Reasons for keeping the Sabbath abound, some of them being that Sabbath is a religious obligation, spiritual practice, ecologically sound, a gift, stewardship, and personal health. Reasons for not keeping Sabbath abound too, most often from not having the habit or caring to make the commitment and the basic need to work to feed one’s self and family. Yet I have found myself not keeping Sabbath for that largest of follies: because I thought I could do so much more and be of so much more use to my work. I did not want to accept my limitations, and then reaching my limitations, I justified not observing any of a day of rest and spiritual renewal by my limitations and inability to get everything done in a week.
Keeping weekly holy days of rest, reflection, and renewal may be curtailed by oppression and the true need to work ceaselessly day after day in order to eat and live. We fail ourselves and our neighbors when we allow the injustice of hunger and homelessness to drive our communities into exhaustion, into no time for family or friends – let alone the civic engagement time healthy democracy requires and which goes on days other than a day of rest. And one of the ways we excuse this injustice is to insist that all of us are really busy, too, too busy doing to stop and savor.
How does salt lose its savor? Dissolve it in enough water, bury it in enough dirt, subsume it with mountains of flavorings and spices and we will taste only water, dirt, spices. We lose our lives when we cannot savor the simple aspects of them, and marvel at them in their apparent simplicity. A little nap, a time of silent contemplation, the space to just be and not do gives us the space to savor life.
The illusion of being in control dissipates in keeping regular, weekly holy days of rest, reflection, and renewal, whatever we call them. We cannot store that time up, though many of us valiantly try, for special holidays or weekends. If we’re too busy to take even part of a week for rest and for attending to the Holy, then by the time we do set aside that time, we’re likely to find ourselves unpracticed enough in being with ourselves, with family and friends, and with the Holy to be at ease and know how to be. We set ourselves up to further distance ourselves from the relationships we say matter most to us. We find ourselves less in control than we had imagined.
When I keep Sabbath I have to actively wrestle with my own sense of importance and learn to live humbly. I have to trust that others who keep other holy days will be doing the needed work of the world. I have to trust that what I can’t do either can wait or was not as important as I imagined it was hurrying against the daily clock. I have to embrace my own limitations and my own need to turn to rest, to the Holy, to family and to friends. I become much more aware of the injustices in my community where people must scrounge and work every day to minimally survive. I become much more aware of how much I want to slip into justification to do more and not attend to the relationships I say I hold important. Keeping a weekly holy day of rest, reflection, and renewal is a healing practice, a vivifying practice, and a humbling one. In that humility, though, doors open on new wonder and cherished blessings and awaken me again to what the just and beloved community could be, to how limitations can make life more wonderfully possible, and to my relationships – dependent and interdependent - with all of life.
If you are observing Lent, consider taking up keeping a weekly Sabbath or renewing your Sabbath commitment.
If you are not observing Lent, try committing or recommitting to a weekly Sabbath for the next 6 weeks.