During rush hour on a cold January morning, a man sat down at the entrance to a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin. He played six Bach pieces lasting a total of about 45 minutes. During that time, thousands of people walked by, most on their way to work. After the violin player had played for about three minutes, a middle aged man coming out of the station noticed there was a musician. He slowed his pace, stopped for a few seconds, then hurried up out of the station to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first tip. A woman threw a dollar into his violin case without stopping and continued to walk by. A few minutes later, a man leaned against the wall to listen but soon looked at his watch and hurried off. Clearly he didn’t want to be late for work. The person who paid the most attention was a three-year old boy. His mother was hurrying him along but the boy stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard enough and the boy continued to walk again, turning his head all the time. This was repeated by several other children and their parents throughout the time. All the parents, without exception, forced the children to move on. In the 45 minutes the violinist played, six people stopped and stayed for a while. About twenty gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. In total, people donated $32. When the violinist finished playing, no one noticed. No one applauded. No one showed any recognition. No one knew that the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the finest musicians in the world. He had played one of the most intricate violin pieces ever written on a violin worth $3.5 million. Two days before playing at the subway, Joshua Bell had sold out at a theatre in Boston with tickets averaging $180. Joshua Bell playing incognito at the metro station was organised by the Washington Post newspaper as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and the priorities of people. The questions being considered were. In a commonplace environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognise talent in an unexpected context? If we do not notice or do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the finest musicians in the world playing some of the best music ever written, how many other things are we passing by? How many other things in life are we missing? You will never stop, if you first don’t learn to slow down and be refreshed. Why are so many, so busy, so tired, and so resigned to doing little if anything about it?
There is a Hebrew word closely associated with the Sabbath. It is the word “nephesh,” or “napas.” It is usually translated “to be refreshed.” It’s the word used concerning Sabbath-keeping in Exodus 23:12, where the purpose of Sabbath rest is that we might be refreshed, nephesh. But it also refers to our innermost self, the deepest soul: our true identity. Nephesh is not what the world sees about me: it’s what God knows about me. Nephesh also means to breathe. To inhale deeply, and then let it go. The word breathe is itself rich. It is connected with, in Hebrew, the word ruah, and in Greek with the word pneuma. Ruah and pneuma mean breath or wind, but they also refer to Holy Spirit. Sabbath is for nephesh. It is to be refreshed in the deepest sense. Not just to take a break. Not just to collapse in utter weariness and misery. But to breathe God’s breath, His very Spirit, into the inmost places. To have God fill us afresh with His wind, and revive our true selves. That’s what happened to David the day Absalom forced him out of Jerusalem, and Shimei followed him cursing and abusing. In spite of all that went on that day, David slept well that night. He wrote Psalm 3 in response. Here is the actual scene: “So David and his men went on the way; and Shimei went along on the hillside parallel with him and as he went he cursed, and cast stones and threw dust at him. And the king and all the people who were with him arrived weary and there he refreshed himself” (2Samuel 16:13-14).
Did you catch that? “And there he refreshed himself,” Nephesh. And there, David breathed again the Spirit of God. He drew into himself again the ruah, the pneuma, the wind, the breath of God. He breathed God’s presence into his inmost self. He remembered who he was and whose he was.
If you haven’t stopped to smell the roses in awhile, then maybe it’s time to plot the trajectory of your life according to God’s design. Realise that He will give you everything and more to stop, to breathe, and to see all the beauty that He has richly given you to enjoy!