Years ago I began keeping a 24-hour Sabbath every week, which is not an easy thing for a good Protestant to do. We are, after all, ingrained with the Protestant work ethic. Moreover, like every other American, I tend to view time as a commodity to be used, made, scheduled, traded, and (sometimes) found. Sabbath interrupts these notions about time. It interrupts our notions about self, neighbor, creation, and work, too. Sabbath is a great interrupting force.
Because Christians (or anyone who isn’t Jewish) don’t have a tradition about how to keep Sabbath, it can be a challenge for us to step into Sabbath-keeping. It helps to think of Sabbath not as a day, but as a rhythm and a principle for organizing time and community. If we begin with this premise, we can find a pathway where we can place our first step.
Here are some things to help in considering what Sabbath might mean and how we might observe it.
Sabbath is a rhythm of cessation. Sabbath does not mean to rest; it means to cease. Stopping is not something we do well in our culture. The idea of stopping can promote all kinds of anxiety in us. Even if we long to stop, we aren’t sure how. If we are stopped, what are we “doing” and to what end? It is important to address this anxiety and the things that compel us to be useful.
Sabbath honors creation. We rest because God rested. If God can stop creating, can we? Or, as people who don’t really create, by and large, all week long, might we honor the God of creation by doing something creative? Traditionally, Jews cease all creative acts. However, we are not Jews and we live during a time when most of us are not laboring in the fields but employed at repetitive but non-generative work in offices. How might we honor the God of creation?
Sabbath remembers that our worth is not tied to our ability to produce; it remembers that we were slaves who have been freed. This is a big one. Throughout the media, we hear commentators tying human beings’ worth to their ability to participate in and contribute to our economy. Sabbath yells a big “NO!” that. All of us have worth beyond our work. I don’t do housework, pay bills, or do my job on Sabbath. I also had to ask myself how my cessation is intermingled with the work of others. Therefore, I don’t spend money on my Sabbath. I don’t go places where someone will have to wait on me or clean up after me. I found that it is difficult to leave behind “transactional” relationships. But, it has been so much fun to find other ways to spend the day: walking on nature trails, reading books, playing games…
Sabbath is communal. It is a rhythm for the whole community (the Bible says it is for the earth, animals, and the foreigner in your house), and it is intended to be joyful. While our whole community will not keep Sabbath together, I try to spend time with friends. In the summer, people know they can drop by my house and my grill is ready and my deck prepared. We eat, chat, drink homemade tea, and play games. It’s fun.
Sabbath interrupts my idea about…everything. I find that I plan the rest of my week around Sabbath. It interrupts my incessant drive to do and accomplish and be useful. It interrupts where I meet friends and “spend” time. It reminds me that I am not just a single individual, but I am an individual in relationship with others – people I know and people I will never know as well as with all of creation. It interrupts the voices that tell me I am not good enough. It reminds me there is enough. There is joy if only I stop and hit reset and start again.