Rev. George Miller
“Resting the Body, Restoring the Soul”
Feb 6, 2011
Three weeks ago Tracy Miller shared a story about working for John Deere. He said they had been approved for a major project with a tight budget and strict deadline. Trouble is- nothing went right.
Equipment- did not work, contractors- behind schedule, ovens -didn’t get hot, washer- didn’t clean. And some of the tractors actually fell off the conveyor.
As you could imagine, Tracy was having a bad day, his frustration was apparent and one of his peers said to him…
… “You know, if John Deere never makes another tractor, the cosmic scheme of things will not change.”
With those words Tracy’s co-worker had created a space of emptiness for peace and wisdom to enter on in.
There is a holiness about emptiness.
Sometimes the modern, liberal church can feel as if it’s lacking in a sense of holiness- that aura of majesty and ritual that creates space for bits of heaven to break in.
The repetitious chanting of words; the embrace of silence; the burning of incense in which smoke dances up to the sky.
Two religious acts that we heard about today were fasting and observing the Sabbath.
Fasting is a practice that exists in almost all the world’s religions. It’s a means in which one intentionally does not eat anything for a period of time.
Fasting accomplishes various things. From a spiritual point of view, fasting can become a form of prayer, contrition and repentance; a way to connect to God.
From a physical point of view, it gives the body a chance to rest, clears away toxins and relieves the digestion system from overworking. Doing so balances out our emotions, increasing our awareness.
From a social justice point of view, fasting gives one just a glimpse of what the poor and hungry face nearly every day.
In the Bible you’ll find fasting done as a sign of grieving, such as when David’s son was ill. Or as a sign of repentance, such as when the residents of Nineveh donned sackcloth and refrained from food. Or as a time of preparation, such as when Jesus was in the wilderness.
Now, Sabbath is a time for rest. Sabbath appears immediately in Genesis and runs throughout the Bible.
It is a time set aside by God in which all of Creation is meant to rest, from the people to the animals to the land.
Designed to begin at sunset on Friday, Sabbath is a period of 24 hours in which one is not to work or worry, but to relax; one is not to be in control but to be in accord with the world.
It is a time of grace in which everything is freed from toils and strain to just be and exist in a “sanctuary of time.” (29)
Sabbath is a way to become attuned to the holiness of time in which one says farewell to work for a day, is reminded that the world has already been created and to remember that we are not God.
Fasting and Sabbath are wonderful, holy practices, that unfortunately, so many of us have failed to embrace, which is a shame, because I think we lose something.
The way we live nowadays is spiritually draining and physically killing us. How many of us (me included) will eat until it hurts and our stomachs dangerously expand?
But how many of us know how to eat just to the point of being pleasantly satisfied?
In the same manner, how many of us over plan and over-schedule our day with lists of chores and things to do until we are so exhausted, burn out or end up sick?
But how many know how to work with a combination of fun and rest?
Think of a cup. There’s only so much it is meant to hold. Once it is filled, everything else that’s poured in is wasted and spills out.
In terms of food and activities, how many of us fill our cups until they are overflowing? For example, the jeans I’ve had to put into storage can testify to that.
So why do we do it? Why do so many modern Americans overflow our cups with too much food and with too many things to do?
I think it’s because we’re afraid.
I don’t think it’s because we are afraid of going hungry, or because we are afraid of being lazy.
I think it’s something else.
I think it’s because we’re afraid that if we don’t eat, we’ll feel the true emptiness inside- the emotional emptiness that makes us question everything about our lives.
I think our list-making and our hyper-activities are because we’re afraid of being out of control.
Those emotions can be very scary things, especially if you’ve ever had your choice taken away or if your life feels void of the very things that matter most such as family, friends, and faith.
I think that sometimes we eat so that we can feel satisfied here (points to belly) and not have to focus on the emptiness that is here (points to heart).
And we overwork so that the exhaustion we get from using these (show hands) covers up the thoughts and worries that we carry up in here (point to brain).
If you have ever felt empty or ever felt like your life was out of control, know that you are not crazy nor are you alone. These are very common and basic human conditions shared by everyone.
But there is good news: that emptiness you may feel, that lack of control you are experiencing can actually mean that now there is finally some space in the cup for God to enter in and to do something new.
Sometimes it takes us realizing and accepting the fact that we feel empty for our ego to step away and create space for the Holy Spirit to enter on in.
Sometimes it takes acknowledging and admitting the fact that we have lost control for us to rouse Jesus from the hull of the ship so he can calm the waters and say to us “Peace…be still.”
But we can’t get there if our bodies, minds and souls are constantly being bombarded with food and drink, work and stress.
That’s where the holy mystery of fasting and Sabbath come into play, because what they can do is create space and create sanctuary.
When one chooses to fast, one creates space to not be tricked by their emotional belly. The time spent cooking, eating and cleaning up after oneself is freed up to spend in thoughtful prayer, pondering life and living.
To celebrate Sabbath, one creates space to discover that they are not God, nor do they have to be. By not working, creating or planning a person can discover it is alright to leave things unfinished and to just be present in the moment and for whatever the day may bring.
When fasting and Sabbath are embraced, they allow us to truly see and experience whatever emptiness we may have so the Trinitarian God can enter on in.
If you are experiencing restlessness or chaos, you can receive peace.
If it is uncertainty that you are facing, you can receive wisdom and guidance.
If it’s hopelessness you feel, you can be given a ray of hope that brightens up the night, allowing your eyes to shine.
Perhaps that’s why Jesus’ ministry was so powerful: he constantly found ways to be emptied so that he could be filled with God.
Jesus emptied himself out during his time in the wilderness, yet emerged with greater wisdom and resolve.
Time and time again Jesus went away to pray and be by himself. When he returned he was able to face the most difficult of situations.
Finally, when Jesus was on the cross, he emptied himself out, admitting his thirst and feelings of forsakenness, and we all know how that played out three days later.
In conclusion, just as the cosmic scheme of things does not rest on the production of a tractor, our souls do not depend on what we eat or how much we work.
Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we are no longer bound to the rituals of fasting and Sabbath. Grace has been given, salvation has been assured.
But there is no reason why we have to totally neglect these holy rituals. It is Ok to embrace and engage in them from time to time; after all they were designed to allow our bodies and minds to rest.
And you may just be surprised to discover how they can create a holy emptiness within you that will allow your spirits to soar, making you more connected to God, connected to others, and yes- even connected to yourself.
May the love of Christ be enough to fill your empty spots, the love of the Spirit refresh your soul and the love of God satisfy all your earthly needs.
Amen and amen.