A few years ago when Jack was away, I decided take a private Sabbath day. My normal Sundays are usually relaxing enough, but I discovered that’s not the same as spending a whole day alone to rest and enjoy God. A Rich Mullins song came to mind, Alrightokuhhuhamen, which talks about God stepping back after creating the world.
Well the Lord said ‘let there be’ and there was
On the earth below and in the sky above
Well then He knocked off work ’cause it was Friday night
Come Saturday morning everything was just alright
To take a whole day off we have to have confidence that life is alright, that things are good, that the world is not going to fall apart if we don’t clean the house, answer the phone, respond to a text message, or check Facebook. It’s an affirmation that ultimately the universe does not depend on us.
I found it helpful to follow a set of principles that Jewish artists came up with to encourage people to reclaim the Sabbath**:
1. Avoid technology
2. Connect with loved ones
3. Nurture your health
4. Get outside
5. Avoid commerce
6. Light candles
7. Drink wine
8. Eat bread
9. Find silence
10. Give back
Avoiding technology meant I didn’t check email or use the internet to read news and blogs. Being off the grid while at home changed the tone of the day. I discovered how it had become a reflexive, thoughtless habit to click the ‘get mail’ button, or to look up a simple fact and emerge from the internet swamp two hours later.
But I wasn’t legalistic about computer use. I used the internet to webcam with family and to talk with Jack via Skype [see #2]. And what is more refreshing than watching the world through a two or three-year old’s eyes?
I exercised [#3] but later than usual, so it felt like I was on vacation. Getting outside [#4] meant reading on the terrace with a view of our beautiful little green garden. It was too hot to light candles [#6]. But I had a glass of cool rosé [#7] and made some special food. I usually don’t enjoy food preparation but since I wasn’t rushed, I was able to have a more sacramental attitude towards the task. It also helped to listen to worship music as I chopped vegetables to roast in the oven [yum!].
The artists’ Sabbath manifesto didn’t mention any spiritual activities. But I once heard a sermon which pointed out that the Sabbath is not just a time for having fun, but a time for refreshment and renewal by reflecting on God’s love and mercy and grace. So in the afternoon, I spent some leisurely time doing that.
It wasn’t an earthshaking day. It was quiet, peaceful, relaxed. I took a bath. I read. I contemplated. By the time I went to bed, I did feel very refreshed. The next day, I had more mental energy to attack some unpleasant tasks.
However because “remember the Sabbath day and keep it set apart” is one of the Ten Commandments, I can slip into thinking I’m doing God a favor by doing it. It seems like a big sacrifice to give up productive time and sit at Jesus’ feet like Mary did. I can feel I’m wasting valuable time that could be spent doing something else.
Sometimes I view it as an item for me to check off my master list. I turn Sabbath-keeping into a task that I have to work at, instead of seeing it as a gift that God gives to me.
Or I swing the other way and chafe against obeying the command, becoming hypersensitive to anything that smacks of legalism. But over and over I’ve seen that unless I am strict about keeping the Sabbath, it gets pushed aside. As I have gotten to know people from Sabbath-keeping traditions, I’ve come to appreciate the boundaries they put on the day. A little rigidity comes in handy to create walls on this holy day. Certain activities are kept in and other activities shut out.
My Sabbath walls are in need of some repair these days. I need to regain the discipline of disconnecting from technology, connecting with people, and enjoying God’s creation. And then spend some time praising the God who says, “Relax, take a day off. Sleep in the boat while the storm rages. I have everything under control.”
What about you? How do you practice keeping the Sabbath?
Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; He rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; He set it apart as a holy day.
[edited from the archives]