Retreat, Day four: Sabbath Waiting

Besides working for a couple of hours a day (gorse clearing), cooking and
eating, walking and praying, I also set myself a substantial portion of
scripture to read each morning and afternoon.  I read Isaiah, Romans and
Revelation.  You’ll notice that much of that reading is what’s called
"eschatological;" that is, it looks forward to ‘The End,’ the ‘Day of the Lord’
when all evil will be extinguished and justice and righteousness will rule.  In
every case these eschatological texts are the Word of God to a people whose very
existence is threatened.  They are very political messages, and they carry a
grim warning for anyone in power – but that’s not what I’m writing about here! 
Reading these texts while on retreat kept me clearly focused on the fact
that we are a people-in-waiting.  Just as the people of Israel waited for the
glorious day of the Lord when they would be freed from the tyranny of the
Babylonians or the Assyrians, and the first Christians (and all Christiains
since) were waiting on the return of Christ to free them from imperial Rome,
we’re still waiting.  And we’re actually pretty well protected here, in our
western democracies, from tyrants and empires, but we still wait, and we still
look for freedom.
That the character of Christian life is waiting was a bit of an
eye-opener.  I prefer the life of achievement – of getting things done and
sorting things out.  I prefer to think of my life with God as one filled with
his presence.  And yet which of my achievements will be remembered in the
generation after I’m gone?  And as I noted previously, when I take out most of
the ‘things’ that fill my life, I discover, not an abundance of God, but a
desert.
But it is a desert that can become, at least in hindsight, filled with 
God.
In the meantime, I wait. 
On Day 4 of the retreat, Sunday, I had a holiday.
And that almost whimsical decision to include a sabbath in my retreat
proved to be a turning point.
On Sunday I only did work that I really wanted to do.  Instead of chopping
gorse I cleaned the windows that over-looked the sea; they were covered with
sea-spray from the last storm, and it was like looking out through stippled
glass.  After half an hour of satisfying work they were invisible.  And the
glorious ocean, framed by pohutukawa and flax, shone in at me.  So, to
celebrate, I broke out my inks and brushes and, throughout the day, tried to
capture the shape and texture of the view.  When I went for my walk, I walked in
the opposite direction, and sauntered instead of strode.  My bible reading was slower and more contemplative.  It was a day of
difference. 
And that underlined for me a new thought as to what sabbath is all
about.
As we ‘rest’ on the sabbath, we discover desert-time peeking through. 
Douglas Adams laughingly called it "the long, dark tea-time of the soul;" but he
perfectly captured that sense of niggling dissatisfaction that happens on an
empty Sunday afternoon.  That experience, repeatedly endured, reminds us that we
are, in fact, a people in waiting.  We are unsettled here because here is not
our home.  Sabbath reminds us of this.  Work-obsessed people like me regain perspective on the meaning of our lives.  It’s not all about being
productive.  It’s about waiting on God.
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