Solitude and Sabbath

What were you doing four years ago?  It is a trick question.  I don’t expect someone to know.  It is an element of my own history that I can remember exactly what I was doing four years ago (July 11, 2008).  Then as now, it was a week before Jurisdictional Conference.  At that time I was an endorsed candidate for election to the episcopacy.  Jolynn and I prepared for Jurisdictional Conference by going on a spiritual retreat through the Pastors Retreat Network.  Whether I was elected or not, I desired to walk through the process in a healthy and holy relationship with God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is a second reason I bring this up.  This past week I have been preparing for my presentation to our PLD group.  (Rev. Ed George and I jointly teach a Pastors Leadership Development – PLD – group that meets at King Memorial UMC in Whitney.)  In preparation for that group, I’ve been reading Ruth Haley Barton’s marvelous book Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation.  I recommend it highly! Together the two experiences - reliving my preparation for Jurisdictional Conference and preparation for the PLD group - call me back again to what is a constant theme; our need as both lay and clergy to rediscover and reconnect to solitude and Sabbath.  We got the name “Methodist: because we were so methodical about spiritually walking with Christ as Lord and Savior.  Methodist were (and are!) practical Christians who live the faith.” In my readings and reflection over the years I come back again and again to this theme.  Dallas Willard (The Divine Conspiracy and The Great Omission) teaches eloquently on the need to step out of our fragmented and frantic world to reconnect to the Holy Trinity.  Ruth Barton offers marvelous insights and practical help in how to do so.  As a taste; she writes: “The truth is, Sabbath keeping is a discipline that will mess with you, because once you move beyond just thinking about it and actually begin to practice it, the goodness of it will capture you, body, soul and spirit” (Sacred Rhythms, p. 133.  She offers suggestions on what to include and what to exclude.  Consider, Exclude: 1) work, 2) buying and selling, 3) worry.  Include: “whatever delights you and replenishes you” (Sacred Rhythms, p. 142).  She suggests 1) Resting the body, 2) Replenishing the spirit (noting “Usually television and most things technological are not really replenishing; they are merely distracts from God’s more meaningful gifts.” – Sacred Rhythms, pp. 142-143), 3) Restoring the soul (including both worship in the community of faith and more personal worship and sharing for yourself and with family). There is much, much more and many outstanding authors and guides to engage both our heart and mind.  I suspect I write on this so often because I know how great my own need is and how deep my own tendency to sin by omission of the Sabbath.  As the summer slows me down, I have time to reflect.  The development of “habits of the heart” is a crucial component of being a Methodist Christian!  I need to be Methodist, that is, methodical about solitude and Sabbath.  Willpower alone won’t work.  I must develop the habits.  What about you? For now, let Isaiah’s witness settle in your being: “If you stop trampling the Sabbath, stop doing whatever you want on my holy day, and consider the Sabbath a delight, sacred to the LORD, honored, and honor it instead of doing things your way, seeking what you want and doing business as usual, then you will take delight in the LORD. I will let you ride on the heights of the earth; I will sustain you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”  (Isaiah 58:13-14)