Yep, you read that right. Spirit of the Poor is back. Welcome back! Some things are the same. Still a once-monthly blog link-up held loosely at the intersection of spiritual matters and economic justice, we still have a theme each month, and anybody is welcome to join. Some things are different. The link-up will no longer roam, but just hang out at my place (so people can find it) and will stay open the entire month. Our hope is simply that those of us who want to talk about this stuff can do so here.
Kicking us off this month is Kelley Nikondeha, on “Sabbath.” (Check back for my own words on the same topic, which I’ll post soon and link up here.) Even if you don’t know Kelley — and I hope you do! — you might remember that I did a book club this spring, on Walter Brueggeman’s Sabbath as Resistance? Remember? I constantly tweeted things like “this book validates my entire life.” That was Kelley’s book club. Here are some of her own wise words.
Recently I’ve been considering the poverty of our discipleship. It all began when I stumbled over the word discipleship in my Twitter feed one afternoon. I recognized the word, of course. But what came to mind was how little I ever use it anymore, though I remain an ardent follower of Jesus.
This wasn’t always the case. In my youth discipleship functioned as load-bearing word in my vocabulary. This word held pride of place in youth group conversations and on into discussions in my college years. My bookshelf teemed with books on discipleship – how to be the best Christian I could be by various authors taking a variety of approaches. In my early years, it would be fair to say discipleship was a preoccupation of mine. So how is it, all these years later, that I stare at the word as a relic from my past instead of common currency?
Weeks later, I recognized that my practice of Sabbath might be the holy culprit gradually undercutting my preoccupation with discipleship, at least as I had come to know it.
In all the books and all the sermons I’d encountered, discipleship was a rigorous series of activities for me to do to be more like Jesus. Chief among them were Sunday church attendance, daily quiet times, the memory of Bible verses, participation in weekly small groups and periodic mission trips. In seminary I would learn about the spiritual disciplines, Lectio Divina and praying the hours – more activities to increase my discipleship capacity. Scheduling all of these into my life over the years kept me very busy and, to be candid, quite exhausted. I wanted to be like Jesus, but this discipleship treadmill was killing me.
I believe that Sabbath is the cornerstone of healthy and sustainable discipleship. When we begin to practice Sabbath our theology and praxis are challenged and gradually changed, moving us away from a consumer-driven Christianity, the endless activities of discipleship programs and perpetual burnout. Holy practices find their way into our lives, gently integrated into a life recalibrated by rest and retrained to discern more deeply what is necessary (and what is not). Sabbath came as a salve to my weary soul. It allowed me to get off the treadmill and collapse onto the green pastures where I could rest and be refreshed.
The first thing the practice of Sabbath did for me was to call me to remember that YHWH is the God who creates, then rests. God trusted creation to continue in good stead while God rested on the seventh day, according to Genesis. This God invites me to do likewise, to join in regular rest. I began to understand that part of bearing the divine image meant I needed to participate in the divine rhythm of creating and resting. I cannot be like God when refuse to rest. It might be that my lack of resting indicated how little I actually knew God at all.
The second thing Sabbath did was remind me that I was once a slave to Pharaoh but I’ve been delivered from such taskmasters. At the foot of Sinai, according to Exodus, God gave the 10 Commandments, including the command to keep Sabbath. The Hebrews were free to rest an enter in God’s new regime – and so am I. Part of my new identity as a member of God’s family is one who is now free to rest and worship.
One a-ha moment was my realization that Sabbath is first about work stoppage. You stop all your work – then you can rest. With Egypt in mind, I saw Pharaoh’s brickyards, taskmasters and endless quotas for more and more bricks. There was no stopping or resting allowed. And YHWH demonstrated that the world can be ordered otherwise, that under God’s reign people stop working and partook of regular rest. I discovered that I’m not made for endless work and ever-increasing productivity; I’m invited to back away from the brickyard. Now I stop and rest because I’m no one’s slave anymore.
The third thing Sabbath did was recalibrate me with rest. Regular work stoppage and rest slowly reshaped me with a different rhythm. I noticed the world continues quite well without my productivity. Rest gently teases out the knots I’ve gotten myself into and allows me to experience a full-bodied freedom that I won’t willingly relinquish now.
Recalibration by rest remains an on-going process for me, forming me in the most fundamental way — into someone who is more fully human. I believe God intended me to be a person capable of creative work, stewardship of the earth and a rotation of rest to embody a sustainable humanity. Sabbath moves me in this direction, allowing me to reclaim some garden goodness.
As I became more intentional about Sabbath practice, I thought more about refraining from activities rather than piling them on. I opted for time to read poetry and the prophets, choosing imagination over memorization. I decided to participate in a quieter midweek Eucharist service instead of the frenzied Sunday worship service that boasted of loud music, frothing coffee machines, crowds of people in and out with a traffic jam in the parking lot each week.
Over time I noticed Sabbath stretching out into other days of the week, shaping other choices and forming me into a less frantic person. Some Sundays we do a stay-in where we stay in our pjs and stay in the house and stay together. My daughter calls this ‘The Big Rest’ and often is the initiator, telling me that The Big Rest allows her to enjoy the school week more. Our weekends are often about doing less, not more. Our midweek activities tend to be bike riding and park visits over the demanding soccer schedule that whips so many good parents into a weekly frenzy. They are small choices and personal ones, but they help me embrace Sabbath rhythm to my core.
I’m only beginning to notice the profound change Sabbath has wrought in my life. There is more to consider and parse as I look at the connections between Sabbath, discipleship and our humanity. But this much I can testify to – Sabbath has become the cornerstone to my own praxis of discipleship. Sabbath enriches the soil, allowing a deeper discipleship to emerge.
This is only the beginning of many more conversations… but now I have the time!
Kelley Nikondeha is co-director of Amahoro Africa and international staff member of Community of Faith with her husband Claude. She’s a thinker, connector, advocate, avid reader and mother of two beautiful children. Kelley lives between Arizona and Burundi. She loves handwritten letters, homemade pesto and anything written by Walter Brueggeman. She writes a blog called Theology in Transit and is a columnist at SheLoves Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @knikondeha.
To join the link up, write your own blog post on “Sabbath Discipleship”–or “sabbath” or “rest” or really whatever related issue you are chewing on – and enter the URL of your post in the linky tool below. (Find the blue text that says “click here to enter.)
It’s quite hard enough, I think, to live into countercultural attitudes like this one, without having to do so all by ourselves…