“What society did you say you are part of?” the taxi driver asks, clutching the steering wheel with both hands as we wing our way around the narrow country roads of the Cotswolds, toward the train station in Moreton-in-Marsh. I’m watching sheep and verdant hills blur past while his steely blues are fixed on the road ahead.
I think it rather serendipitous that he uses the word society because I do lead a global community called the Sabbath Society. But that’s not what he is referring to. He is implying church; what church I am a part of, not which church but what church, suggesting denomination. English is nuanced, I learn, as an American living in England. Translation requires attentiveness.
“The Church of England,” I respond, “and more specifically, St. Barnabas Kensington on Addison Road. Do you know it?”
“No, I’m not a church goer,” he admits sternly, in a slow, time-worn voice. “I only go on special occasions.”
“I can’t imagine my life without the community of the church. But you’ve lived here all your life, I’m sure you have lots of friends.”
“Yes, but the trouble is, they are all dying off,” he discloses.
“Does that make you wonder about where they are going, where you will go, if you will see them again?” I ask, because I’m an American and we tend to get away with bold questions.
“I think heaven will be too crowded, there won’t be enough room for me there,” he says. And my heart wilts.
Do people really envision heaven as too crowded to get in?
Why wouldn’t they, if that’s the way we illustrate life now? Hurried, hustling, elbowing our way to seats, pews, and benches; weaving through traffic on motorways and lines at the supermarkets.
Crowded. That word has been haunting me ever since I heard it in a pocket of stillness, uttered from a lost soul. Because crowded is the opposite of how I envision heaven; the opposite of how I imagine meeting God face-to-face for the first time.
A year later, sliding my suitcase into the same car, seated next to the same man wearing a flat cap, he remembered me as an author and picked up the conversation where we left off. At least that’s how I translate it.
“I went to a funeral over there, the other day,” he points in the direction of an empty field. “There were so many people that a crowd formed outside, wrapping around the church.”
“Wow! He must’ve been well-loved,” I interjected. “Sounds like a sign of a life well-lived.”
“Yes, he was,” he said, lingering in the silence. “But had I not been there early, I would’ve just left and missed it, because there wouldn’t have been a place for me to sit down.”
Too crowded. I don’t think I’ll be able to get in.
What is crowding out your ability to hear God?
What crowds out your peace during the Christmas season?
What have you given up on because life feels crowded with too many things?
Too crowded makes us feel small, insignificant, overwhelmed, unloved and without hope of obtaining the life we envision.
What Do You Love?
I’ve been listening to a new sermon series by John Mark Comer called “Unhurrying with a Rule of Life,” based on his new book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. Comer says, “Hurry is incompatible with love.” And he goes on to say that “hurry sabotages our capacity to give and receive love.”
If that is true, how does hurry inform the way in which live?
How does hurry and crowded inform the way we choose to live the weeks leading up to Christmas?
Comer’s answer for living an unhurried life is to contemplate God’s love through spiritual practices like contemplation, solitude, stillness and wait for it . . . Sabbath. Cultivating spaciousness through spiritual practices is living contrary to crowded and hurried.
If you’ve been following my writing very long, you know that my life is built around spiritual practices. That’s why I included Lectio Divina in Sabbath Roots and why I am thrilled to receive emails from many of you who are finding spiritual retreat with the book.
Why Slow Christmas?
Most of us aren’t in need of more information about God. What we need is to experience God’s love. And to experience love in relationships means saying no to hurry and yes to slowing down; making eye contact with God and listening with attentiveness. Because intimacy cannot be rushed, it takes time.
Your answers to the following questions might be indicators that slowing down is a need, not only a want.
Did you wake up feeling as if you were already behind without leaving your bed?
How are you responding to interruptions to your well-laid plans?
How many times this week have you felt overwhelm because you have more to do than time allows in the day?
Have you abandoned your full cart of groceries after counting the number of people in line at the check-out?
Hurry and hustle hijack peace and crowd out the still small voice of God.
We think the solution for finding that idyllic inner peace is having more time, more space. But what we need more than time and space, is to slow down and identify God’s presence in our midst. And I want to help you do that with some spiritual practices over the next six weeks.
How to Maintain a Slow Christmas
Beginning next Friday, November 15, Psalm 91 will be our text. We’ll linger over each of six stanzas—one per week—incorporating breathe prayers created from the verses with some commentary on God’s character to contemplate. And I’m including a few creative surprises as well.
Think of incorporating spiritual practices during the weeks leading up to Christmas as resistance practice—resisting the flow of the culture to reclaim the truth of God’s love deep in your soul.
Why did I choose Psalm 91 to ponder during the weeks leading up to Christmas?
Known as the prayer of protection and presence, the author (Moses) communicates what will happen if we choose intimacy with God over intimacy with the world. As a matter of fact, there are eight specific outcomes that are available to each of us when we choose love of God as a posture for life.
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” Psalm 91: 14-16
Did you get that? Because you love God, He will give you these things:
Long Satisfying Life
Direction and Guidance
We need each of these things on the daily, but even more so, when life is interrupted by all the extras in preparation for Christmas.
We need rescue from saying yes to too many things.
We need protection from wandering into activities that God has not ordained. We need God’s response to our overwhelming needs.
We need deliverance from finding identity outside of God.
We need the affirmation of honor when we doubt.
And long satisfying life that comes from being intimately guided toward salvation by the hand of God.
Join the Slow Christmas Community
If you want to meet the goal you envision now, of having a deeply meaningful Christmas rather than a harried rush guided by mental chaos, join me each Friday morning at 6am EST in your inbox by subscribing here. I’m expecting God to meet us intimately when we land on December 25.
Share this post with your friends on social media to they can join us for a Slow Christmas too!
Let’s be people characterized by love through the way we navigate the holiday season. Cultivate more space for welcoming people into the Kingdom.
Looking forward to joining in with this community and taking the time to enjoy His Presence.
So glad you are joining us Laura!!
I am so tired of the constant hustle and bustle of life and can’t wait to leave the chaos behind this holiday season. Thank you for providing guidance as I continue to pursue a life of less. Less stress. Less unnecessary responsibility. Less constant “noise”.
Praying that less will be more of God for you LeAnn. Grateful to know you are joining the quiet calm we cultivate here.
Oh, Shelly, this is so, so beautiful and good. My heart needs this so much. I am finally leaning into his invitation to listen to the deep needs of my heart to slow. And I am so joining you here. Thank you, friend.
Thank you Jennifer, it’s lovely to see you here. Praying that as you slow this Christmas season, God will meet you in the deep places. Honored to know you are joining the slow Christmas spirit cultivated in this space. xx
Sounds wonderful, Shelly. Count me in! I had to smile when you revealed our focus would be Psalm 91, particularly the eight promises of verses 14-16. Just last week I wrote a post based on Promise #6 about the incredible place of honor God provides. I’ll look forward to an Advent respite with you each Friday, unwrapping each of these promise gifts.
Love the serendipity in the timing of this for you. So glad you will be joining in!
I have to do some weeding in my life starting with my email. I’m adding you into my email because I think this is really what I need right now. I am battling depression and anxiety. I think my counselor would approve this choice.
I love the metaphor of weeding and choosing what you will plant in the garden that is your inbox. I pray that the posts will be a sweet embrace of quiet stillness for your soul; that you will hear Him whisper love that calms depression and anxiety. So glad you are here.
Shelly. Your words are manna too my soul. I’m with you.
Shelly, I’m looking forward to this time of study and reflection on Psalm 91. Doing it in community instead of alone is the icing on top of the cake! Just one quick question. You said Psalm 91 was written by Moses. My NIV study Bible says it was probably written by one of the temple personnel-a priest or a Levite. I’m just curious about this discrepancy. Either way, it is a beautiful Psalm of assurance for those of us who love and trust in God.
Hi Joy, I’m glad you are joining us! Yes, scholars are not unified about who wrote Psalm 91 but most agree, it’s Moses based on a number of details I won’t go into here. He wrote Psalm 90, we do know that, but it seems logical that Moses was the author. The most important aspect of the meditation is the meaning and intent behind the words so we’ll focus on that!
I’ll do my best to meet you here too, it sounds lovely. However, I am having surgery (melanoma) on Friday morning. I do hope to catch up with you all when I’m feeling up to it.
Praying your surgery goes well. And the reflections are a blessing to you!