Aug 31 2014

Be Still

_CES1861It is Labor Day weekend and it would appear most the people I know are quite busy.   Folks have gone to the lake for the weekend,  taken mini-vacations, planned picnics or had family reunions.  All of these things are certainly fun and good in and of themselves.  I wonder, however, if we might not be wiser to spend Labor Day weekend resting from our labors.  Our work life causes most of us to run at a steady if not hectic pace.  We are on the go constantly and eventually this catches up with us.  A number of studies have indicated that one thing a lot of Americans lack is rest.  We are quite good at doing things and being on the go but what we are not so good at is being still and resting.

WA-Olympic-NP-deer-in-lupineSeveral years ago I came across a poster that had the following prayer by Wilfred A. Peterson written on it: “Slow me down, Lord.  Slow me down!  Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind. Steady my hurried pace with a vision of the eternal reach of time.  Give me amid the confusion of my day, the calmness of the everlasting hills.  Break the tension of my nerves and muscles with the soothing music of the singing streams that live in my memory. Help me to know the magical restoring power of sleep. Teach me the art of taking minute vacations, of slowing down to look at a flower, to chat with a friend, to pat a dog, to read a few lines from a good book.  Remind me each day of the fable of the hare and the tortoise, that I may know that the race is not always to the swift—that there is more to life than increasing its speed. Let me look upward into the branches of the towering oak and know that it grew great and strong because it grew slowly and well.  Slow me down, Lord, and inspire me to send my roots deep into the soil of life’s enduring values that I may grow toward the stars of my greater destiny.”

TN-GSM-Greenbrier-stream-(h)-I have to return to this prayer periodically to remind myself to slow down.  The pace a lot of us keep is not good for either our physical or spiritual health.  We were never meant to go full-speed all of the time.  God instituted the Sabbath so that we would remember that life is not just about work and doing things.  Neither our bodies or our souls were designed for constant activity.  If we are to enjoy life more completely and experience God more deeply we must learn to slow down.  In Psalm 46:10 we hear God say “Be still, and know that I am God.”  One of the reasons some of us do not feel God’s presence more or see the divine presence in Creation is that we won’t slow down enough to be still.

I hope each of you have a wonderful Labor Day.  By all means do something fun if you can but I encourage you also to take some time to rest from your labors and be still.  That is good advice not just for Labor Day but every day.  Now if I can just remember to do so myself…


(I took the top image at Mt. Baker National Recreation Area, the middle image at Olympic National Park, and the bottom image at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)


Oct 28 2012

Keeping a Sabbath

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…” Exodus 20:8

Although I am far from perfect, I generally do try to live my life in a way that honors God and that is true to the teachings of Scripture.  There is one area, however, in which I fail miserably over and over again.  And much to my shame, it is a big area.  It is, in fact, one of the Ten Commandments.  Even though I know better, I rarely honor the Sabbath as it is meant to be honored.  I have increasingly become convicted about this.  In an effort to help me move in the right direction I read two books this past week on the Sabbath, one by a Christian writer, the other by a Jewish scholar.  Both books proved to be very helpful.

The Christian book was Dr. Matthew Sleeth’s newest work, 24/6.  I have great admiration for Dr. Sleeth and for the work he and his wife, Nancy, do through their organization Blessed Earth.  I already knew that the Sleeths were serious about observing the Sabbath and this book tells the story of why they are and how they go about it.  Matthew does not believe that the “Sabbath” one observes has to be a particular day of the week, Saturday or Sunday.  What he does believe is that it is imperative that a person practice a “Stop Day” or Sabbath one day each week.  He emphasizes how observing a Sabbath is vital to one’s health—physically, spiritually, emotionally, and socially.  He notes, “Jumping off the hamster wheel once a week allows us to think about who we are, why we exist, and why we were made.”   Relying on his medical background, Dr. Sleeth clearly shows that we all need the rest that observing a Sabbath offers.  You might be surprised to discover all that he feels we need rest from.  I encourage you to take time to read 24/6.  You’ll find it to be informative, inspirational and fun.

The Jewish book I read was The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel.  For Heschel the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, Saturday.  This has long been the Jewish practice or understanding.  Heschel does a great job showing why the Sabbath is so important in Jewish life.  At one point he summarizes things by saying, “The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space.  Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time.  It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”   I learned a lot from Heschel’s small, but deep, book on the Sabbath.

About midway through his book Heschel says “The Sabbath is holy by the grace of God, and is still in need of all the holiness which man may lend to it.”  Both 24/6 and The Sabbath heightened my awareness of the need to do better in my own life.   Both books helped me better understand what a gift and blessing the Sabbath is and that we owe it to ourselves, to our world and most importantly to God to “keep” it.  Thus far I haven’t even come close to doing so.  I have sinned.  I rarely take a full day off and do not seem to know how to relax.  I have yet to master the spiritual discipline of stopping.  I know I need to do better and I want to do better.  Now if I can only muster the courage and discipline to actually do better.


(I took the three pictures above on my recent trip to the Great Plains.  The top two were taken at Custer State Park and the bottom one at Badlands National Park.)

Oct 8 2012

Stretched Thin

Editor’s Note: Today we have a special guest writing for Seeing Creation.  Michael Boone is a financial consultant based in Bellevue, Washington, and also creator of R120, an organization with a Facebook page dedicated to sharing information related to nature and spirituality.  Rob and I are grateful for Michael’s willingness to share today’s entry.  Chuck

“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” –  Bilbo Baggins, J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Fellowship of the Ring”.

It seems we are too often stretched so thin these days that we snap at the slightest tap. In our efforts to maximize everything that can be quantitatively measured we have lost many immeasurable qualities, misplaced unseen resilience. Though we know it isn’t sustainable, our nation mirrors our own personal tension as we borrow against endless tomorrows to satisfy today’s needs. Fortunately, God offers us a different model.  “For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield,  but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.” – Exodus 23:10-12 (ESV)

All of Creation was made for the rhythm of Sabbath. God tells us that six days work is enough to save up for seven days of living. Six years work with saving is enough for seven years living with the extra fruitfulness left for the poor and beasts to gather what they need. There is a safety margin built in to this model as we pay in advance for our rest rather than borrow it from the future. But instead we have taken what we have saved for our Sabbath and spent it as a down payment attached to 30-years of Sabbath-less interest payments. Foolishly, we have spent not only our future money but, as we will learn if we haven’t discovered it yet, our future time, as well. Our personal and collective financial imprudence is a symptom of our low regard for God’s command of Sabbath and the restorative and resilience-building power of rest.

We have much to learn about rest from watching Creation. Seasons of fruit bearing are followed by seasons of root building. Times of rapid growth are followed by a lull, a time of consolidation.  Our own frenzied activity must be balanced with periods of reflection that allow room not only for rest, but the creative solutions that a rested mind invents. Warren Bennis writes in his book “Why Leaders Can’t Lead”: “The leader should incorporate a reflective arena into his or her structure, so that time out for musing is mandatory. I’m not speaking here of the sort of retreats that organizations have recently become so fond of, because they are usually the same old routine in a new location. If people in authority stopped regularly to think about what they were doing, they would have the kinds of fresh insights they now pay consultants dearly for.” 

If we are to adopt a sustainable rhythm of life and not snap under pressure of our own making, it will be because we learned not only the importance of rest, but also the deep wisdom of Sabbath that God has written into both scripture and Creation.

–Michael Boone

(To illustrate Michael’s blog I chose an image I took in the Alabama Hills of California and two from national parks in Michael’s home state–Mt. Rainier and Olympic. CS)

Feb 19 2012

God’s “Rest Marks”

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” –Jesus

I’m embarrassed to admit it but one of the areas of spirituality and Creation Care that I fail at miserably is the consistent practice of the Sabbath.  You might think that this would not be a problem for someone who is a pastor but for me it truly is.  I know that the Bible calls for Sabbath rest for both man and beast, and I am aware that Jesus practiced this himself.  Still, other than a short nap here or there I seldom take time to rest as the Scriptures command.

Dr. Matthew Sleeth believes that’s the renewal of Sabbath rest is crucial to the health of both humans and Creation.  I’ve heard him say that this must become a priority for us if we want to experience the good life and to heal the earth.  Thankfully, Dr. Sleeth is currently writing a book on the subject, called “24/6”,  that is due out this fall.  I know that it is a book I’ll definitely have to read.

A couple of days ago I was reading Stephen Shortridge’s latest book, Deepest Thanks, Deeper Apologies.  In one of the chapters Stephen offered some interesting comparisons between Sabbath rest and rest marks in a musical score.  He writes: “In a piece of music, the notation for ‘rest’ is a pause in the music.  The rest is as important as the note.  The space that is not filled with music is a space that helps frame the music.  It keeps its meter and holds the melody in place.  The musical rest is a positive filling of that space, not a void.”  Shortridge goes on to say, “The composer of the music carefully placed those rests as parts of the whole.  To remove them changes everything about the music: its meter, its interpretation, even the melody.”

You can probably see where all of this is heading.  “God wrote a piece of music—a symphony, so to speak.  Its notes and directives are contained in His Word.  One of those directives is to rest.”  It would seem that a lot of modern individuals, like myself, have been ignoring or editing out God’s “rest marks.” 

Usually each November I join our church choir so I can sing the Christmas cantata with them.  Ask any choir member, and especially the choir director, and they will tell you I am notorious for missing the rest marks.  I typically sing right through them.  This practice messes up the sound the composer had in mind when he or she wrote the music and diminishes the choir’s presentation.  That’s why everyone in the choir insists I mark and remember where the rests are found. 

I’ve already admitted I’m not very good at observing or practicing God’s “rest marks” either.  This causes trouble for me personally, for those around me, and for Creation as well.  As Shortbridge points out, the pauses God calls for in life “are not empty spaces to be filled; they are opportunities to hear from God and be refreshed in His presence.”  He says that it is in the rest, silence and solitude that “we hear the melodies of God, learn His rhythms, and come to know His song.”  I would add to this, it is also where we come to see God in Creation.

Not only is the importance of rest noted throughout the Scriptures, the same message is proclaimed throughout God’s “Other Book”—Creation.  God has placed “rest marks” in the lives of all living things.  In order to survive animals must rest.  In order to thrive plants must rest too.  There’s a sense in which each night the earth comes to rest as well.  As humans we are no different.  Physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally we need rest.  That’s just the way God made us.  When we fail to pay attention to His “rest marks” we suffer, as do all those around us.  I have got to begin paying more attention to the God’s rest marks.  How about you?


(I photographed the whitetail fawn shown above at Shenandoah National Park.  The rhododendron plant was photographed in Tennessee.  I took the picture of my dog, Sierra, in my home.)

Nov 4 2009

A Time to Rest

Smoky-Mountain-Sabbath-crFrom where I sit fall seems to be quickly coming to an end.  I realize that technically it is only half over but once the leaves come down everything seems different.  Things are quieter now.  It’s almost feels like Creation is taking a rest.  In one sense, I suppose, Creation never rests—something is always happening—but this time of year, in the area where I live, things become a lot stiller. 

From the beginning God has called for rest.  It actually plays a prominent role in Scripture.  We learn in Genesis 2 that God rested on the seventh day of Creation.  Later He would tell His people through Moses that they, too, must rest on the seventh (Sabbbath) day.  Not only were the people to rest, so were the animals.  Later, provision for the land to rest was also included in God’s law.  There can be no denying that rest is part of God’s intention for His Creation. 

A number of years ago I was asked by a hospital to do a photographic representation of the seven days of Creation.  The image above is the one I chose to represent the seventh day.  The colorful leaf in the image rests against a rock in the stream, symbolizing for me the rest we find in God. 

Throughout Creation there are reminders of the need for rest.  Considering our busy helter-skelter lives, they are very much needed reminders.  We all need rest physically, spiritually and emotionally.  Creation declares this loud and clear.  That it does should not surprise us when we remember that the Creator Himself recognized the need for rest and commanded it.    

In the fallen leaves around me I see God’s reminder that we all need periods of rest, times to be still and know that He is God.  The picture above also reminds me to give thanks for a place to rest, on Christ the Solid Rock.