Yaconelli, an author and nationally-known retreat leader, was keynote speaker for “Sabbath: A Weekend of Holy Renewal for the Overwhelmed,” held July 17-20 at First Church here.
Sabbath, Yaconelli said, is supposed to come from God to the faithful as a gift, but “it feels more like a reckoning,” because we’re “driven by a spirit of anxiousness” by a culture that values work and productivity over contemplation and relationship-building.
“How do we open up to the deeper reality of God’s love that continues to create the world into being?” he asked.
One way is to repent “turning our hearts Godward,” he said, naming self-reliance as the nation’s greatest sin. But a church setting — what Yaconelli called “the last place we want to be vulnerable” — makes publicly-declared repentance uncomfortable for some.
A second way to go deeper in God’s love is “about receiving,” he said.
“Jesus would go to dinner and not even bring the wine … well, one time he did,” Yaconelli said with a smile.
When Archbishop Desmond Tutu agreed a few years ago to teach a seminary course in this country, Yaconelli noted that the Anglican leader insisted it be simply “a course on God’s love.” No exams, no reading — only students and their teacher learning together how to be more receptive to God’s abiding love.
“If you leave this seminary without knowing God’s love in the marrow of your bones,” Yaconelli said, paraphrasing Tutu, “you know nothing.”
Without a commitment to Sabbath, it’s as if we’re all living together in a prison that doesn’t exist, Yaconelli said.
Imagine, he suggested, that Jesus visits us in our cell and to announce he’s unlocked the prison gates and it’s time to go. But we’re reluctant — after all, pot roast is on the cafeteria menu tomorrow night, and it’s our turn to lead the Bible study.
But there’s a shadow side to slowing down and taking stock one day a week, he said. When we give up our busyness and productivity even for just one day a week, we can be a bit overwhelmed with the feelings we get instead — heartbreak, grief, loss and loneliness, Yaconelli warned.
“We have a heart that longs for love, but the sad reality is, most of us aren’t loved very well,” he said. “One reason we avoid slowing down is we have to feel what’s going on in the world.”
Most of us, he said, “would rather do the work of God than spend time with God.”
Slowing down and being still allows us to draw nearer to God, he said, since “silence is God’s first language.”
Far from just a day of rest and contemplation, a part of Sabbath’s invitation, he said, is “to become heartbroken.”
That’s not something many of us do well anymore, Yaconelli continued. While political and military leaders during World War II called on Americans to pray and fast when they knew battle plans would mean a large number of casualties, the message following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks was to “keep shopping so the terrorists won’t win.”
Lepers like the man Jesus healed in Mark 1:40-45 are still with us today, he said. But instead of being dressed in traditional ripped clothing, today’s lepers are undocumented immigrants and the mentally ill.
“We’re most repulsed by people who are in need,” he said. “We say to them, ‘Take care of it yourself! That’s a private matter!’”
It may be, he said, that the greatest gifts we can give our community are our wounds and our weaknesses. “It’s in that place,” he said, “that I become lovable, transparent — and human.”