Sanctuary space in our Backyard

Exodus 20:8-10 (a)

8 “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God.

1 John 2: 15-16

15 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father but are from this world.


In 2003 I took my 3 young daughters to Europe. An exciting adventure with so many unknown yet anticipated discoveries about ourselves, each other, new cultures, and peoples. We played in beautiful beaches in France and Spain. Cathedrals dotted the landscape of these countries. Museums fielding many beautiful creations of art and sculpture. Statues of Saints, pulpits and altar tables carved from wood and stone. Many took my breath away. Each place and time gave me pause to consider their stories. Who created these? What were their lives like?

One afternoon in Paris in a section called Montmartre, which sits on a high hill overlooking Paris we visited many attractions – street vendors and street artists, restaurants, and cafes for sitting with coffee and treats watching all the activity. A large and ornate Cathedral of the Sacred Heart completed in the early 20th century could be seen from all vantage points in that section. We went inside. Beautiful stained-glass windows adorning almost every wall, a large altar and pulpit area with lavish sculptures, carvings, and paintings. It was quite beautiful.

But around a corner sat another cathedral, built in the 1100’s on a site where an earlier church had been since the 4th century. The cathedral of St. Peter.

In broken English, an old man welcomed us and gave us a printed sheet of paper with its history, etc. I stood still and gazed inside. Worn, wooden pews, a beautiful stained-glass window behind the more simple but elegant altar and pulpit. I sat in a pew. Silence. Silence. After a day of being with my kids, visiting religious sites, museums displaying beautiful artwork my heart was filled to the brim with Beauty and the Sacred. For Beauty and the Sacred are like twins of the Creation. And now here, in this cathedral, of worn pews and floors, welcomed by an older gentleman I felt transformed. My sabbath rest. I had entered a place in time that became holy for me at that moment. I felt embraced.

All that had come before on that day had led me to that time and place in which I felt welcomed by the Presence of the Holy.

That memory in time has lingered with me.  Other sacred places in time have called me and each time I have allowed myself to hear and feel the Divine I feel a blooming within me. Imagine a flower slowly blooming in front of your eyes. What is blooming within you?

You do not need to go to Paris or the Cathedral of St. Peter to find your Sabbath rest! Your Sabbath rest can be wherever you are. A church or other places of worship, the outdoors, a walk in the woods, a picnic area or your living room. It depends on what has led you to that place in your heart and space in time.

Sabbath includes worship as Christians experience it on a Sunday morning, or Jews and Muslims on their Sabbath mornings. Fellowship, songs, prayers, and words of God are transforming. But Sabbath is more than this one hour per week. Sabbath is a deep breath, a wide-open embrace of the Creation. Sabbath is time alone and a time with others.

Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi describes a beckoning call to the Sabbath with this example: He writes: You walk in the door. You sense a greeting from the sanctuary itself: “Take off your shoes, God calls, come closer. Come with each step to a higher place away from outerness, deeper into innerness, closer and closer to the Holy of Holies. Make room in your inner most heart of hearts. There I will be in my Fullness says the Lord God. [1]

As I prepare to explore a sermon, in addition to the scripture readings of each Sunday I am keenly aware of the first Creation in Genesis and particularly of verse 26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, in the likeness of ourselves”. Some may say that the ‘our’ implies the angels of God. Others may say the ‘our’ implies the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What is important here is that God planted in each of us a spark of Creation and that spark yearns to be touched by God. 

The Creation stories make known to us to the Beauty, inclusiveness, the mystery, and the Goodness of Creation. The Creation, which is ongoing, is ours to care for and treasure and live within.  Beauty creating Beauty – the God of the Universe. Genesis introduces us to Sabbath. We are filled with Awe and wonder.

Rabbi Arthur Green, professor at Hebrew college in Boston writes, that as we abide in the Sabbath, seeking to experience the mystery that we are made in God’s image as Genesis tells us, we sense the “ever-giving source of life (which) calls forth in us an unceasing flow of love, generosity of spirit, and full acceptance, both of ourselves and of all God’s creatures.” [2] We yearn to hear, to see and to be touched by an ever-growing sense of AWE.

Sabbath is a place in time in which we welcome a holy rest for our souls, bodies, and minds. The writer of Exodus calls us to remember and observe, to participate in the Sabbath by keeping it Holy. The Sabbath is a time of rest which is dedicated to God. In Sabbath we are witnesses to the love of God in the world.

The writer of 1st John tells us not to love this world. I believe what the writer is telling us is to live in the world, we are here. Enjoy this life, be responsible for the Creation and give back to the world by our actions that our faith teaches us – to love, to be compassionate, to be patient and kind as Jesus was, but do not get so stuck in the world that it consumes our every breath and fiber. Sabbath observance releases us from the world to gain a higher perspective of our lives and the Life of the creation.

The writer reminds us to love the Father in you. The Father in you is that spark of God which resides in us. We have been gifted with life in this world – to act in the world with the likeness of God in us – kindness, beauty, compassion to our fellow beings and to praise our Creator. Remember we are formed in the image and likeness of God.

Early Christians in Ireland and Scotland used their God given gift of Imagination and Vision to “see what God has done (and continues to do) and then seeing it through the creative eyes of God.”[3] How do we see through the eyes of God? We do this in large part through active participation in the observance of the Sabbath.

The late theologian and pastor Howard Thurman tells us that Sabbath is the overflowing of the heart as an act of grace toward God … it is akin to adoration and gives us the sheer joy in thanksgiving that God is God. The soul is privileged and blessed in the overwhelming consciousness of this!”[4]

Sabbath is connection with God, with our inner being, our neighbors, friends, families, and Nature. We call it Mother Nature for a reason! Sabbath is healing as we turn inward through song, words, music, poetry, and dance and in sharing with others. Sabbath may include laughter and sometimes tears.

Sabbath is God’s time for us to immerse ourselves in this Awe and Mystery of Creation, which is ongoing. Clap your hands, all you peoples. Sing praises to God, sing praises. Sabbath is joyful.

Sabbath is a place of quiet rest and this rest is near to the heart of God. (Near to the Heart of God #472)

Sabbath can be a lament as well as a Joy. Sabbath calls to our souls to be still and trust in God. (Be Still, My Soul #534)

Sabbath prepares us and uplifts us so we can see new mercies. Each of these hymns are Beautiful, with lyrics that can carry us through a week of work, school, washing the dishes, fishing, mowing the lawn, tending to the garden and so much more.)

Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Imagine the arms of God embracing you.  

[1] Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi from his book – Jewish With Feeling: A Guide to Meaningful Jewish Practice. Reading this beautiful book can easily be read by Christians and others as the practices he outlines can be embraced by all. P. 162

[2] Rabbi Arthur Green “we ask ourselves what it means to be created in God’s image. It is not only a description of our creative powers; it is also a statement of responsibility about the way that we treat others. Do we see God in them? Do we recognize that all people are created in this image, not just famous people or people who can serve us in some way?  Rabbi Green continues and elaborates on this responsibility: “The inner drive to imitate the ever-giving source of life calls forth in us an unceasing flow of love, generosity of spirit, and full acceptance, both of ourselves and of all God’s creatures.”

[3] Deborah Cronin in her book: Holy Ground. P. 17

[4] Howard Thurman from his book: Disciplines of the Spirit p, 102. Howard Thurman is one of the 20th centuries greatest theologians, pastors, and philosophers.

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