As a pastor, the practice of sabbath is especially challenging. Sunday (the day most Protestants observe a Sabbath of sorts) is full of work-related service opportunities as a pastor. Preaching and teaching the Bible, leading in prayer, committee meetings, ensuring the mechanics of worship services, welcoming guests, and engaging church members easily interfere in my focus on the divine presence of our Creator.
I confess that my “sabbath day” is oftentimes absorbed in perceptions, conversations and interactions with others more than it is with seeking God.
So, I bought a hammock!
The concept of sabbath originates in the opening chapters of the Bible as God’s intentional cessation of work on the seventh period or “day” of creation. Certainly, God is not exhausted from work and needing to take an afternoon nap. Moreover, God is not setting aside the final day of the “week” for a time of self-glorification. God does not choose to dress up in the best attire and seek out others to gather with in harmonious jubilation.
We have come a long way from the origin of shabbat (the Hebrew word, transliterated sabbath). Shabbat means “to cease.” God did not go to church for sabbath; God stopped going all together. God ceased working on the creation of the universe because the work was complete. The Creator stopped, looked and listened to creation.
However, too often I fail to stop, look and listen to creation; I fail to follow God’s example of sabbath.
Our home is in a largely wooded area, near trails, parks and creeks that permeate the region. Yet, if I am not careful, I drive down the road only watching for deer to make sure I do not run into them. I keep a lookout for squirrels or rabbits on the trial to ensure my dog does not break free from the leash to pounce on her desired prey.
So this spring, I’ve started a new sabbath practice. I wheel my hammock, perched on a stand, outdoors several times a week for the express purpose of watching and listening to the creation around me and the voice of our Maker. As much as I love reading books, I refrain from getting absorbed in the narrative of another world and simply focus on the world around me; instead of listening to music, I seek to take in the sounds of the world around me.
I stop, I look and I listen. My soul worships.
“Lying on my back in a hammock, I look up and I see new creation.”
Lying on my back in a hammock, I look up and I see new creation. I see the clouds slowly moving across the sky as a storm rolls in, and I’m reminded that God sends the rain on the just and the unjust. I see a male and female cardinal flirting with each other, and I’m encouraged by Jesus’ comforting words of God’s commitment to care for us, just as he cares for the birds of the air.
In the distance, I see a bunny scurrying for food, and I’m reminded God provides for my needs, too. I see the bumblebee zip through the sky, and I’m reminded of the sweetness of the promises of God. I see the beautiful spring colors in bloom and the wide array of splendor, and I’m invited to the presence of the Creator of all of this — the Creator of the universe — the one who made me. My soul worships.
Lying on my back in a hammock, I am quiet and I listen. I hear the cacophony of the birds in an orchestra of beautiful music — the doves coo, the owl hoots, the sparrows chirp, and high above, the woodpecker knocks upon the trunk of the tree, and I am drawn into their worshipful birdsong.
“I hear the wind as it blows playfully through the limbs of the trees, and I’m reminded of the movement of the Spirit.”
I hear the wind as it blows playfully through the limbs of the trees, and I’m reminded of the movement of the Spirit. From down the street, I hear someone mowing a lawn, and I’m drawn to reflect on the eternality of the word of God that never withers. Another neighbor pulls into his driveway, and I hear him turn off the ignition, and I say a breath prayer for him as he enters the place he calls home. My soul worships.
Lying on my back in a hammock, I breathe in, slow and deep. I smell the aroma of someone grilling down the street, and I reflect on the sacrifice for my sins. I breathe in the floral arrangement of the budding trees, shrubs and flowers, and I’m summoned by Christ to abide within him. I simply breathe in the air around me, and I consider the frailty of life and my dependence for sustained life. My soul worships.
Lying on my back in a hammock, I stop. I am still. I rest. Here, I come to know and experience a deepened awareness of the God who created everything and who calls to me through creation. I’m encouraged by the union between me, the creation around me, and the Maker of all things. I am filled with hope, created in the divine image of God who invites me to join in the creativity. I am summoned to participate with God and the human race in the care and preservation of the world. I am invited into the celebration of worship around me — its sights and sounds. My soul worships.
“I am summoned to participate with God and the human race in the care and preservation the world.”
From my hammock, I cease from working on my plans so I can better reflect on the ongoing work of my God. I join with creation in harmoniously celebrating the Creator. My soul is nourished through the reminders that come of the promises that the Lord echoes throughout the pages of Scripture. I hear my Savior whisper peace into my soul. The worries of this world dissipate, and the true priorities of life surface as I am still, quiet and mindful of my God.
In creation, I see God’s handiwork, I sense God’s presence, and I am beckoned to come find rest for my soul. I find sabbath in the hammock, and I join with God in saying, “It is very good!”
Patrick Wilson serves as senior pastor of Salem Avenue Baptist Church in Rolla, Mo. He is a graduate of Baylor University, earned two master’s degrees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctor of ministry degree from Logsdon Seminary.