I have the pleasure of announcing a new book by my friend and colleague, Dr. A.J. Swoboda. A. J. directs our Blessed Earth operations in the Pacific Northwest. His book is called Subversive Sabbath. For those of you have read my last book, 24/6, (and for those who haven’t), I highly recommend that you get ahold of A.J.’s book as soon as possible. The timing of its launch could not be better, as it makes a great read leading up to Easter.
As a physician, I’ve listened to thousands of hearts. During prenatal exams, I’ve heard the rapid swish-swishing of babies still in the womb. Often, moms and dads burst into tears when they hear their child’s heart for the first time. I’ve smiled at the strange murmur those same thumb-sized hearts make when they are born into the great big world, fetal shunts closing of their own accord as the baby breathes independently for the first time. I’ve listened to the chests of three-year-old children as they inhale deeply–and then wonder if the man in the white coat can hear their thoughts through those tubes attached to his ears.
I’ve listened to athletes’ strong, slow hearts. I’ve heard asthmatic hearts pounding away in fear, and the muffled sounds of failing hearts. I’ve listened to the hearts of saints and murderers. I’m in the first generation of physicians to ever listen to the heart of one person after it has been transplanted into another.
Doctors and nurses listen to patients’ hearts using a stethoscope. Although this is convenient, it’s not necessary. In fact, the stethoscope wasn’t invented until a generation after our country became a nation. For thousands of years, physicians listened to heart sounds without the aid of a stethoscope. They simply laid their ear on the chest of their patients. Now, it is only children who lay their heads on the chest of their parents and listen to beating hearts.
My daughter used to love curling up in the big green chair by our fireplace in winter and falling asleep listening to my heartbeat. These days my children are grown. I’m still close to them and hug them every time I see them, but it is only my little granddaughter who’s falling asleep on my chest now…or so I thought. Recently, my son dropped by our house after a long shift at the hospital. He flopped on the couch next to me, and within a few minutes he was asleep, his head was resting on me. He was no longer a pediatrician at the university hospital; he was just my little boy, resting in his father’s arms.
I had just finished reading Subversive Sabbath, and I got to thinking about our exhausted world, laying our heads down, and hearing heart sounds. These thoughts led me to the thirteenth chapter of John’s Gospel–the setting of the Last Supper. The chapter begins with Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Later, Judas dashes off to betray Christ. The chapter ends with Jesus giving a new commandment to love one another.
But midway through, an extraordinary detail is recorded. Here we see the portrait of a commercial fisherman with sunburned skin and callused hands. His name is John, and he’s a man’s man. Jesus calls him a “son of thunder.” Normally, John conveys an image of courage and strength, but at this moment he appears like a little child: “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples whom Jesus loved.”
There in the middle of the most extraordinary events in human history is a man listening to the heart of God. Don’t you wish you could lay your head down on the Maker of the universe and just listen to his heart? Don’t you wish that you could lay all your problems down for just a moment and rest on Jesus?
The heart of A.J. Swoboda’s book is that you can: starting next Sabbath, for twenty-four hours, you can lay your head on the chest of someone who loves you enough to die for you. Subversive Sabbath is an invitation to rest in the Lord.
The Sabbath commandment begins with an odd word; it tells us to “remember.” Don’t forget how good it is to rest in the Lord, to be loved by the Lord, to hear His heart beat. A.J. Swoboda’s narrative is both a reminder to those who have forgotten and an instruction for those who have never known the peace of Sabbath rest. “Once you start,” Swoboda warns, “you cannot stop. It is profoundly life giving.”
Ultimately, however, reading about Sabbath is like looking at a picture of food. It will not fill you. It can only whet your appetite. You must finish the book, put it down, and actually do the Sabbath. You must get your life quiet enough one day out of the week to hear God’s heart. Only then will you experience the counter-cultural joy of Shabbat shalom, Sabbath peace.
I have been blessed by years of friendship with A.J., and his latest book is the outflowing of a heart that loves the Lord. I hope you, too, take the time to get to know him–and God–more through Subversive Sabbath (and don’t forget to leave a review on Amazon!).
by Matthew J. Sleeth