On Sundays I rise early, enjoying a warm cup of coffee with my wife before heading out into the day. Driving toward Lakebay I experience little traffic; I tell myself that the few I pass are either on their way to church as I am, or heading out for a trip to the beach or breakfast with friends. It seems to me a moment of quiet holiness in our frenetic world, a pause in the eternal turning of time before the world wakes up and everybody starts moving again.
One of the gifts handed down from religious streams is the idea of Sabbath, of regular time away from the pressures of life. It is a time to be refreshed, renewed and restored. The ancient Hebrew writers heard from their God and prophets a call to set aside one day a week to cease from their labor, and rest.
While the Hebrew Sabbath was, and remains, on Saturday, early Christians moved their Sabbath practice to Sunday, in keeping with the day they celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. For most this tradition carries on, although some, along with the Jewish people, practice Sabbath on Saturday.
Muslims, while not practicing Sabbath, break from work and other activities every Friday to gather for prayer. Different religious expressions have created time and space to step aside from the activities of life that keep us busy and scattered, pausing to recenter, renew and to remind each other that we are more than what we produce and consume.
The meaning of the word Sabbath, from the Hebrew “Shabbat,” is often misunderstood. While it is sometimes translated “rest,” a more accurate rendering is “to cease,” or “to stop.” While resting is a benefit of practicing Sabbath, the call is to cease from the usual work and grind of the other six days in order to mindfully live into the promise of deeper connections with ourselves, the land, loved ones, neighbors, and God.
Today, our world is in turmoil, as we try to find a way through a difficult season. Many of our old patterns have disappeared. Modern technology disrupts the rhythms of life. Boundaries between work and home have blurred. Electronic devices interrupt us at every turn and make us available to the world at any given moment. Like hamsters on a treadmill, we keep running faster and faster, with an existential sense that we are not getting anywhere.
As we begin to move into our post-pandemic life, I believe it is imperative that we reclaim a sense of Sabbath. While honoring its roots within the world of Judaism and Christianity, anybody can take the principle of Sabbath rest and apply it to our lives. Before we get back to the busyness of the previous world, this is a good time to consider what activities need to be cut back or cut out.
A healthy self-assessment includes asking ourselves what brings us life, and what sucks our souls dry. What gives us joy, and what makes us irrationally angry? What causes anxiety, and what gives us peace at the core of our being? Once we know the answers, we can begin reordering our lives in a direction that leads to health for us and the world.
When was the last time you took a break? When did you last disconnect from technology, turn off your phone, shut off the TV and rest from all the noise? How long has it been since your last nap or long walk on a country road? Can you remember the last leisurely conversation you had with a friend or loved one? When did you last feel peace? What do you need to say no to, in order to say yes to more important things?
For me, that includes turning off my phone and taking a walk along the waterfront in Home. It means getting offline and out into the real world, connecting with friends at parks and local coffee shops. It involves making music, reading or sitting on my back porch watching the rain fall. I am committing myself to worrying less about the world, seeking instead to find ways to be part of creating a healthy community for all of us.
The world is coming at us incessantly. I encourage you to listen deeply to the cry of your heart and the craving of your soul. It is time to cease from the excesses that pull us away from each other and to lean into the gift of healing space and time. Sabbath is a gift, if we will take it.
Award-winning columnist Dan Whitmarsh is pastor at Lakebay Community Church
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