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Sabbath. Remember? It’s one of the ten commandments. God is pretty clear when God commands us to take a sabbath. There is much in the scriptures that is very unclear. Sabbath is not one of them. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter” (Exodus 20.8).
No excuses: we are to take a sabbath for a full day. Yet few of us do. If ever. Not even for half a day.
People used to take the sabbath more seriously. Was it because they were more religious? Or was it because their bodies would have fallen apart if they did not rest from the exhausting toil of physical labor? I’m not sure. But I know that sabbath is important and elusive. For me, too elusive.
I have discovered recently how essential sabbath is to our spirits. It was certainly essential to my family on our eighty-five day out west trip. Our entire family would reset after keeping sabbath on the road, ready for the next adventure, filled with gratitude for what we had seen, and grounded in the present. I was eager to remember this learning when we returned from our blessed sabbatical adventure a few weeks ago. (Yes, it is not lost on me that sabbatical and sabbath are related.) I wanted to hold on to sabbath. I made sure every week my calendar reserved a time for our family to have sabbath together--Friday night movie nights, Saturday campfires. I wanted to somehow hold onto the new internal clock our family had developed. But I forgot about myself. I ignored my own need to keep sabbath.
Over the past three weeks, upon returning from my sabbatical, I’ve worked too much. This was to be expected. There was much to catch up on. Not to mention, I wanted to catch up, I was eager to be back at work. But then things spun out of control. For a nine day stretch I didn’t take a day off, or an evening off, or anything. I became grumpy and weary. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit seems to have an interesting and humourous way of doing her own thing. On Monday I had an eye doctor appointment, the usual see-how-much-vision-Abby-has-lost-this-year sort of appointment. The doctor informed me I was overdue for an eye dilation in order to check the health of my eyes. The doctor warned me I wouldn’t be able to read for at least two to three hours. Okay, I thought, I’ll be able to start work around 1:00. That’s fine. There were plenty of other things I could do.
For some reason my eyes did not recover quickly. I wasn’t able to do any computer work or writing until late Monday evening. Really late. I tried and I couldn’t. The Holy Spirit had her way. Instead, I enjoyed a full life giving day of forced sabbath. I cooked and listened to a book and enjoyed my daughter. That night I fell peacefully asleep and did not wake in the middle of the night with racing thoughts. On Tuesday I didn’t feel frantic, wondering just how I would accomplish all the tasks before me. Instead I moved forward with my work gratefully. And it felt like overnight, somehow, my work list shrunk, as if someone else had edited it.
I wonder how it would change our culture as a whole, not just on an individual level, if everyone took a day of rest? How can we in this postmodern world, where all of us carry our work around on our phones, carve out sabbath in our lives? We can’t inist our eye doctors dilate our eyes once a week, although I think that might help . . . .
We have to change. We have to figure this out. We shouldn’t feel guilty when we’re being unproductive. We have to value our lives and our relationships more than success, more than our task lists, more than our wasteful busyness. The good news is that sabbath works, and keeping sabbath can change us and change the world. The challenge is to keep sabbath in a frenetic world. We need rest. We need sabbath.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.