What I remembered on vacation

The detail is as profound as it is easily overlooked. Genesis 1 is one of the most familiar chapters in the whole Bible. Its language and rhythm we know by heart.

And God said…and it was so…And there was evening and there was morning, the first day…And God saw that it was good…

Notice something there, though. As modern Americans, we reckon a day from the time you get up. The buzzing of the alarm clock, the gurgling of the coffee pot, the crying of the baby. There’s morning, and later there’s evening—that’s a day.

But that’s not the biblical concept of a day. Read again those words from Genesis: “And there was evening and there was morning…” From the Old Testament and Hebraic view of things, first comes the sunset, then comes the sunrise; sleep precedes waking.

Commenting on this, pastor and author Eugene Peterson writes,

The Hebrew evening/morning sequence conditions us to the rhythms of grace. We go to sleep, and God begins His work. As we sleep He develops His covenant. We wake and are called out to participate in God’s creative action. We respond in faith, in work. But always grace is previous. Grace is primary. We wake into a world we didn’t make, into a salvation we didn’t earn. (Working the Angles, p. 68)

This is a lesson that vacation helped me to remember. It’s funny, and more than a little ironic, that a resolute Lutheran like myself can profess being saved apart from works, and yet live at times as though he were saved by work. Can you sympathize?

To be sure, I did some work over vacation—cleaning the house, tending the yard. But the time away helped to recalibrate my soul. This is what every good vacation ought to do: remind us that our identity is wrapped up not in our action, but in our sheer existence as baptized children of God. We are, as it is often said, human beings and not human doings.

And we can be reminded of this every day by the quotidian gift of sleep. And there was evening, and there was morning. Psalm 127 picks up on this: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives to He beloved sleep.” Other translations capture a nuance from the original Hebrew: “He gives to His beloved while they are sleeping.”

While we are sleeping, God is giving. While we are sleeping, the Lord is working. Evening and morning, we’re reminded that His action is primary.

I’ll conclude these (somewhat stream-of-consciousness) reflections with one of my favorite poems, from the farmer and poet Wendell Berry:

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.

Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.
And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.

When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good. (A Timbered Choir, X)

What I remembered on vacation, then, is that I desire to live with a Sabbath mood—everyday. Evening and morning, today.

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