Here I Am
When I was a kid, I used to read the creation narratives from Genesis, and my imagination would run wild.
Buoyed by the colorful prints inside of my Bible that dramatically depicted Adam and Eve standing in a tropical Eden, surrounded by animals (with plants strategically placed to hide the fact that they were nude, of course), I formed all kinds of ideas about what Genesis was describing.
But then I would get to the following passage, and I would become stymied.
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
So here's the question that I had when I was a kid--worded in adult-speak: Why does an all-powerful, all-knowing, limitless Creator have to rest?
It's a serious question, right? But then it leads to other questions, which is where it would lead me when I was a kid, and apparently still does. The thought process went like this:
Was God tired? Did God use up all of God's energy like in a video game, and have to go recharge? And further, when God rested did God sleep, or just chill, or perhaps did God make some tea, pull up a blanket, and sit by a fireplace? And if so, how big would that fireplace have to be? And what kind of tea would God drink if God was resting?
The short answer to all of these questions that I was given as a child is that God "rested" or ceased creating in order to serve as an example for us---so that we would also rest on the Sabbath.
That never really sat well with me, because I was smart enough to know even as a kid that the Hebrew Scriptures led Jewish people to view the Sabbath day differently than Christians---evidenced by the fact that both groups commemorated "the Sabbath" on a totally different day.
But time and a tad of wisdom have helped me to understand that whole passage differently. God may have "ceased" from creating the earth and the cosmos, but God didn't entirely "rest" in the way we understand resting.
What God did was create something that wasn't Creation---the Sabbath, a space in time that is spirit-like in its essence, and which offers a clearing of restoration as a gift to humanity.
In his seminal book The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel writes:
It was on the seventh day that God gave the world a soul... The task becomes how to convert time into eternity, how to fill our time with spirit... [Our culture] has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else.
God also knew that humankind would need to do a bit of co-creating on their own in order to receive that gift.
In the Hebrew tradition, Shabbat is more than day---it's a mindset, a heart-set, and a soul-set. And it is also an atmosphere and a witness to the presence of God.
But in order to enter into the true rest of Sabbath, we need to move toward it, and then into it. We have to be willing to cease our own labors, to resist our cultural pressures to do something, anything that will make us feel successful.
Sussanah Heschel, Rabbi Heschel's daughter puts it like this:
Creating Shabbat begins with a sense of longing... It is not we who long for a day of rest, but the Sabbath spirit that is lonely and longs for us.
I thought about this for a while, and the image that came to mind was the scene in Genesis 3 where God comes to walk with Adam and Eve in the "cool of the evening," and they are hiding because they decided to do life on their own terms.
"Where are you?" God calls out, knowing the answer. "Where are you?"
The world during COVID may have slowed down in some respects, but it has become busier than ever in others. So many of us feel the pressures of stretching ourselves ever more thin in order to meet the demands of this time.
Meanwhile, Shabbat is longing for us, calling out to us to enter into it, to find rest, and to be surrounded by the renewing and restoring Spirit of God.
The days might be running together right now, but when we realize that God has created the gift of Shabbat to transcend our ideas of time, our concept of days... it can set us free to enter into it at any moment.
Find your rest today. Be at peace today. Discover Shabbat today. And when your soul hears the question "Where are you?" You can reply for your soul, "Here I am. Here I am."
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.