I just got back from a week of Sabbath (vacation) with my family up in Maine. One of the books I read (during the days and days and days of rain) was Debbie Blue’s From Stone to Living Word: Letting the Bible Live Again. The book is so beautifully written that just reading it is an experience of Sabbath in itself, but there is also a section on Sabbath. My favorite quotes:
The work that’s forbidden [during the traditional Jewish Sabbath] is any work in which you interfere with nature and act as if you are master over it. You are not supposed to pluck a single blade of grass… You could think it’s all sort of crazy and too much, but I can see how giving one whole day a week to doing all these things, or rather, not doing all these things, could actually change the world. All week you step on bugs, you trample grass, you ignore, change, destroy, use, exert your force all over the place. But on this day you pay attention… you pay attention to every living thing, and you allow it to live.
…It would be good for the world to have to observe the Sabbath, a day of rest where everyone tries not to exert their force on the world, and is grateful to God, and tries not to squash any life, not even bugs, and all the malls and the fast-food restaurants and TVs are shut down. It seems like the world would be about a thirty-thousand-times better place.
I highly recommend BBTs latest book. Even independent of what she says, the way she says it is so sumptuous that reading the book is an experience of Sabbath in itself. Here is just one morsel from her chapter on “The Practice of Saying No”:
The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth wrote, ‘A being is free only when it can determine and limit its activity.’ By that definition, I have a hard time counting many free beings among my acquaintance. I know people who can do five things at once who are incapable of doing nothing. I know people who can decide what to do without being able to do less of it. Since I have been one of these people, I know that saying no is a more difficult spiritual practice than tithing, praying on a cold stone floor, or visiting a prisoner on death row.
(Photo is of the cairn atop Dun I hill in Iona, which is what I always think of when I ponder BBT’s book title, An Altar in the World.)
I have been reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder series to my daughter Caroline (who loves the fact that Laura’s Ma shares her name). I was taken by this ending of Little House in the Big Woods and thought it had something to say about Sabbath and the passage of time. Laura is in bed and listening to her Pa sing “Auld Lang Syne.”
When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?”
“They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.”
But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fidle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the fire-light gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.
She thought to herself, “This is now.”
She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.
From the book How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household:
To some extent, Shabbat achieves what the song title suggests: “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off.”
Let me paraphrase the biblical injunction, as it speaks to me, a contemporary person:
Six days shall you be a workaholic;
on the seventh day, shall you join the serene company of human beings.
Six days shall you take orders from your boss;
on the seventh day, shall you be master/mistress of your own life.
Six days shall you toil in the market;
on the seventh day, shall you detach from money matters.
Six days shall you create, drive, create, invent, push;
on the seventh day, shall you reflect.
Six days shall you be the perfect success;
on the seventh day, shall you remember that not everything is in your power.
Six days shall you be a miserable failure;
on the seventh day, shall you be on top of the world.
Six days shall you enjoy the blessings of work;
on the seventh day, shall you understand that being is as important as doing.
Image: Creation, from the St. John’s Bible
The room is quiet. You’re not feeling tired enough to sleep or energetic enough to go out. For the moment there is nowhere else you’d rather go, no one else you’d rather be. You feel at home in your body. You feel at peace in your mind. For no particular reason, you let the palms of your hands come together and close your eyes. Sometimes it is only when you happen to taste a crumb of it that you dimly realize what it is that you’re so hungry for you can hardly bear it.
–Frederick Buechner on Sabbath, from Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC
Sabbath ceasing [means] to cease not only from work itself, but also from the need to accomplish and be productive, from the worry and tension that accompany our modern criterion of efficiency, from our efforts to be in control of our lives as if we were God, from our possessiveness and our enculturation, and finally, from the humdrum and meaninglessness that result when life is pursued without the Lord at the center of it all.
- Marva J. Dawn
Keeping the Sabbath Wholly
from Verse and Voice, a daily e-mail sent by Sojourners
“God rests, and blesses this day, and makes it holy. In this way, the Christian theologian Karl Barth has suggested, God declares as fully as possible just how very good creation is. Resting, God takes pleasure in what has been made; God has no regrets, no need to go on to create a still better world or a creature more wonderful than the man and woman. In the day of rest, God’s free love toward humanity takes form as time shared with them.”
from Practicing Our Faith, edited by Dorothy Bass, p. 78