The Heart of Existence

Bench by the water

Without Sabbath rest (menuha in Hebrew) the universe would be incomplete. Afterall, it took a special act of creation to bring it into being. Why are we afraid of it?

Ruth Ellen and I recently returned from a wonderful Christmas holiday. We decided to splurge and rent a condo in Playa del Carmen for a week and a half. We splashed about in the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean Sea, enjoyed food at local taquerias, and barely thought about schoolwork. The evening we returned home I remember driving through the Massey Tunnel and suddenly panicking. I don’t know if it was the enclosed space, or if it was the pulsating sensation of tunnel lights whirring past me at regular intervals as we drove, but I got really anxious really fast. “So much to do, so little time,” I thought to myself as I tried to breathe slowly. As soon as we exited the tunnel I saw the vast and starlit sky and my perception of speed all but disappeared. Unlike the tunnel lights, the moon and the stars seemed anchored in the sky as we continued to travel the highway toward home. It’s interesting how proximity changes my perspective.

Abraham J. Heschel was a Jewish rabbi and theologian who thought a great deal about rest and time. I’m reading his book about the Sabbath and it is messing with my head (in a good way). In it he laments our civilization’s preoccupation with subduing and controlling things of space. He argues that we tend to think of power in terms of conquest and consumption yet find ourselves powerless against the invisible grip of time. All of our attempts to ignore it, reverse it, or make a commodity out of it belie the dread we feel at time’s inevitable hold on our lives.

“The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments.”

Abraham Joshua Heschel

Why are we so afraid of time? Perhaps it is because we think of time as a thing (you can read Neil Postman’s critique of public discourse for more on that) and we like to control things. In Genesis the first thing God makes holy is not a thing but a day; the seventh day, Sabbath. Unlike other religious festivals, Sabbath is not attached to seasons, lunar cycles, or particular places. Instead it is attached to the creative work of God. Heschel calls time the heart of existence. This is not to say that things are not important, but again and again throughout scripture priority is given to time, to relationships. Sabbath and the great Jewish festivals are attached to sacred events in time. Holiness itself is seen in relation to time. In other words, time as well as space can be hallowed.

This poses a problem for those of us who are driven by (thoroughly modern) concepts of efficiency and productivity. Rest appears to be the antithesis of control. It is. And that’s the point. In time there are no shortcuts. To quote Heschel, [t]he more we think the more we realize: we cannot conquer time through space. We can only master time in time. The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments. If control is our highest aim this truth is a serious problem, but if communion with God and one another is our highest aim, this truth is a profound relief. We are invited not to conquer time but dwell in it, to face sacred moments, to sit awhile with the One who says “I Am.”

My IPIAT performance is now 7 weeks away. I’m trying to breathe slowly. I’m learning to abide with Christ so that my proximity to Him will change my perspective. He is unshakeable. He is. He.

Photo courtesy of Jon Eckert

1 Comment

  1. Nathanael Davis Reply

    L ove the perspective. Rest is such a beautiful part of creation. Glad to see God is still teaching you in this area.

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