For my day off, I went walking at Wentworth Falls. We’ve had days of solid rain here in the Blue Mountains, so I thought it might be worthwhile to go and look at a waterfall. I took the path from Conservation Hut down through a place called Valley of the Waters and then along the National Pass walking track. The National Pass track follows a ledge along the middle of a gigantic cliff face for about 4 kilometres. Everywhere there was water, It was like taking a 3 hour long shower. Everywhere the water was cascading over the edge of the Blue Mountains escarpment, so all the major waterfalls were thundering, but there were also places where water was just seeping, or dripping from 200 metres above, or running down tree trunks. Everywhere there were rainbows, sometimes when the wind gusted it looked like the water was flowing sideways across the cliff face. The track passes over, behind, in front of waterfalls, and then the final glory is an ascent up hundreds of metres of stairs that have been carved into the rock face beside the Wentworth Falls themselves. I can’t really describe it. It was an Elemental experience.
Resting trains us for eternity. To rest regularly, to sleep, to chill, to shoot the breeze, is an exercise in practical theology: we rest in the comfort of the sovereignty of God; we relax into the recognition of our own properly human dependence; we repose in the real knowledge that God is himself for us.
Isn’t that wonderful?
Isn’t God good?
The Sabbath is the ‘Lord’s Day’ not because we offer it to him in sacrifice, but because in yet another way he offers himself to us through it. And ‘the Sabbath was made for Man’ (Mark 2:27) because in the Sabbath the Lord of the Sabbath gifts us real knowledge and a genuine experience of ourselves.
So there is no more genuinely Christian missionary practice than having a day off, it is an acted-out prayer of praise to the One who is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).
There is another side to this reflection however. As I was walking. the name “Valley of the Waters” reminded me of a verse in Psalm 84:
Happy are the people whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a source of springwater; even the autumn rain will cover it with blessings. They go from strength to strength; each appears before God in Zion. (Psalms 84:5-7 HCSB)
It’s a good psalm for bushwalking in general (a heart set on pilgrimage), but right now I’m more interested in the reference to ‘the Valley of Baca’.
The King James Version translated this as “the vale of tears” following the ancient Greek Translation (‘vale’ is olde englishe for ‘valley’). Most modern English translations haven’t been confident of the original Hebrew meaning and have therefore left the name untranslated (Baca). I think however, the Greek Translator was onto something: As the pilgrims pass through the Valley of Tears, their weeping becomes a source of renewal and refreshment.
The Vale of Tears becomes an Oasis.
If you spend time talking to the older Saints they’ll tell you this truth time and again: It’s often been in the difficult times, when they’ve felt the pain of life under the sun, when they’ve wept before the Lord, in those times they’ve found greater comfort and deeper spiritual joy. The testimony of these pilgrims is that God has led them into the Vale of Tears and given them refreshment.
I guess the point of this ramble is that sometimes we keep the Sabbath with joy and celebration, we do the things we love. with the people we love. But sometimes we keep the Sabbath with tears and pain. The Sabbath was made for man, and sometimes there are different Sabbaths for different men. It’s part of the weird experience of life between the times, that we can encounter the Sabbath as an experience of either freedom or discipline, and sometimes both. It’s only on reaching our destination that this can be reconciled.
For now, having been rested, the Lord of the Sabbath calls us back to the track.