Monday, July 8, 2013

More than the Sabbath

You can’t consider the idea of the Sabbath for very long before you realize you’re dealing not only with the Sabbath but with the rest of the week as well. The Sabbath sits in a kind of juxtaposition to the other six days. That that takes you, as it does Judith Shulevitz in The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a DifferentOrder of Time, to a consideration of time itself.

It seems such an old-fashioned notion, this idea of the Sabbath – setting aside a day of the week for rest – and for at least three reasons.

The Sabbath was a communal event, in addition to an individual observance. The community as a whole participated in this day of rest.

The idea of the Sabbath is also associated with faith. The Hebrews practiced it first, following the fourth commandment. What it eventually became in Jewish practice can be seen in the numerous references in the New Testament to Jesus challenging the common Jewish understanding. “The Sabbath was made for man,” he said, “not man for the Sabbath.” In other words, the Sabbath was designed from the beginning for our benefit. Christians generally followed the Jewish practice of a day of rest, but chose Sunday over the Jewish Saturday.

Third, the Sabbath seems old-fashioned because of what Sunday has become in contemporary Western culture. We don’t distinguish between rest and relaxation and enjoyment and entertainment. And we believe that time has become such a precious commodity that we cram what we can and what doesn’t fit the other six days – going to the mall and the grocery story, sports events, theater. Movies – and we call it relaxation, if not rest.

Sundays do seem slower, of course, because we are still experiencing the remnants of centuries of cultural practice. But the trend is clear. Just as commerce has invaded Thanksgiving Day and has its eyes set on Christmas Day, so, too, is Sunday disappearing as a distinct day of rest. (We’ve come a very long way from when Eric Liddell refused to race on a Sunday at the Olympic Games in Paris.)

“The old-time Sabbath does not fit comfortably into our lives, writes Shulevitz. “It scowls at our dewy dreams of total relaxation and freedom from obligation. The goal of the Sabbath may be rest, but it isn’t personal liberty or unfettered leisure. The Sabbath seems designed to make life as inconvenient as possible. Our schedules are not the only thing the Sabbath would disrupt if it could. It would also rip a hole in all the shimmering webs that give modern life its pleasing aura of weightlessness – the networks that zap digitized voices and money and date from server to iPhone to GPS.”

If the Sabbath was designed as a day of rest, it was likely meant for all of mankind, not only the Hebrews. And it would difficult to find anyone other than Ebenezer Scrooge who would argue today that Sunday should be a work day.

While we have atomized ourselves into fiercely individual entities with our individual rights and our individual truths, we would still find it hard to argue against a day of rest.

No, we shouldn’t be “required” to observe the Sabbath. For Christians, that leads to the blind alley of legalism. For others, it smacks of theocracy. But neither should we completely ignore it. The Sabbath day of rest has much to teach us about the rest of the week – about priorities, about work, about the transience of a world build upon data and pixels.

And it has much to teach us about time. Our notions of time have changed from what they were centuries ago, even short decades ago. If you think they haven’t changed, watch how impatient you get when a web page loads slowly, and takes a minute or more instead of being instantly available. That impatience says much about our notions of time.

But should we slow down on Sundays? Can we?

I have my doubts.

Led by Laura Boggess, we’re discussing The Sabbath World over at The High Calling this month. Check the site to see the discussion today on Part 1, “Time Sickness,” and Part 2, “Group Dynamics.”


Enjoying an Abnormal Normal, by Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk.


Shelly Miller said...

I think we can. No, I know we can. I have 100+ people standing behind me nodding yes, its possible. Sabbath looks different for all of us and it takes some intentional planning to succeed. Instead of working my way toward the end of the week, Sabbath now informs the tone. Everything I do during the week is set with my sites on rest and communion with God. Because Sabbath isn't really about me at all, is it? I think that's why He spells out that commandment with more words than the others. He knows how hard it will be for us, but how much we need it. Thanks for making me think, enjoyed your take on these chapters Glynn.

Anonymous said...

For most of our lives, we need a lot of practice in resting. But, it naturally gets easier with age.

Perhaps children benefit from adults taking some time away from chores, work, and extra activities that are not necessary for a day.