SEVEN SPIRITUAL PRACTICES: Sabbatical Reflections
# 1: Sabbath
“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.”
– The Decalogue, The Book of Common Prayer, p. 350
“Set aside regular times for worship, prayer
and the study of God’s ways.”
– The Catechism, The Book of Common Prayer, p. 847
[Deepak Chopra’s latest book is called “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes: Harnessing Our Power to Change the World.” Far be it from me to claim to be super! However, I do want to reflect here on seven practices for spiritual growth, common to all three Abrahamic traditions. Jews, Christians and Muslims share these ancient practices, and they are the basis for Brian McLaren’s book “Finding Our Way Again,” which I am asking everyone at the church I serve (and anyone else!) to read this summer.
I believe the seven practices found in McLaren’s book are so important, so useful that I will be blogging about them during my sabbatical. This first entry on Sabbath is based in part on a Sunday morning Forum of Faith a few weeks ago called “What is Sabbath?”]
What is Sabbath? What might it have to do with loving ourselves in ways that God loves us?
Between the first three Commandments given to Moses (which are about loving God) and the last six (about loving our neighbors) there is the fourth Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” This Commandment, as with the other nine, is not a “suggestion.” We people of faith are commanded by God to rest for at least one day in every seven, just as God rested from the hard work of Creation. No matter how creative we become, we are, then, never more creative nor more needful of rest than God. We might want to pay attention to that need. Perhaps God has the need to love us into rest.
Sabbath is a day of divine rest – to pray and to play, to worship God and to learn from God. As Marva Dawn puts it, it is a time of “ceasing, resting, embracing, feasting” (Keeping the Sabbath Wholly). The Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer says Sabbath happens when we “set aside regular times for worship, prayer and the study of God’s ways.” Keeping Sabbath, then, is being more intentional about our personal relationship with God – a love relationship.
This is pretty basic stuff, at least on the surface. Love God as God loves us. Love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But how and how much do we love ourselves? Enough to stop working and start resting? Dare we believe God really loves us enough to want us to stop what we are doing – no matter how noble the cause, no matter how notable or good the work – and just be present to the divine, dazzling world all around us? In the title tune from their new hit CD “Helplessness Blues,” the Seattle group Fleet Foxes sing, “If I know only one thing, it’s that everything that I see / of the world outside is so inconceivable, often I barely can speak.” When was the last time you stopped and simply saw the unspeakable? Keeping Sabbath allows us time, among other things, to “keep the main thing the main thing” – to be more present to God, so we can be more present to ourselves and to others, especially our beloved ones.
We are, the Commandment says, to keep the Sabbath by remembering it. One way to think about this is to take that word apart, so we can put it back together again. To re-member is to put the members back together, in their rightful places. To “re-member” Sabbath is to make it whole, wholly and holy, once more. What is the rightful place of Sabbath in your 21st century life? Traditionally, Sabbath for Muslims is the 24 hours from sundown Thursday until sundown Friday. For Jews, it begins on Friday and for Christians, Saturday. But the “when” of Sabbath, in today’s world, may not be what it was. Some of us work on Sundays and must find another day for rest.
That assumes, of course, that one can actually take a day off. In 2011 there may be more cultural resistance to Sabbath-keeping than ever. While we often cite the end of “blue laws” (prohibiting alcohol sales on Sundays) as the death knoll of the Sabbath, there are many more powerful challenges to keeping the Sabbath from being un-holy these days. Consider Sunday morning or weekend-long outings for sports or scouts. Think about our ever more “flat,” 24/7 digital world. In his new book “Hamlet’s BlackBerry,” William Powers considers what he calls the “conundrum of connectedness,” or “the human need to connect outward, to answer the call of the crowd” (perhaps even to love one another?), “as well as the opposite need for time and space apart” (with ourselves and with God). “The key,” he says, “is to strike a balance between the two impulses” (p. 4).
I pray, in all our different ways of remembering and keeping Sabbath, for striking a holy, loving balance. I pray that, in the days and weeks ahead, each of us might recalibrate our spiritual center of gravity back to the God who loves us. “People don’t live to work,” Brian McLaren says, “but work and rest are part of life under God” (“Finding Our Way Again,” p. 27). May it be so for us.
– Peace, Tom