“Receiving the Day”

Busy? Stressed? Distracted? I get it; I hear you. And I have the book for you.

I want to share another book that I just finished, which I highly recommend. The title is Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time. It is by Dorothy Bass, and it really resonated with me, particularly because right now I find myself in a new call, with work that I absolutely love but that also carries with it the temptation to take over my life. I am finding that what I need for the long haul is not better time management, but what Bass focuses on in the book: “We need to learn a richer language than the language of management. We need to develop life patterns that get us through our days not only with greater efficiency but also with greater authenticity as human beings created in God’s image.”  

The book is first and foremost about sabbath-keeping, but that practice is linked with other practices through which Christians have historically shaped time. So, here are some of my favorite insights from the book.

She talks about the need to “resist the inhumane rhythms that shape so much of contemporary life.“ Instead, we need to replace those patterns with Christian practices that foster “… expectant attention to the possibility that God might have something better in mind for us.“ 

Chapter 2 was one of my favorite chapters, which she begins by challenging the reader with the question, “How was your day”?  She notes honestly that most days, she forgets to notice–how was the day? What did I do? Instead, she wonders, how would we answer this question: “Where did you meet God today”?

She offers this observation, which really resonated with me: “More often, however, a day is lost to smallness. Patched together from obligations, then shredded by interruptions, it disintegrates into fragments that blow away in the wind. I am left empty-handed and exposed, unable to answer a simple question.“

From this observation of how our days often run together, we are called into the practice of receiving the day, rejoicing in the day that the Lord has made and giving thanks. This however, is not easy: “Offering attention to this day requires freedom from bondage to yesterday and from fear for tomorrow.”  This freedom, she notes, is essential to people who are recovering from addiction: they learn that “the past does not hold the final word, the future is unwritten, and now the task is to get through just one day.” 

Given that I am now at Wartburg Seminary, where our essence is summed up in Bonhoeffer’s phrase, life together, I appreciated her referencing that text repeatedly throughout the book. She notes: “Bonhoeffer saw that the shape of each day could strengthen the trust in God and the courage to resist evil that were essential to this community’s purpose and survival. By adhering to patterns that made palpable God’s active presence for the life of the world, this little underground band could regularly focus its attention on its only sure source of strength.“

As you might imagine, she talks about the importance of daily prayer, but I love how she describes what it means to be rooted in daily prayer. She says, “What I yearn for, though, is not simply to pray. What I long for is to view the world differently because I have viewed it in relation to God.” I long for that, too.

The next chapters that focus on the meaning and value of the sabbath are very good and very practical; she recognizes that keeping the sabbath can mean very different things for different people—sabbath-keeping should be whatever fosters “shalom” in your life—and even small steps can make a difference. She is also very open and honest about her own failings, and the realization that practice does not necessarily make perfect. 

I really like what she says about Barth’s insight on the sabbath here, too. She writes, “In the day of rest, the Christian theologian Karl Barth suggested, God‘s love towards human beings takes form as time shared with them.”  Spending focused time, with God and with others, is a key aspect of sabbath-keeping, and it is critical in a world where, for so many of us, time is the most precious gift we can give to each other, and what we most long-for in our relationships. 

Another thing about the book that I really appreciated is that Bass acknowledges that all of this talk about sabbath-keeping comes in the midst of jobs that are important, that matter, and that most of us are trying to do the best that we can—but that even so, many of us feel not only exhausted but also inadequate. And so we need “time that has quality, time that furnishes grace as well as rest.” And, as we all know, we have to fight for this time: “If we are not mindful, the culture will not be mindful for us.“  In other words, our calendars will take every minute of time we offer them. We are the ones that have to find another way of marking the hours in the day, other than simply checking off tasks on our to-do lists.

She closes the book with a reflection on Psalm 90, a psalm that brings together our short span of days and “God’s mountainous eternity.” She writes, “Only a dwelling place of the breath and depth of God can finally count and hold all the days, weeks, and years of humankind. And it is only within this dwelling place that we mortals can ever count our days wisely. To count is to attend to each piece one by one, knowing its true value and acknowledging that the sum will not be infinite. Counting, in this sense, helps us know the true value of a day and attend to the gifts each one bears–just what the practices that guide us in receiving time as a gift of God would have us do.”

Advent to Christmas, Lent to Easter, Monday to Sunday, evening to morning–day in, day out; year in, year out. Where did you meet God today?

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