Texts: Exodus 16: 11-30   Psalm 67

Like a number of you and so many others this past Winter and Spring, I’ve had my turn at being stopped in my tracks by whatever is that virus whose dominant characteristic is ‘won’t go away’-- or so it seems. I had a beautiful week away on a course soon after Easter, with a few days at the end for Bev and I to fully relax. After we arrived home on Sunday evening I found myself sneezing a couple of times … wondering what’s in the air I might be reacting to, and by Monday I had no umph to get out of bed, and by Tuesday I could feel it in my chest. Meanwhile I had come home from the course, and from that space away that made room for imagining, for planning.  I had come home ready to get on with things (there’s lots to be getting on with!) and BOOM! … there was no getting on with anything … anything around here, anything around home -- our garden. So many things waiting for attention and I’ve been good for none of it.
That was the first week. Rest. Rest. And more rest.
Surely the next week would be different.  But not.

Well, it was different enough that I felt the desire to go outside, just to be out in and stroll among all the green of the trees. Walking along the trail, immersed in all that fresh beauty, I began to get a hold of myself … “what’s with your restlessness? … feeling hounded by the passing of time … allowing time to become an enemy of sorts, rather than the gift that it is? … this gift of right now in which to savour the sights, the sounds, the shades, the shapes, the sheen, the song of the birds ... this very patch of God’s good Earth bursting with life, with goodness … with God-ness!

So there it began, on that gentle stroll … the shift from a kind of resentful restlessness to a grateful receptivity, which is a different kind of energy altogether…a letting be, a letting in, inviting restoration … soaking in what is instead of being anxious about what isn’t.  3 times I visited Uplands Park for an amble through the glorious fields of camas (you know that purple-blue wild flower that comes into bloom in Garry Oak meadows in Spring). I didn’t get there once last year. This year, 3 times… what a blessing … this time of rest!

I think what I’m describing and what I experienced in these few weeks is the wisdom that lies at the heart of the practice of keeping the Sabbath … the opportunity it offers us to experience this life-giving shift from restlessness to receptivity, from anxiousness to gratefulness.

I get it that there is a difference between what it is to be stopped by illness or any of life circumstances that befall us … there’s a difference between that and keeping the Sabbath where we choose to stop -- to set down whatever needs doing, knowing full well there is much that still needs our care and attention.

In the story that we have from the Book of Exodus, the congregation of Israel is still very much in the early stages of their strange new life, learning what means to be a people claimed by and gathered up in God’s steadfast love, no longer slaves in Egypt.  They arrive at this place on their journey through the wilderness where there is no food to be found. Fearing for their lives, they panic It’s then that God promises there will be food enough for each person … each day. The next morning, lo and behold the ground is covered with “what is it?” they wonder … this fine flaky substance.  Gather just enough for each person, they’re told. And don’t go saving it up for the next day because it will be full of worms. In other words, trust that there will indeed be a fresh new provision the next day. But when fear abounds, it’s near impossible to trust, so of course there are those who gather more, just in case. And as promised, it becomes foul. But also as promised, the morning brings a fresh supply.

On the sixth day they were told to gather enough for two days, for that day and the Sabbath … for there would be no gathering on the Sabbath day, a day of rest. In this case, the additional amount would not go bad, but be fine for the Sabbath day. And of course there were those who went out on the Sabbath to gather, only to discover there was no manna to be found ... not because of God’s stinginess but because of God’s provision -- for rest!
You get the feeling those early days of keeping the Sabbath weren’t really all that restful! but marked by anxiousness, restlessness. Stopping, it seems, whether it’s by choice, by self-restraint or by circumstance, it doesn’t come so easily to us.

But the practice of keeping the Sabbath is about much more than simply stopping … setting aside, letting go.  The practice of keeping the Sabbath is about challenging our false sense of self-sufficiency … how it is that we come to believe that we live by our own effort … that we are all there is.
The practice of keeping the Sabbath is about learning receptivity.
It’s amazing when we slow the pace, how whole worlds open up to us that we didn’t know were there …the beauty, the wonder, the vitality, the creativity -- all this goodness that surrounds us that is going on quite apart from our own doing!
The practice of keeping the Sabbath is about dwelling in the space that is created for other things to come into view that nourish us, that delight and heal and sustain us.
The practice of keeping the Sabbath is about much more than simply stopping. It’s about the space that is created in which the permission arises for other things to happen --friendship, prayer, sharing food and stories, singing, resting, savouring the beauty -- those intimate graces that grow only in time, and with intention.

You can see it, can’t you … the wisdom at the heart of this Sabbath-keeping practice … the opportunity it offers us … the awareness it cultivates in us that we are so not left to ourselves alone but are held and upheld in the care and life-giving love of the One who gives and gives and gives yet more life! … and by whose transforming Spirit at work within us, we come to experience that shift in our energy from restlessness to receptivity, from anxiousness to gratefulness.

Hanging on the wall at eye level right beside my desk at home is this poem. In days when I am feeling well and vital, it serves as a call to remember the practice of keeping the Sabbath. On days when I am stopped by circumstance, it speaks to me with a wise and generous voice, encouraging me to somehow embrace this time that I would not have chosen with curiosity and trust that somehow in this stretch too I will know the gift of God’s gracious provision.  The poem is called Camas Lilies. Perhaps it’s one you too keep close by …

Consider the lilies of the field,
the blue banks of camas
opening into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down
and be washed by that beauty
abate if you knew their usefulness,
how the natives ground their bulbs
for flour, how settlers’ hogs
uprooted them, grunting in gleeful
oblivion as the flowers fell?

And you -- what of your rushed
and useful life? Imagine setting it all down --
papers, plans, appointments, everything --
leaving only a note: “Gone
to the fields to be lovely. Be back
when I’m through with blooming.”

Even now, unneeded and uneaten,
the camas lilies gaze out above the grass
from their tender blue eyes.
Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake. Of course
your work will always matter.

Yet Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.
                               - Lynn Ungar [1]

I suppose these last 2 Sundays I could have asked Vanya to post a note on the doors of our sanctuary: From Karen: “Gone to the fields to be lovely. Be back when I’m through with blooming.” But instead, Bev, bless her, stepped in to prepare for leading worship.
Who knows … maybe next time you’ll see the note, and you’ll know what’s up …and you might even meet me there!

In your own times of being stopped --whether by choice or by circumstance -- may the goodness of God’s gracious provision be yours.

[1] Lynn Ungar, "Camas Lilies," cited in Sabbath - Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives, by Wayne Muller,  Bantam Books, New York, 1999.