July 1, 2018

Strawberry Sabbaths

“We come back from our Sabbaths with the tin cup sadly empty.”

Bill Knott

I opened the Altima door in the driveway, reaching for the books and notes I had taken to church to teach the Sabbath School class. My available energy for the seventh day was all spent by 1:00 p.m.

But there they were, red and gemlike, suspended under a canopy of green leaves where my neighbor’s sidehill meets my more manicured lawn. I paused to revel in the rush of memories of other Sabbaths and other places, 400 miles away and 50 years ago.

Wild strawberries—not worth a thing to anyone serious about making shortcake or considering a pie—but still the most potent symbol of many happy Sabbath afternoons spent alone in the green hills of the Berkshires. “Firstfruits” I used to think of them, the harbingers of a summertime of berries, followed in their turn by raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and elderberries. And here they were—again—on my neighbor’s unkempt hillside, evoking memories of sun-washed Sabbaths, open time, and tiny, semi-sweet red gifts collecting in the tin cup I would offer to my mom by sundown.

“We come back from our Sabbaths with the tin cup sadly empty.”

I have learned with passing time to be wary of my periodic bursts of nostalgia for eras long gone and places far away. Some of those are fictions; some pure fantasy. We re-create a world that may have never actually existed by gilding it with lilies of a simpler time, a safer time, before, we say, the world grew irretrievably complex. This is as true of religious folk as of the madding crowd.

But in those moments of deliciousness between shutting the car door and opening the front door, I realized the appeal of those “strawberry Sabbaths” of long ago. It was the time—the deep, unstructured time to think—provided to me by my erstwhile search for wild strawberries that mattered most to me. To have five hours with no agenda, no phone calls, no sermons, and no seminars now seems the firstfruits of eternal Sabbaths promised to the faithful in a place unreachable by cell phones.

In such hours of gentle musings, the mind assembles its priorities, and men and women—
even boys—with hearts for God begin to build the monuments of praise that last at least a lifetime. Worship is not only the lined-in singing of communal hymns within the four walls of a church, but something deeper and more intimate—the heart’s wordless communion with the Creator. In the sweet, unhurried search—ostensibly for wild strawberries—I found a place of glad devotion, even at the age of 12, that carries me through afternoons of unmemorable committee meetings and grand, strategic plans. The praise that wells up in a happy heart can’t be manufactured by a sermon or prodded to expression by a video, even one that tells of Jesus.

In all the programmed, digitized subculture of how we often “celebrate” our Sabbaths, how could the Spirit speak to us—and when would He find time? Ten years ago, when teenaged boys still roamed our home, I recall my wife asking our sons—“How can you expect the Holy Spirit to speak to you if you’re always wearing headphones? Where is the stillness in which the small voice speaks to you?” Her question rings across not only Sabbaths but a religious culture now seemingly afraid of silence, or open, unfilled time. When we become more troubled by the 37-second “gap” between the special music and the prayer; when we are worried more about “production values” for the sermon we intend to livestream to whoever’s out there, we miss the vital thing we say we’re seeking. We come back from our Sabbaths with the tin cup sadly empty—no firstfruits of devotion; no bowing low; no worship.

So here’s a call for “Holy Spirit” time—for Sabbath afternoons (and other days) when we resist the temptation to fill the time with blue screens and so-urgent voices. Build family time, or better yet, some time to be alone. Make the Sabbaths given you windows through which light can come, and in which you express your growing confidence that a God so much in love with you has much He wants to say to you.

Bill Knott
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