Keith Hunt - Divine Rest - Page Eighteen   Restitution of All Things

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Divine Rest for Human Restlessness #18

Service to Oneself


Continued from previous page:

     Many live today an intensely active, restless and noisy
life, while ever sensing an inner emptiness and disillusionment.
In an attempt to bring order and serenity to their inner selves,
a good number of Westerners today are experimenting with Eastern
meditation techniques. These are promoted and marketed as steps
easy to follow, such as sitting, concentrating and chanting. It
is claimed that such exercises can bring an individual in contact
with divine vibrations or spiritual realities, thus producing a
sense of inner harmony and serenity. Some practice these
meditation exercises as a kind of psychological self-help
gimmick, without committing themselves to the world view of
Eastern religions from which such meditation techniques derive.
Apparently, for some persons, the practice of modified Eastern,
or so-called Transcendental Meditation, does appear for a time to
meet the inner spiritual need for stillness, reflection and
communion with a higher being or existence.
     The search for inner stillness and harmony through Eastern
forms of meditation points to the fundamental human need for
reflection and self-analysis, in order to live a truly human
life. This is especially true of the Christian life, since it
presupposes a conscious and intelligent understanding of life as
it relates to God, oneself, others and the world at large. But do
Christians today in general take time to engage in spiritual
exercises designed to increase their self-understanding through
meditation upon God's revelation? According to the Gallup poll
released in the December 21, 1979 issue of "Christianity Today,"
only ten percent of Americans read the Bible every week. Probably
in other Christian countries where evangelical movements are less
influential, the percentage would be considerably lower. Moreover
do those who read a few verses of Scripture, perhaps in
conjunction with hurried devotions, have the time or the
knowledge of how to meditate upon a text? There is a vast
difference between a casual reading, a critical study and a
thoughtful meditation upon a text of Scripture. It is possible
that many today are turning to Eastern ("foreign") forms of
meditation because their Christian churches have failed to teach
them how to meditate according to the Biblical (Eastern)
tradition. Could today's impatience with the Sabbath day of rest
have significantly contributed also to the abandonment of the
Sabbath as a time for reflection, meditation and worship?

Sabbath and meditation

     The Harvard University theologian Harvey Cox, in his book
"Turning East," recounts a significant episode that occurred
while he was researching on Eastern meditation at the Naropa
Institute, a Buddhist study center located in Boulder, Colorado.
While in Boulder, he accepted the invitation of a rabbi to
celebrate with him "a genuine, oldfashioned Shabbat [Sabbath], a
whole day of doing very little, enjoying the creation as it is;
appreciating the world rather than fixing it up." as Cox
acknowledges that as he joined in the celebration of the Sabbath
from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, savoring "just being
rather than doing," it occurred to him that "meditation is in
essence a kind of miniature Sabbath. Both, in fact, require
cessation of all activity. He noticed, however, significant
differences. For example, while Oriental meditation is conceived
as a total way of life, detached from the realities of the
present world, the Sabbath is only a one-day interlude in the
daily struggle for existence; an interlude that enables a person
to live in this present world while looking forward to the better
world to come.
     A second noteworthy difference between the Sabbath and
Oriental meditation is to be found, according to Cox, in the
universal nature of the Sabbath. In other words, while in
Oriental religions meditation is practiced by a few privileged
persons, mostly monks, the Sabbath enjoins not a small elite, but
everyone to stop doing on the seventh day in order to experience
being with God. The Sabbath condemns the social dichotomy between
the via activa and the via contemplativa, that is, a class
distinction between those who work and those who meditate,
whether this distinction is advocated by Eastern religions or by
Christian monasticism. 
     The Fourth Commandment contemplates the integration in the
life of every person of both work and rest, doing and being,
action and reflection. To reject this sabbatical integrated
lifestyle in order to accept a foreign Eastern concept of total
stillness would mean to destroy a valuable Biblical institution
which has influenced Jewish and Christian ethical and religious
traditions. Our hope is that those who seek for rest, stillness,
meaning and order in their life through Eastern meditation will
happily discover another institution which originated in the
East, the Fourth Commandment. This institution, as noted by Cox,
"may be tarnished and twisted out of shape, but it still belongs
to us; and as creatures who must live amid the contradictions and
dislocations of history, the mini-Sabbath of meditation can be
the gift of life itself."

A basis for meditation

     The Sabbath provides not only the time but also a
theological basis for a meaningful meditation. As the symbol of
God's originally perfect creation, of His com plete redemption
and of His ultimate restoration, the Sabbath invites the believer
to meditate not upon an abstract higher spiritual being or power
but upon a gracious God who has worked, who is working, and who
will work for the eternal happiness of His children. Moreover, as
a symbol of God's presence and concern, the Sabbath summons the
Christian to reflect upon the fact that he is not alone. God
created him to enjoy eternal fellowship with Him. 0n the Sabbath
a special opportunity is offered to experience the sense of God's
presence. The reason for living is not life itself. Such a reason
only leads to despair. The Christian lives to enjoy God's
immediate presence and future fellowship. This means that to
meditate on the Sabbath upon its Good News is not a way to escape
from the tension of the present life, but rather a way to
introduce into the present restless life a sense of God's
presence and the hope of a richer future fellowship.

Meditation has to do with consciousness 

     It could be described as an attitude of receptive awareness
rather than of thoughtful investigation. To illustrate the
difference between the two, let us use the example of reading a
devotional book on the Sabbath. If I read it with the purpose in
mind to critically examine the arguments and the texts used by
the author to develop his concepts, then I am not meditating but
attempting thoughtful analysis which sometimes is the hardest
work. On the other hand, if I read the book leisurely and
receptively, with the simple desire to let God speak to my soul
through its message, then I am meditating. The spirit of freedom
of the Sabbath provides the basis for such an enriching
meditation, since we are enjoined to cease from work in order to
freely feel, understand and enjoy the manifold manifestations of
God's goodness; This means that on the Sabbath we can gaze on
nature, without striving to peer into its scientific mysteries.
We can listen to music without concern about the key or the
number of its flats and sharps. We can take pleasure in reading
poetry, without trying to discern whether all the lines are
metrically balanced: We can listen receptively to the preaching
of God's Word, without struggling to unravel the mystery of God's
redeeming love or to harmonize apparent theological contra-
dictions. The climate of stillness and free reception which the
Sabbath provides enables us to truly meditate, that is, to
discover God and ourselves; to truly experience an awareness of
God's presence; to freely "taste and see that the Lord is good"
(Ps. 34:8).

2. The Sabbath: A Time for Renewal

Order to life 

     The time and opportunities which the Sabbath provides for
meditation, worship, fellowship, service and recreation, are
designed to function like dynamos that recharge run-down
batteries. This recharging and renewal is provided by the Sabbath
in several ways. Let us consider, first of all, the order and
harmony that the Sabbath restores to our fragmented life. The
problem of modern living is well illustrated by a story related
by Herbert Saunders about some African workers. For several days
these workers were pressed relentlessly by the leader of an
expedition who hired them to carry equipment on their backs to a
remote post in the interior of Africa. "But one day they refused
to pick up their burdens and go any further. They sat by the side
of the road and turned a deaf ear to the appeals of the man in
charge. Finally, in exasperation, he asked, 'Why don't you go
on?' 'Because,' replied the leader of the workers, 'we are
waiting for our souls to catch up with our bodies.'"
     Is this not a fitting description of the problem many people
face today? The speed and pressure of modern living tend to
destroy the equilibrium between the material and spiritual com
ponents of our being. The Scripture teaches, as Achad Haam points
out, that "the two elements existing in man, the corporeal and
the spiritual, can and must live in perfect unity."  Paul, for
example, prays for the total sanctification and preservation of
the "spirit and soul and body" (I Thess.5:23). The Sabbath is
designed to restore order and unity to our total being by
enabling us to reorder our priorities. During the week as we work
to produce, to sell, to buy and to enjoy things, we are tempted
to view things as the priority and ultimate reality. We become so
materially conscious and concerned that our spiritual needs are
often obscured and neglected. This may even lead us to conceive
of God Himself as a "nice thing." By enjoining us to refrain for
one day from pursuing after more material things and to seek
instead after spiritual values and relationships, the Sabbath
helps us to break away from the tyranny of materialism. It helps
us to recognize that the things of the spirit must have priority
over those of space. This reordering of priorities restores unity
and harmony to our lives. It gives our souls a chance to catch up
with our bodies. If we learn on the Sabbath, as Samuel H. Dresner
observes, "to mend our tattered souls and join flesh and spirit
in joy and rest, in inward feeling and outward act, perhaps we
shall be able to bring a portion of the spirit of this day into
the other days of the week, so that even ordinary days will take
on something of the Sabbath." 

Moral renewal

     The reordering of our priorities on the Sabbath contributes
to the ordering of our moral consciousness. The leaders of our
political, social and religious institutions will often resort to
a temporary retreat or withdrawal, in order to examine themselves
and their programs more objectively and thus be able to return to
their tasks with fresh energies and strategies. The Sabbath
offers to every ordinary human being such a retreat in time. On
this day we withdraw from the rush of life in order to examine
the past, present and future moral direction in our life. We take
time to assess our goals, motives and attitudes toward God,
people, ourselves and work. Often we may discover that our past
has been a sorry mixture of achievements and failures. The
Sabbath, however, as was shown in chapter 5, is designed to
liberate us from the failures and pains of the past. The Good
News of the Sabbath is that Christ has brought us "release" (Luke
4:18) and thus we can rest and rejoice in His forgiveness. Freed
by Christ's grace from the fears and guilt of our past failures,
we begin to comprehend the possibilities and opportunities that
God places before us. Such comprehension is enhanced especially
through the experience of worship and meditation. As we take time
to reflect on God's accomplishments commemorated by the Sabbath,
we are challenged to achieve new goals through the assurance of
His divine power and presence.
     In an age of changing and conflicting values, the Sabbath
opens the door for moral reflection, for the development of a
moral consciousness and responsibility. There is urgent need
today to help people build a lifestyle based upon God's
commandments. According to a recent Gallup poll, although "a
whopping 84 percent - more than eight of every ten people
[Americans ]--believe that the Ten Commandments are valid today
.... fewer than half (42 percent) can name at least five" of
them. The Sabbath provides not only the time to better acquaint
oneself with the content of the biblical principles of human
conduct, but also the opportunity to internalize such principles.
The very fact that the Sabbath represents the inherent expression
of commitment to God inspires observers to renew their commitment
not to one but to all of God's principles.

Spiritual renewal 

     The search for a deeper spiritual experience ranks high on
the list of contemporary human needs. Experimentation with
Eastern forms of meditation and hallucinatory drugs reflects the
need felt by many for something beyond materialism. A more
telling indication of this need is provided by the
Neo-pentecostal charismatic movements which in the last few years
have gained millions of adherents across denominational
boundaries. A late Gallup poll reports that one American adult
out of five (29.4 million persons) considers himself or herself
charismatic. This phenomenon is not limited to the USA, since
charismatic movements have mushroomed in many Western countries.
True, some persons may experiment with new movements or drugs in
order to escape the sad realities of this world; yet the fact
remains they are searching for something spiritual to fill the
emptiness of their lives.

     The Sabbath is divinely ordained to satisfy the human need
for deeper spiritual communion with God. As the symbol of God's
commitment to bless His people with His presence, the Sabbath
invites the believer to enter into a special spiritual
relationship with Him. The prophets recognized and emphasized
this vital role of the Sabbath in helping God's people experience
and maintain a spiritual relationship with God. When Ezekiel saw
the threat of national apostasy, be summoned the Israelites to
"hallow" the Sabbath in order to "know," that is, to experience
God's sanctifying presence in their lives ("that they might know
that I the Lord sanctify them "--Ezek.20:12; cf. v.20). Similarly
Isaiah urges the Israelites to "call the Sabbath a delight," that
is, a day to seek the spiritual pleasure of God's communion
rather than the material pleasures of selfish interests ("your
pleasure"--Is.58:13). If the people would respond to such a call,
"then," the prophet assures them, "you shall take delight in the
Lord" (Is.58:14). Delighting in the Lord! This is in essence the
source of the spiritual renewal offered by God to His people
through the Sabbath.

     In his address to the World's Parliament of Religions, A.H.
Lewis eloquently expressed the spiritual function of the Sabbath
when he said: "Sacred hours are God's enfolding presence, lifting
the soul and holding it in heavenly converse. All that is holiest
and best springs into life and develops into beauty, when men
realize that God is constantly near them. The sense of personal
obligation, awakened by the consciousness of God's presence, lies
at the foundation of religious life and worship. God's day is a
perfect symbol of His presence, of His enfolding and redeeming

     Our study so far has focused on several significant
opportunities for spiritual renewal provided by the Sabbath. We
have considered among others the opportunity to rest, to worship,
to reorder one's life, to experience God's forgiveness, to sense
divine presence, to sharpen one's moral consciousness, and to
renew one's commitment to God. Other opportunities for renewal
offered by the Sabbath will be considered below.


To be continued

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