Eugene Peterson on Sabbath

 

Last week I had the pleasure of being able to spend a couple of days sitting with Eugene Peterson at an intimate conference called Q Practices.

The focus of our two days with Peterson was on Cultivating your Inner Life in an Age of Distraction.

Can you resonate with that? I can.

Over the course of the two days we had hour-long conversations, facilitated by Gabe Lyons — conference host, with Peterson covering a number of spiritual practices. It was a fantastic combination of sage, spiritual wisdom and personal, practical stories. Peterson was real — human — honest and humble.

Our first hour was focused on Sabbath and Sabbath-Keeping.

Peterson’s opening comment:

Shut up and show up.

That’s it. Stop whatever it is that we’re doing and make ourselves “present” to God.

There’s no requirement put upon us on Sabbath.

From his book, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, we here more:

Sabbath: Uncluttered time and space to distance ourselves from the frenzy of our own activities so we can see what God has been and is doing. If we do not regularly quit work for one day a week we take ourselves far too seriously. The moral sweat pouring off our brows blinds us to the primal action of God in and around us.

We have a culture that ignores time, Peterson believes… it’s just a another commodity to be consumed.

But something happens when we acknowledge God, and the Kairotic nature of time — time that is pregnant, which causes us to realize that we can’t use or manipulate time in the ways that we have thought. Time requires us to wait.

Sabbath helps us to become aware of time in this way.

As we give ourselves to the “ordinariness” of that day — we are freed — and not just us, but our families too.

Sabbath is about playing and praying. They’re symbiotic — they go together!

Peterson confessed that when he was young and in ministry he didn’t practice keeping the Sabbath. And before long he knew something had to change.

He recognized that he wasn’t working out of obedience, but fear.

Fear of not “succeeding.”

Fear of the judgment of others.

Fear of letting someone down.

Fear of letting God down.

We work, and obsess over work, because we want to be like God, Peterson proclaimed!

Because we live in a world that is ignorant of the work of God, we over-estimate the work of man.

But its Sabbath that brings dignity to our work.

Yes, it was quite freeing when he began to practice a regular Sabbath.

And for those of us who feel overwhelmed by the workload we carry — often at our own choosing — Peterson would point us to our need to find a healthy, more balanced way forward… a rhythm… much like that of a farmer:

The pace of the farmer, who always has work to do, enters into a rhythm of work that makes sense — that is relaxed.

It’s not slow.

It’s not lazy.

It’s mindful of everything that needs to get done… and what it’s going to take to do it.

A good marriage, and professional athletes, can help to add texture to this example. Both are constantly working at what they do… which ultimately makes it look easy… but if you’ve ever tried either… you know that “easy” is far from the truth of describing the reality.

We can’t be in a rush. And we, as Christian leaders, need to get this Sabbath-thing right… So we can help others learn it.

It’s Sabbath-keeping, Peterson believes, that is the primary work of the Church — not evangelism.

Think about that…

Sabbath: Uncluttered time and space to distance ourselves from the frenzy of our own activities so we can see what God has been and is doing. If we do not regularly quit work for one day a week we take ourselves far too seriously. The moral sweat pouring off our brows blinds us to the primal action of God in and around us.

How tragic it is when we fail to recognize God in our midst.

Equally  so when we fail to help our students slow down, create space for prayer and play, such that it brings their work into proper perspective.

What role does Sabbath currently play in your life?

How are you modeling it to your students?

How would you challenge students and the frenetic pace they tend to keep?

Take a moment to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

 

About the author: Guy Chmieleski
Guy is the Founder and President of Faith On Campus. He is also the University Minister at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. He is the author of Shaping Their Future: Mentoring Students Through Their Formative College Years and CAMPUS gODS: Exposing the Idols That Can Derail Your Present and Destroy Your Future.