Keeping the Sabbath
I’m a sinner! St. Paul clearly states that sin enslaves people and today’s scripture makes me realize how deeply I am enslaved. In Deuteronomy, Moses is once again reminding his people of the commandments God gave them back on that mount in the wilderness. Observing the Sabbath is one of them. It is not a suggestion, it’s not a recommendation, but a commandment.
Why? Because God, who is infinitely wiser than we, knows we need this. We and our children, our man and maid servants (because all of us employ such large domestic staff) our animals, and even the guests staying with you. They all need rest. And all God’s people say ‘Amen! Hallelujah Brother! Hallelujah!’
Our reality is that our world has gone busy. We honour busyness. People who are busy are productive, vital, contributing people. If you’re not busy, you’re… well, obviously you’re just not needed.
Now, I know I keep saying to my wife that I’m a guy and guys do one thing at a time. I’m not saying that it has anything to do with limited mental capacity or, like the family dog, we get distracted easily. (what’s that under the couch-is that my squeaky toy-where’s my dog biscuit-)
The truth is that, as much as we try to focus on one thing at a time, it is becoming harder and harder to do that. The rest of the world comes pressing in and, in order to focus on just one thing, we feel like we have to push back other stuff or make space in our schedule to do that.
I don’t trust marketers because, back in the 50’s, they promised that all this new automation was going to give us more leisure time.
We’ll be able to freeze food ahead of time, dry our clothes inside, wash our dishes in a machine, cut our lawns in half the time with our new power lawn mowers. All technology has done is double- triple our work capacities. Statistically, as a generation, we work longer and harder than our parents’ generation. And we work more frantically. My kids get annoyed with me if I’m not ‘connected’. “What if something should happen, Dad?” “Then leave me a message. I’ll get back to you.” “Dad!” My famous line, “Your emergency is not my emergency.” Apparently, you are supposed to take your phone to bed with you so that fading blue screen is the last thing you see as you close your eyes. I mean, what catastrophe might befall us if we miss a ‘text’ or ‘tweet’ or a ‘chirp’ or a ‘bark’ or a ‘fart’ or whatever those things are? Hear the anxiousness in all of this urgency, now- fast- instantaneously. Is it any wonder that mental health issues are growing out of stress, anxiety and depression?
This ‘dis-ease’ can be described as spiritual arrhythmia. Just like an irregular heart beat can cause fatigue, stress and even death, spiritual arrhythmia incapacitates us in living the way we were created to live. Our lives often become the counter-point to the rhythm of the our souls-the rhythm which gives us life and sustains us in life.
In the beginning, Adam and Eve walked in paradise with God. Apparently naked before their Creator, they walked totally exposed, totally open, no need to justify their existence, in total rhythm with Life, capital ‘L’ life. Yet Adam and Eve’s story depicts for us the beginning of humankind’s effort to redefine divine freedom. Humankind began to define freedom as autonomy (separation) and control. My freedom, my power, my control.
I find it interesting that Moses takes three verses to relate this commandment to his people. Many of the Commandments are only one line. “Thou shall not kill.” It’s not complicated. Just don’t kill one another. But Moses goes into this long soliloquy of how we were once slaves in the land of Egypt, and how the Lord our God brought us out with a mighty hand and an out stretched arm. Therefore, you are to keep the Sabbath Holy!
Am I missing something here? What does freedom from slavery have to do with keeping the Sabbath, other than the one with a mighty hand told you you should do this and, if you don’t, you’ll get smitten or smattened or smacked or whatever God supposedly does? I think what links these two phrases is Moses’ understanding that, like all of Adam and Eve’s children after them, we are still trying to re-define freedom as autonomy and control. We see freedom as OUR ability to grasp for things for ourselves, for more power over things and people, grasping for more stuff as a marker of standing and success. This results not in freedom but slavery.
So, as much as we all are in need of rest, keeping the Sabbath implies so much more than just giving us the permission to take a nap, although, having said that, I’ll thank you for not messing with my Sunday afternoon naps. Keeping the Sabbath holy means more than taking a refreshing vacation or having a restorative weekend or even a fulfilling retirement. To keep the Sabbath is to remember that time spent with God has a way of freeing us from the slavery that impoverishes us. We do not have to remain chained to a reality which the ideology of autonomy and control has created for us.
We can free ourselves from our possessions, from the absurdity that contentment will be found in the procuring of things, so we continue to buy hoping to discover that contentment. We can free ourselves from the responsibility of caring for our things which ownership places upon us. We can free ourselves from the self-image which our culture plasters on the billboards landscaping our lives, informing us what success looks like, that propagates the fallacy that we are what we do, and are valued for what others think of us, especially if they see us as busy, people integral in keeping society moving. God offers us freedom from all that and it is called the Sabbath.
The Sabbath is a testimony to the buoyancy of our souls. Just as a rubber ball held under water must submit itself to its condition, once it is released it springs to the surface. Our natural way of being, the way God created us to be and live, the natural rhythms of our souls, may be held under the water of ambition, anger or even violence, held under by what the Gospel calls the ‘cares’ of the world, but the human spirit possesses a natural buoyancy to spring up out of that water and follow its upward impulse to freedom.
So the intent of Sabbath time is not simply to rest but to rest in the arms of God. To pray, to let go of all our strivings, to release yourself from your self-imposed autonomy and spend time in paradise walking naked with your God.
But what happens when Monday comes? You can’t spend time in paradise without coming back to this world and seeing the slavery that surrounds you as you step back into weekly routine. It’s the bittersweet consequence of observing a Sabbath that others don’t. You can’t receive the much needed rest your imprisoned soul needs without asking who else may need rest? Who else is in need of life when no on else notices?
Who is still gasping for air while being held under the water? Who has had their lives taken away and are held in slavery? If we are the ones keeping the Sabbath, we simply can’t overlook those whose lives are being threatened on daily basis. If we are to keep the Sabbath holy, we don’t get to bypass lives that are being stripped of their worth and dignity.
Yet, if we keep the Sabbath, then we have the resolve and the strength to enter the routines of Monday morning open to reconnecting to touching the world, healing the world and working to bring God’s kingdom, God’s paradise to this place for all to experience.
That is why I know myself to be a sinner. I am such a tenacious Scot and Taurus. I am forever putting agenda before Sabbath. It’s ironic really that I put doing God’s work ahead of being with God. My weary soul looks for affirmation so I work even harder in search of something God is ready to hand me. So I need to be reminded and, I wish to remind all of you that this is a commandment of God’s not a request.
But, before you go telling your spouse that you’re are not going to cut the grass because you’re taking a Sabbatical, remember that this may be okay but only if you spend that time intentionally being with your God, praying, reading, meditating, praising. In doing so, you will find rest in God, freedom and salvation.