Lesson 1 - Starting with Stopping

We Can't Stop

It may seem unconventional, and it is certainly uncomfortable, but try to sit in silence with Tara as she starts the course. This silent activity will posture toward receiving the rest of the course well. 

Since we are so unaccustomed to silence, here are a few tips: 

  • Since Tara has us sit in silence together for a few minutes, try to prevent distractions before the practice begins. For example: put your phone on airplane mode and go to a separate room where you will not be interrupted. 

  • Find a comfortable position, either sitting in a chair or a pillow on the floor. Try not to get too comfortable; the goal is not to fall asleep!

  • You may want to sit cross-legged or with your feet on the floor. This will prevent your legs from falling asleep too. 

  • When you are ready, you may want to follow Tara’s instructions to close your eyes. When she starts talking again, then the silence practice is over.

  • For some of us, complete silence in this exact moment will not be possible. You may have a toddler running around or you hear a loud sound outside. This may be frustrating; after all we are trying to hear God in this practice! But try not to be frustrated. You can always come back to this practice of silence another time when it is more realistic. Just be in silence for however long you can and move on with the lesson if silence is unattainable today.

The gods in Our Pockets

It’s no accident that Tara begins her session with an exercise designed to separate us from our technology—if only for a few minutes (which, if we’re being honest, is about as much as we can take). You may have felt uncomfortable in the silence after being instructed to turn off your phone, and that’s the point. 

We’re virtually never unplugged. In his book Prophetic Untimeliness, apologist Os Guinness tells of a popular saying in Filipino culture, which has a creative nickname for Westerners: “the people with their gods on their wrists.” Now, that book was first published in 2003, and it seems almost quaint that Guinness would bemoan the fact that we’re enslaved to our watches. Just think of how much worse this problem has gotten with the advent of the smartphone! If our gods used to be on our wrists, they’re now in our pockets (unless, of course, we’re including our Apple Watches). 

The irony is that we think technology serves us—we use it to communicate, to schedule our lives, to access information—but in reality we’re the servants. “Technology provides users with the illusion of autonomy,” explains theologian David Zahl. “We use technology to rebel against anything that would seek to constrain or confine us [but] our addiction to control ends up controlling us.” According to one recent study, for example, Americans check their phones over 80 times per day—or, if you want to be more depressed, once every twelve minutes. Our phones can live without us, but can we live without our phones?

If we’re going to find true shalom—a healthy relationship with God, our neighbors, and with time itself—we’re going to have to recover Sabbath, and this must entail a radical reconsideration of the place technology plays in our lives.

Reflect:

  • When is the last time you turned your phone off, as in all the way off and not on vibrate or airplane mode? Turning your phone off for the silence exercise does not count!  

  • Why is it, do you think, that technology has the power to consume our lives so fully, to the point that we’re compulsively glancing at our phones, checking our emails, or mindlessly scrolling through social media?  

  • How would you characterize your relationship to technology? How, if at all, would you like to see the role technology plays in your life change? 

The "Unholy" Sabbath

“Remember the Sabbath day,” God commands Israel in Exodus 20:8, “to keep it holy.” According to Tara, we’ve lost any sense of what that means. If anything, the Sabbath feels unholy. Many of us dread Sundays; it’s the day when we put on a face and go to church with people who don’t really know us. As Tara says, the Sabbath, gifted to us by God to bring health, rest, and healing, can actually evoke a sense of shame, guilt, and fear. 

But at the same time, says Tara, we’ll only have a rightly ordered view of work if we understand the concept of sacred time, which is an immense challenge in our culture. 

Reflect:

  • When you hear the word “Sabbath,” what comes to mind?  

  • In what ways have you experienced the Sabbath as “unholy”—that is, as unsatisfying or uncomfortable? 

The Purpose is to Stop

But Tara raises a very poignant question: if that’s the case, isn’t it strange that the very first thing human beings are commanded to do is not to build, not to create, but to do nothing? Because we bear the image of God, we are industrious creatures; we want to do things. But the very first thing God tells us to do is to stop

Rest is the product of Sabbath, not the purpose of it. The meaning and purpose of Sabbath is to stop.

Tara Owens

According to the Bible, humanity’s very first full day consists of stopping. And when we stop, we find our place in a rhythm that God built into the very structure of reality. In the words of theologian Marva Dawn, “to keep a holy day is written into the very fabric of creation. Since the entire first creation account culminates in the seventh day of God’s resting, that model is an essential core of the whole earth’s being.” 

Reflect:

  • It’s no secret that our culture is tired. This exhaustion should not surprise us, since we so rarely stop and fall into line with God’s intended rhythm. Where in your life do you feel a profound weariness and exhaustion? What would it look like to stop in these areas? What would it feel like to cease working and allow resting?  

  • Isn’t it strange that God has to command us to stop? And yet, if we really think about it, we wouldn’t stop if someone didn’t tell us too (and we might not even stop then, either). Why do we find it so difficult to stop? 

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