Into great bleakness, right in the middle of one of the darkest parts of the prophet Isaiah, come these words of God to his people:
In returning and rest
you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust
shall be your strength. (Is 30:15)
On the face of it, it seems disappointing—maybe slightly boring—that nothing less than God’s redemption should be framed by a call to humble rest and quiet trust. In the frenzy of contemporary life—online vs. in person, virtual vs. IRL, work schedule vs. “me-time”—God’s invitation seems unimpressive and irrelevant. But that response, if reflected upon, won’t last long. If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that we desperately need to learn anew how to rest—really rest—with God.
We have come to Matariki, this ancient threshold of the year in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Like many, I’m learning about the significance of this annual turning point. As a time of reflection and renewed purpose, of thanksgiving and remembering, Matariki seems, in many respects, a fitting season for us to listen with open ears to God’s call to keep a day of rest. Indeed, the Sabbath is itself a day of thanksgiving and remembering, of reflection and refreshment, and a celebration of God’s goodness.
In this Common Ground, we explore the meaning and practice of keeping a Sabbath. What is Sabbath rest? What might it mean to observe it, and what difference does it make to work and life? In this month’s lead article, “Where Time Stands Open,” I explore just these questions. God’s Sabbath is, I suggest, not merely something we copy in pursuit of work/life balance but an invitation to participate in God’s liberating rest, both now and to come. Olivia Witney (née Burne) provides a necessary companion piece—her monthly practice offers a handy process to discern how best to practice Sabbath, whatever stage of life you’re at. You’ll find further practical and diverse reflections by Tamsin Woolf, Courtnay Wilson, and Dan Mazengarb in “Learning to Keep a Sabbath.”
The fine arts make a return to Common Ground: we’re delighted to be able to feature original art by painter and designer Mary Spacapan, made especially for this issue. Her painting, “Driven to rest [in fullness, we find you]” is stunning. Alongside painting, you’ll find a poem from the tradition: Rev. Dr Tim McKenzie calls us to step aside and be illuminated by R.S. Thomas’s “The Bright Field,” a parable of Sabbath in sonnet form. And no issue of Common Ground is complete without a Field Notes interview: in a lively two-way chat, Jannah Dennison and Sam Bloore trade notes on childhood Sundays, parenting, and hospitality, and recovering the joy of lawn mowing.
As you turn to thanksgiving and celebration, may God call you deeper into his life and rest!
Dr. John Dennison
Editor, Common Ground