4b. Sabbath: Time of Restoration
If we wish to understand and appreciate the richness of contemplative meditation, we must view it against the backdrop of the Old Testament. Meditation is not a practice which Christians have filched from someone else's spiritual inheritance. It is part of our biblical tradition, and has its origins in the creation account. (Though of course throughout our history it has continued to evolve)
We would do well to read carefully the two accounts of the creation of "man" in the first two chapters of Genesis. We are going to focus on a few special points in the remainder of this article. We turn first to Genesis 1.
Verse 27 is highly significant in that the man and woman are created in God's own image and together share in the divine blessings to follow. The crowning blessing for all creation is the seventh day on which God rests to commemorate the completion of his work; commemorate the completion of his work its perfection and God's delight in it. "And there was evening, and there was morning — the sixth day". The first sunset Adam and Eve enjoyed began God's day of rest.
For God, it was completion. For Adam and Eve it was the beginning; it was a gift to them and their offspring long before the law was given to Moses. It was therefore given to all of humanity and not just one nation.
In this paper we draw from "Turning East" by Harvey Cox, published by Penguin Books. Harvey Cox explains: God chose to reveal himself as one who sits and "rests". The word "rest" in this setting literally means "to catch ones breath". In creating Adam, and giving him life, God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being" (Genesis 2: 7). Now, on the seventh day God rests to catch his breath. The first thing to notice about God's activity on this day, is that it focuses on breathing.
Breath is the source of renewal, and God, like human beings, returns periodically. So the second thing to notice is the weekly rhythm God sets in motion. As always, God is our role model, so very fitting since we were made in his image. When we observe the rhythmic return of rest time, we really are acting as creatures made in God's image.
Being and Doing
Another major teaching from our Scripture passage is the relationship "resting" represents, between being and doing. As Harvey Cox points out, "Observing God's rest time allows us to be free from the bondage of trying to control creation by human intelligence. We were created to be stewards, not to exploit, waste or despoil, but care for them and use them in God's service." Such responsibility and dignity requires that we constantly contemplate our divine origin and role.
This seventh day contemplation became the basis of the Sabbath law. To understand the Jewish-Christian concept of meditation it is essential to understand this Sabbath practice. Some Christian teachers of spirituality talk of meditation being, in essence, a kind of miniature Sabbath. The spirit of Sabbath not only excludes our ordinary forms of intervening and ordering, but also our manipulative ways of thinking, about the world. It is a time to be at one with God's designs, God's will: a time for shalom — inner and outer harmony.
"Meditation corresponds to the ancient idea of the Sabbath. Those who practice it can find it restores the insight that despite all the things that must be done in the world — to feed and liberate and heal — even God occasionally pauses to draw breath. There will be again a time when toil and pain will cease, when play and song and just sitting, and all manner of creative activity will fill out the hours and days. It reminds us that the day will come, but it also reminds us that day is not here. We need both reminders!" (Harvey Cox).
The need for rest with God has never changed. So important is this, so critically essential for our spiritual growth, that God continues to call us to rest with him in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Is Our Rest
Remember Jesus' invitation: "come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest". Jesus gives us his own rest, just as he gives us his own self. He also gives the Spirit.
In Christ there is a very meaningful connection between resting and prayer and "catching our breath". This is powerfully demonstrated in John 20: 22 where Jesus breathed on the disciples and they received the Holy Spirit. Some teachers of prayer draw attention to the text explaining that Jesus did not breathe the spirit into them.
He breathed over them. They had to inbreathe and "receive the Holy spirit" in obedience to the direction of Jesus. So it is the Lord who gives a new rest, and breath that is ever new, but we must seek him in this intimacy if we are to receive what he has to give.
A New Beginning
Meditation for Christians is returning to our origin in God. It is also returning to our re-creation in Jesus Christ. Through him we receive the breath, the Spirit of new life, who rebuilds us, restores us and renews us in the image of God.
It is in the stillness and quiet of this rest that we can hear God's voice and respond in our hearts.
A Gentle Whisper
In contemplative meditation, we listen to the Word of God which comes to us as a gentle whisper that only those listening within can hear.
Remember Elijah's experience (1 Kings 19: 11 — 12). He found God's presence in "a sound of gentle stillness" (for that is the literal meaning of the Hebrew text).
Jesus indicated that his followers would also know his voice.
He explained it like this:
"My sheep listen to my voice. I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish".
(John 10: 27 NIV)
A Clear Message For Us
In our busy world we need to develop a realistic rhythm of prayer and meditation, and do our best to maintain this rhythm. We need to take time to celebrate our divine origin with our Creator, and allow the breath of God to restore us and equip us for Jesus Christ's continuing work: the extension of his Kingdom to include all who respond to his call to enter it.
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