Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Signals of Oddity: Sabbath, 1

Bouncing Rick
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
We begin our year long look at our "Signals of Oddity" - those practices we have that make us peculiar - with our dear brother Rick leading us at a look at the notion of Sabbath...

Terri reminded us last week of Flannery O’Connor’s famous quip, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.” I love that oddity is the theme for our sabbatical period.

This year, we're considering our “Signals of Oddity: Worship as a Counter-Cultural Practice.” The idea is to study how worship functions as an alternative to the dominant culture. It says that one of our church’s challenges is to preserve our radical edge, our salty flavor, our oddity, our peculiarity.

Now on one level, a quick glance around the room suggests that peculiarity should not be a challenge for us! We are indeed an odd bunch. And the idea of Sabbath is pretty odd and countercultural too.

So what are we doing here? Really. Here we are, this odd collection of people — male and female; black and white; gay and straight; single and coupled; older and younger; homeless and housed; people with psychological and physical challenges; students and professionals, employed and unemployed, believers and seekers…

The welcoming diversity of this church, in itself, is a blessed oddity. One reason we’re here is the people we’ve come to love.

And there’s something pretty special about being with people with whom we can share our joys and concerns, knowing there’s a place where we belong. In this individualistic society, that’s pretty odd too. But to clarify why Sabbath signals a blessed oddity, I want to go back to the beginning – all the way back to Genesis 1 and 2, where Sabbath is first established. Because the Hebrews were saying something that’s remarkably relevant to our time.

So turn to Genesis 1, the first of two creation stories in the opening chapters of Genesis. They come from oral traditions of two different regions of Israel in two different centuries. They even use different names for God (1:1—God/Elohim—and 2:4b—Lord God/YHWH Elohim). They’re different stories. So we can’t read them as science or historical reporting of actual events. That would misunderstand the nature of this literature. These stories present a worldview—symbolically.

The first story uses old Babylonian imagery by starting with a formless watery void, and portrays the whole drama of creation as a triumph of order.

1:2—“The earth was formless and empty; darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

The chapter shows God simply speaking Order into existence. It’s one of the most carefully designed literary units in the Bible, with a structure crafted to reinforce its message—that we’re part of this marvelously complex patterned structure, an abundant, harmonious order. It’s amazing how the text’s form serves its function. Notice:

1) There are seven days—each paragraph set apart with repeated refrains in a richly patterned prose. You can see the order on the page.

And each paragraph has three repeated refrains, giving a symmetrical pattern to the whole structure:
*Each paragraph begins with, “And God said.”
*Each repeats: “And God saw that it was good.”
*And each day ends with the refrain, “And there was evening and there was morning, (another) day.”

The intentional sense of Order is impossible to miss.

2) But there’s another layer below the surface, adding a deeper complexity of more profound patterns. The structure includes two 3-day sets —the first set (days 1-3) introduces created contexts, and the second set (days 4-6) introduces the inhabitants of these settings.

For example, 2 and 5 are parallel to each other. The sea creatures and the birds created on the 5th day fill the sea and the heavens created on the 2nd. And the land animals created on the 6th day inhabit the dry land set aside on the 3rd. It’s an amazing symmetry!

3) And it gets more complex. At a deeper level, each paragraph contains structured pairs of opposites—darkness/light, heaven/earth, male/female.

It’s an intricate, multi-layered creation unfolding its richness as each interconnected level reveals deeper structures, carefully designed order — so many patterns in each layer that we can’t help but marvel at the intricate complexity of this literary creation, even as we do when we observe the perfect pattern of a snowflake, the colors of a prism, the interconnectedness of a forest ecosystem.

Textually, the chapter’s refrains, parallels, and pairs speak to us on a level beyond words of something that’s beautiful in its symmetry, and dependable in its complex patterns. The passage itself reflects the order of the natural world. Its form evokes its message: We live in a stable, ordered, abundant world that reflects the goodness of a loving God.

Now, just as we’re marveling at the design of this amazing literary creation, something breaks the pattern! In most Bibles, you can see it on the page. Your eye is drawn to something new and different inserted into this carefully patterned prose—verse 27.

So God created humans in God’s own image,
in the image of God, God created them;
male and female God created them.

The creation of humanity is the appearance of something entirely new, so special that it can only be expressed as poetry in the midst of prose.

Here, the written form contains the message about the Hebrew view of humanity: In this marvelously ordered creation, humans are God’s poetry. YOU ARE GOD’S POETRY!

The God who speaks in beautifully structured prose in the created order, switches to poetry in the creation of humanity.

Look at the faces of the people around you. Each one divine poetry. Creation’s lyric verse.Each one an ode to the divine consciousness, reflecting the mind of a Master Poet. Here, the text says “very good.”

Then, after all the action, all the ordered patterning, the parallel structuring, the now familiar routine, the next paragraph doesn’t follow form.

The seventh day doesn’t have the same refrains as all the other days.

It throws out the pattern. It’s got a different rhythm. No structure. The routine is dropped.

That’s Sabbath. So the passage isn’t about creation, it’s about our lives.

Our need for a break in the routine. We stop. We rest. We ponder the patterns of which we are a part. And we worship.



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