Thursday, July 29, 2010

Solitude, Sabbath, John Mayer and "Biblical" Christianity

This photo isn't just some random, pretty nature photo but is actually where my eldest son, Bryan, and I spent the last couple of days (just one night). This photo was taken from his phone as my "travel lite" mode prevented me from taking our camera.

So to get to this place, it was just about an hour drive from our house. Then up a steep, gravel jeep trail (but we were in a car) for about twelve miles, then we backpacked in for about four miles.

The photo doesn't show how isolated it is. But it is on a high country area and part of a natural amphitheater containing about twenty square miles of lakes and mountain peaks, snow fields, many bugs, marmots and other creatures . . . but no other humans.

We arrived yesterday about three or four in the afternoon and crawled into our sleeping bags about nine. During this time, I experienced a brief taste of solitude, for the first time in a few years.

I use to be an avid backpacker, but even then (except for a brief stint as a solo backpacker) I always went with loud, active groups . . . such as my own children. Last year backpacking for over a hundred miles in Nepal, I was always surrounded by people . . . too many to be exact.

With just Bryan and me, it seemed lonely. Of course we talked some. But we also read and he went off to explore alone, as did I.

The thing that this experience brought home to me was the concept of solitude. It's uncomfortable. I wanted to have a project to work on, a book that I need to study, a paper to write or a house to work on . . . even a TV or radio would have helped. But I was also thinking that this type of solitude is much closer to what the "Sabbath" represents than anything we know. According to the Bible it is a time of complete rest. It is not clear from scripture if the rest is good for our bodies and our minds but I really believe that it is. Most of all, it is a word picture that we have rest in Christ. No more struggle to "be somebody."

I sat on the side of a lake yesterday looking into the side of a mountain where about thirteen waterfalls tumbled from an ice field just above us. I watched for an hour. All I could hear were the falls, and the echoes . . . which seemed to have a rhythm of music. My mind wondered. I wanted to do something, some project, anything. It was hard to sit and do nothing but let my mind drift on the breeze. But once again, I was reminded that in Christ we rest.

A couple of days ago I watched John Mayer on the Today Show. He just started a new tour. He said the strangest thing. He said that, like most artist, he was happy to go on tour because when he wasn't on tour, he knew that he was just taking up oxygen and space and had no reason to exist. In other words, without his craft, he had no value. That is our great temptation.

But it isn't like Christians are spared or know better. We are the worst at this. We always turn rest into penitence. What was "Sabbath rest" became "Sunday" and the Sunday worship service. It is an act of penitence. A lot of Christians don't like me for the things I say, and this is the one thing I say, which they hate the most. But if you miss church service to you feel a little nasty? I still do and I know better. I certainly do believe there is a very strong place for Christian community. I ache for it. It is neglected by most churches . . . in favor of penitence.

I, in my dream-like state yesterday, was also thinking about "Biblical Christianity." In this case the adjective "Biblical" really means "evangelical culture conformity." If I were a new pastor of an evangelical church and I said that I was going to do things "Biblically" then I cancelled Sunday morning worship and told people that instead, they should go up into the mountains, alone and sit and do nothing. Don't go with a "spiritual" agenda . . . meaning praying (there is a place for prayer so don't get me wrong), singing hymns (unless you can't control your desire to do so), writing in your journal or even meditation. But sit and stare into to the beauty of the mountains . . . or stare at the ground if you want. But be away from any distractions and do nothing. Now that's a Biblical sabbath. But if I did that, I would be run out of town on a rail and a wacky new age pastor.

The closes thing I remember to solitude was when I was with the Navigators and about once every six months we would get alone for "A Day in Prayer." However, it was very different from what I'm talking about. It was penitence . We, in our dualistic thinking, believed that we had to pray very hard . . . to the point of sweating, crying and having some type of emotional (but we called a movement by the spirit) experience or the time was wasted and made God have a sad face.

I want to do this again. It is very uncomfortable to sit and do nothing . . . for hours . . .and still feel that God loves me. But, as Jesus implied to Peter, if He can't love us when we do nothing, then He can't ever love us.


Anonymous said...

I have far too much solitude these days...and envy you for the surroundings you are able to avail yourself of. I really don't have any trouble staring at a mountain & waterfalls...for more than just one hour...I feel guilty about that (sometimes).

Kathleen said...

I fully agree. Many of us Christians dont understand what it means to rest and not feel guilty if we arent resting and doing something spiritual! I learnt this while on a missions project in southeast africa last summer. I was so gung-ho about maximizing my time there and being busy and a fellow missionary boldly said "God loves you when you do NOTHING". That was a hard pill to swallow. It's still a bit hard to grasp. But it does change our perspective of God and church from a religious/puppet-master relationship to a more genuine and awe-type love for God. A question I ask is "am I doing what I'm doing (eg. going to church, praying, etc) because I feel that God wants me to and loves me because of it OR am I doing this because its an outpouring and awe of God's love for me?"
We love God because HE FIRST loved us. I think we too often get that mixed up. Thanks for the reminder!

Sixwing said...

This is so true.