Sunday, November 6, 2011

Abraham Heschel on the Fall Youth Retreat?

This past weekend the Imago Dei Youth along with two other churches engaged in retreat.  The focus: Matthew 6:24-34. Don't Worry. Look. Consider. Strive.  Here is session 1: Why Retreat? [1]

A quick story about 8-year-old Greg: I had a good friend who lived up the street from me, at the top of what then seemed to be a hill as tall as Everest.  We used to ride our bikes down the hill everyday, a race to see who could make it to the bottom first.  One summer day after a recent sleepover, we decided we would race to my house at the bottom.  I hopped on my BMX, no helmet of course, and started to crush said friend.  I released my hands from the handle, turned to see my competitor in my dust, lifted my arms in premature celebration, lost control of the bike, went up a curb, and slammed the back of my head into the corner of a mailbox.  Eighteen stitches and a missed tee-ball game later, I was sure next time to slow down and certainly wear a helmet.  I also never took my hands off the handle bar again.

I was moving too fast.  I lost control. I crashed and burned.  Despite traveling faster than my friend, I never arrived home...only at the hospital.

Many of us are moving too fast, we are traveling at an unhealthy speed and are about to crash and burn if we don't turn around and adjust our pace.

If we are honest with ourselves, we need retreat, we need rest, we need Sabbath.  We need Sabbath for reasons different than we may think: We rest, retreat, and Sabbath, not as a means to recharge our battery for yet another hurried week.  We rest, retreat, and Sabbath so to live into a completely new and fresh rhythm of life.                                            
"To the biblical mind, however, labor is a means to an end, and the Sabbath as a day of rest, as a day from abstaining from toil, is not for the purpose of recovering one's lost strength and becoming fit for the forthcoming labor.  The Sabbath is a day of rest for the sake of is not an interlude but the climax of living" (Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath, 14, italics mine).

I believe that our lives are to be deeply formed by our hope for and understanding of God's future.  We are to live in the present the way we dream God will make the world and all related rhythms in the future.  Yet our present lives are so much formed, shaped, and owned by rhythms and beats that none of us really like: hurry, worry, and cluttered schedules. 

I love what Susannah Heschel writes in the introduction to her father's, Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath:
"the goal is creating the Sabbath as a foretaste of paradise and a testimony to God's presence; in our prayers, we anticipate a messianic era that will be a Sabbath, and each Shabbat prepares us for that experience: 'Unless one learns how to relish the taste of will be unable to enjoy the taste of eternity in the world to come" (xv). 
However, I think that if we were to paint pictures of eternity based off many of our present "relishes" it would look much like runners on treadmills, constantly moving yet never really arriving anywhere.  Indeed, this is our present pace.  Still, upon such realization we convince ourselves that if we continue to turn up the speed, maybe even adjust the incline, we will arrive at some phantom destination more quickly.  Nonetheless, although constantly moving and burning energy, we never arrive.  The only fruit we bear: exhaustion, fatigue, and frustration.   Sometimes we may even fly off because we are moving at a speed too fast for us to maintain.

Switchfoot's song, "Thrive," on their most recent album, Vice Verses, says it best:
"I feel like I'm traveling but I never arrive.  I want to thrive not just survive."

I think this is precisely "why retreat?"  To retreat is to make a break from the oppressive patterns and rhythms that many of us are caught in and to contemplate what it looks like not just to survive, but to thrive. 

And in so doing, when we retreat, we are actually living into an ancient discipline of Sabbath rest.  This Sabbath rest and retreat is not so much a recovery from worry, hurry, and cluttered schedules.  We are not here to recharge our batteries so when Monday comes we can be rested enough to hop back on the treadmill, maybe even turn it up. Instead, to retreat, to Sabbath, is to begin to embody the future rhythm of rest and peace that awaits us in the new creation yet to come.  To retreat and to rest is to enter into a new and full rhythm of life.

I recently read an ancient Jewish allegory told by a rabbi during the time of Jesus, i.e. first century A.D. The tale goes that each day of creation was a son of a King and wed to the corresponding element of creation.  Yet when the seventh day came- nothing.  The Day of Rest was alone.  So the Sabbath made his complaint known to this King who said, "the Community of Israel shall be your mate" (The Sabbath, 51). 

The People of God were wed to the Sabbath, and what God had joined no one could separate.  This was especially important for the Jewish people who throughout history, to include the first century, were constantly ruled by foreign dictators: Assyria (8th Century), Babylon (6th Century), Rome (1st Century).  Yet no one could take away the Sabbath.  They were wed to the rhythm of rest as a reminder that not only was God's presence with them, but also and especially there was hope for a future to come. No empire, emperor, or cultural pattern could take this away from them. As long as they kept Sabbath they held onto life.

We live in the midst of another oppressive cultural context. We are wed to hurry, worry, and bulimic schedules. What we need is to be reunited with God's rhythm of rest that enables us to experience the Divine Presence.  Only then can we enter into life as God intended. Only then can we live into the kingdom of God as we follow Jesus in and for the sake of the world.

That's why this weekend we begin with a reflection on "why retreat?"  We want to invite you, if nothing else happens this weekend, to experience the rest of God.  We dare you to cast aside worry, fear, hurry, and pressures and to retreat with one another.  As we retreat we practice a form of Sabbath, which is an invitation to gain a glimpse of God's future that will break into the present this weekend.  Even more, we will be then sent from this retreat to enter into real practices of God's future as they break into the present.

[1] This session served primarily to introduce students to the concept of "retreat," which is often new to students and a helpful reminder to those who have been many times before.