Menuha: A Restful Delight
Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting
Pastor Bob Henry
August 11, 2019
Isaiah 58:13-14 (NRSV)
13 If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;[a]
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Last week I ended my sermon with a plug for this week’s sermon on Sabbath. I believe Sabbath to be a subcategory of our Quaker distinctive of Simplicity, even though many Friends seemingly ignore or neglect to talk about Sabbath, today. That may be solely due to how some Quakers look at special days.
You see, early Friends traditionally did not follow the church calendar observed by other Christian denominations. Actually, many Quakers (unlike us at First Friends) do not even celebrate religious holidays such as Christmas or Easter on special or specific days, rather, they believe that the life of Christ is to be remembered and experienced each day of the year.
By the same token, Quakers usually believe that every day of the week is the Lord's day, and it is not required for us to hold our worship meetings on a Sunday.
For us and many other Quakers, our largest Meetings for Worship are usually held on Sundays, but this is often only due to tradition or convenience, rather than believing Sunday to be the Sabbath. Many groups of Friends hold their worship meetings on other days of the week.
What these beliefs and traditions clearly point out is that the concept of Sabbath has become linked to a specific day of the week, a specific time frame, and for specific purposes – which vary among religious groups – but often assume some type of worship, and some sense of rest and renewal for our busy lives.
Similar to last week with simplicity, sabbath is both an inward and outward practice or maybe a better way of putting it,
Sabbath is a state-of-mind as much as a physical rest.
Let me explain this a bit. Jewish commentators have said that God created menuha on the seventh day. Menuha is the Hebrew word for rest, but it is better translated as joyous reprose, tranquility, or delight. That is a bit different than how we think about rest, today.
Rabbi and popular Jewish Theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel said,
“To the biblical mind Menuha is the same as happiness and stillness, as peace and harmony…It is the state in which there is no strife and no fighting, no fear and no distrust.”
Now, I am sure that is probably not how most of us were taught to think about Sabbath. But I have to be honest, as I have probed more deeply in Quaker theology, I find the concept of Sabbath viewed in this way rather fitting for Quakers.
Seeking a state where there is no strife and no fighting, no fear and no distrust is not only a hope of Quakers but is supported by our distinctives, testimonies, and especially our S.P.I.C.E.S.
I was first introduced to these concepts by Dan Allender in his book from The Ancient Practices Series simply titled, “Sabbath.” But I was quick to realize that what I had been taught was far off from what was meant by Sabbath. Dan pointed out that…
“God didn’t rest in the sense of taking a nap or chilling out; instead God celebrated and delighted in his creation. God entered the joy of his creation and set it free to be connected but separate from the artist.”
In the creation poem or origin story of our faith, the writer tells us that God rested (Menuha) on the Seventh Day. He looked back on what he had done in the creative act and saw it as beautiful…and then God took time to delight – to find wonder and joy in all that was accomplished.
I started to think about this in a more personal way and I had to ask myself,
“When have I, at the end of a week, taken time to delight in all
that I have done – to find wonder and joy in my week?
To be totally frank, most weeks as I enter the weekend, I am coming in rather exhausted and spent from the week, and then ramping up for the busy weekend – where I will accomplish all the “other things” that I didn’t get to or I put off throughout the week.
Truthfully, most weeks I don’t think I have time for delight, wonder, or joy. I have family obligations, church meetings or activities, Meeting for Worship, shopping, lawn work, car maintenance, and the list goes on. And let’s be honest, if I made that time, it would be for a fleeting moment and probably not all it could be or maybe just not worth it.
Anybody feeling this way?
And then I read this from Dan Allender,
“Our war is not with exhaustion and our driven obeisance to work – those battles are related but mere consequences of the deeper war. Our war is against the possibility that God truly desires for us the kind of delight and joy that would make our silly obsession with work look like futzing over an airline bag of peanuts when outside our window is Mount Rainier, in all her winter glory, waiting for the passenger to look and gasp in amazement.”
I don’t know about you, but too often I have found myself “futzing over a bag of peanuts” while missing the beauty outside the airplane window. Such a good illustration. What does “Futzing over a bag of peanuts” look like for you? Think about that.
About a year ago, now, I seriously began wrestling with and challenging my own understanding of sabbath, and I started to address my own “futzing over a bag of peanuts” that was getting in the way of my delight. By no means have I figured it all out, or live it out perfectly each week.
As you may have heard me say on occasion, I try and take a personal “sabbath” each week on Friday and my “sabbath” with my family is usually on Saturday. I have tried to make this a priority for many years. But sadly, often if I am not cognizant of what I am doing, those days simply become a plan to set-a-part a day to do other things, finish projects, to-do lists, you name it.
Then, about a year ago, I became much more intentional about spending some or most of my sabbath day on something that I delight in, that brings me joy and wonder.
At first, I sensed a lot of guilt and worry over this. Mostly about things I “should” be doing. As my friend, Martha, would always remind me, We need to “stop SHOULDING on ourselves!” To delight, to wonder, to find joy is a gift not a “should.”
Being honest, there have been times when I have been so exhausted that I would get up on my personal sabbath, get the family out the door, and then sit down and become a couch potato for several hours.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when that can bring some wonder and joy, and needed rest. But what I have found is becoming a couch potato is often a negative default for me. I will spend too much time watching or obsessing over the news or politics, or watching movies or television that only cause me more stress.
I remember during one period of our lives, Sue and I would sit down to rest at night and watch one of the C.S.I.’s. We watched it right before bed and then wondered why we had nightmares and couldn’t sleep. We had to agree to stop watching those programs because they were effecting our peace and rest. If you leave your t.v. on at home all the time or you have a news network on 24/7 I wonder how much it is stealing your delight, wonder and joy?
Yet when I participated in things that I delighted in or brought wonder and joy to me, I would actually be renewed, inspired, energized and even more ready to move into my next week.
As many of you know, I delight, wonder, and find joy by going to Newfields and spending the morning gazing at great works of art or walking in their gardens, or spending time at a vinyl record shop or playing records in my home, or taking out a blank canvas or sketch pad and creating something new.
It is also a delight on my sabbath to have a special breakfast, not the quick usual oatmeal or cereal breakfast during the week, but an omlet or something more complex. I usually grind more coffee beans and make a second pot of coffee to enjoy throughout my morning. I may start my day with some reading, or simply on my back porch enjoying the many varieties of birds at our bird feeder. Sometimes, I do some gardening or lawn work (because that brings me joy) and it does not seem like a task to complete. I usually take my daily walk on my sabbath, but it seems to have a different pace and I usually take a different route than the rest of the week. Sometimes, I get in my car and take my wife and her assistant a cup of coffee. And if Sue is off for the day, we take a road trip or have a wonderful lunch together – and it is still sabbath because it is a delight.
And when I am able to spend my Sabbath in delight, wander, and joy, guess what happens?
· I find myself to be a better husband, better father, better pastor, better friend.
· My demeanor is more calm, more playful, more ready for my week.
· And I find myself in a state with less strife, less fighting, less fear and less distrust.
I don’t know about you, but I think our world could use more people having these feelings right now. As we enter into waiting worship, take some time to ask yourselves the queries in the bulletin and start today seeking new delight, wonder and joy in our lives.
When and where do you experience delight?
Why do you so often flee from delight?
How might you seek a sabbath of delight, wonder, and joy this week?
Lord of Creation,
create in us a new rhythm of life
composed of hours that sustain rather than stress,
of days that deliver rather than destroy,
of time that trickles rather than tackles.
Lord of Liberation
By the rhythm of your truth, set us free
from the bondage and baggage that break us,
from the Pharaohs and fellows who fail us,
from the plans and pursuits that prey upon us.
Lord of Resurrection,
May we be raised into the rhythm of your new life,
dead to deceitful calendars,
dead to fleeting friend requests,
dead to the empty peace of our accomplishments.
To our packed-full planners, we bid, "Peace!"
To our over-caffeinated consciences, we say, "Cease!"
To our suffocating selves, Lord grant release.
Drowning in a sea of deadlines and death chimes, we rest in you our lifeline
By your ever-restful grace,
allow us to enter your Sabbath rest
as your Sabbath rest enters into us.
In the name of our Creator, our Liberator our Resurrection and life we pray. Amen
From Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove