabbath; we remember celebrating Sabbath, how weekly and daily we are called to rest in grace and not in our own strength. It is this practice of remembering that allows David—without having any answers to his prior questions, mind you—to finish his psalm:

“But I trust in your unfailing love;

my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise,

for he has been good to me.”

That verb in the last line, “has been,” implies an ongoing relationship, based on past experiences but extending to the present. David uses this to remember God’s faithfulness in the past and imply that this is true in the present–though he may not see it, and though he may struggle with doubt.

Songwriter Andrew Peterson wrestles with this same question in his song “The Silence of God.” He asks “What about the time when even followers get lost?” Peterson, in his narrative style, remembers a time when loneliness and silence was Christ’s experience:

There’s a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll

In the hills of Kentucky, all quiet and cold

And He’s kneeling in the garden, as silent as a Stone

All His friends are sleeping and He’s weeping all alone

 

And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot

What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought

So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God

The aching may remain but the breaking does not

The aching may remain but the breaking does not

In the holy, lonesome echo of the silence of God

Sabbath Tuesday: Noise

19352_320046282471_6320089_nIt’s 8 am on a Tuesday morning, and the world outside is already in full motion. The chains on the gate rattle, the cars repeatedly run over the metal plate in the road, and the lawn mowers add a steady humming sound to the cacophony.

Every Tuesday, I experience this—it is my morning at home, and I wake up eager to spend it in reading or writing for my graduate studies. But every Tuesday, I am surprised by the clamor just outside my apartment; some days I drown it out with Bach, the melody of a single violin filling my small study.

This aversion to chaotic noise is a curse—most people who live in Houston don’t hear it after a while, but my ears were trained in an area far away from the din of the city, or even of other people. I would often wake up to coyotes howling, cats fighting, a mockingbird outside my window. Listening was important in those days: is that a rattlesnake or a sprinkler? Is that our dog growling at the sheep, or an intruder? But listening in my home today seems impossible: instead, I work to muffle the babel that surrounds me.

This past weekend, I had a conversation with a professor, confessing my confusion when it comes to the future. It has obsessed my thoughts since I entered graduate school: what does life look like after I finish my degree? And though I’m only three months in, this concern for the future haunts me in a way I’ve never known before. Perhaps it’s part of the crisis that I knew would happen when I stepped out of the classroom for a season.

But the professor reminded me of something I was forgetting to do: listen. In drowning out the din of confusion through study and distraction, I am adding more noise to my thoughts, not creating space for God to speak. Am I merely filling my thoughts with the white noise of distraction? How am I to be faithful to His calling if I cannot even hear His voice?

Noise comes in different forms: it is not limited to physical sounds. Recently, my noise has consisted of social media, arguments surrounding the election, and even my desire to know more. But as my ears long to be free of chaotic clamor, especially when I read or write, my soul is filled with longing, too—it needs to listen to sounds that will bring life, not noise that deadens.

Listening is a habit, cultivated by repeated practice. And the moment of Sabbath Tuesday encourages this practice: in the midst of the weekly commotion, do I take the time to pause and listen? I’m turning on my Bach music now, flooding my ears with a life-giving sound; I’m turning away from noise that crowds my mind, filling it instead with the music of my morning prayers, pausing to listen between each line. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Berry poems, from his 2011 Sabbath collection:

Sit and be quiet. In a while

the red berries, now in shadow,

will be picked out by the sun.

Sabbath Tuesdays

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“When we work well, a Sabbath mood

Rests on our day and finds it good.”

Wendell Berry, 1979 

It was during the winter of 2015 that I was especially challenged to bring my faith more honestly into the classroom. The previous summer, I spent two weeks at Calvin College in a Curriculum Theory class. My research reflected on the connection between liturgical practices and reading practices, and I was struck with the repetition of the liturgy–how it keeps coming back to the same verses and the same ideas year after year.

So in keeping with that tradition, I chose a “poet-laureate” for my AP literature class, one that we would return to week after week to explore the same theme. I’m not quite sure how it ended up being Wendell Berry’s Sabbath poetry, but by some odd integration of my own interests, recent readings, and students’ needs, we ended up contemplating poems from Berry’s This Day collection.

Tuesdays seem like a random day to be discussing the idea of Sabbath, but in our class last year, it was the perfect moment. Presentations were due on Tuesdays, and Tuesdays marked the end of a chapter study. A new topic was always introduced on Wednesdays, so Tuesday’s classes (after presentations, of course) seemed like a breath of fresh air. What better time to contemplate the cycle of work and rest?

My students said they appreciated Sabbath Tuesdays, but I can claim that they taught me more about faith–not the other way around–in these Sabbath moments we spent together for a quarter.

In keeping with the Tuesday tradition, I’m looking forward to sharing stories, thoughts, and art with you focused on the idea of Sabbath. My students are (and always will be) my inspiration for such posts. God’s grace shone clearly through them in my time of need.