“‘So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the LORD for seven days; the first day is a day of sabbath rest, and the eighth day also is a day of sabbath rest. On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. Celebrate this as a festival to the LORD for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.'”
So Moses announced to the Israelites the appointed festivals of the LORD. – Leviticus 23:39-44
I have noticed that many towns find ways to celebrate their heritage, typically at the end of summer or early fall. I remember growing up celebrating Old Settlers Days in Toulon where we brought in a carnival, set up a stage for musical guests, had pageants and concerts and contests… we even had a big parade through town. Fifteen miles north of us, Kewanee, a larger city celebrated Hog Days, in many of the same ways, only on a larger scale. Israel too celebrated their heritage each year in their seventh month (which falls between September and October by our calendar). For them it was eight days of celebration, beginning and ending on a Sabbath, and was called the Feast of booths.
‘Booths’ may be a strange word for us, giving us images of carnival booths with games and snacks, and although I am sure there were plenty of games and snacks to go around during this festival – the “booths” mentioned here are more like tents – temporary shelters that can be moved from day to day. God instructed Israel to remember, every year, that He took them out of Egypt and cared for them in the wilderness for forty years. This was not a request for the people to remember “how much harder life was back in the day when your great, great grandparents were homeless, wandering in the desert…”, rather it is a call to remember God’s goodness – that even though their situation seemed hard and at the very least, not ideal, God provided for their every need, every day. God didn’t want Israel moving into the Promised Land, with all its vineyards and fertile farms, hanging out with the neighboring Philistines, and deciding they were grown up enough as a nation to no longer need God anymore. He wanted them to remember Him. In fact, being the excellent teacher He is, God instructed the Israelites to relive those precious years in the wilderness by gathering up their children, packing their bags, leaving home, and camping out in tents for the week. Only after the second sabbath were they allowed to go back to business-as-usual.
Business-as-usual is our problem. Sin boils us slowly so that we don’t know to jump until we’ve been thoroughly cooked through. God is certainly not opposed to working, in fact Scripture fully expects us to keep busy six days out of each week. The problem arises when we stop asking ourselves what we are doing and how productive we have been and instead ask ourselves when was the last time we heard God speak to us? When was the last time we met with God up close and personal? When was the last time we made time for God and let Him do with that time as He pleased?
In the wilderness, Israel had that every single day. They never ate a single meal without recognizing that it was a miracle from God. They never went to sleep at night without the knowledge that it was God who kept them safe from the armies around them. They raised their children on stories of promise – stories about a land they had never seen, but were promising to give to their children… and whenever doubt reared its ugly head in their lives, they simply had to look up – and there He was. God, in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, led the way.
You see, this is about more than simply stopping to smell the roses (which I also recommend). This is about remember who and Whose we are. It is about stopping to see the hand that has been at work along the way on the long journey we are on, and perhaps, seeing that same hand at work in our lives today. It is about realizing that God is our journey and that everything else is just the details we allow ourselves to get caught up in. This time of Holy Reflection helps us to remember that someday every valley will be filled, every hill flattened and the mighty mountains will be eroded down to piles of grey sand, but we will still be young by eternity’s standards, sitting at the feet of our Heavenly Father, telling our stories to each other, trying to remember what ‘hurt’ and ‘sadness’ were.