A Sabbath Practice

I grew up in a faith tradition that taught Sunday, the Sabbath, was a day of rest. But in my experience, there wasn’t much rest. We had to get up for Sunday School, then church followed by lunch with church friends. By the time we got home, I was so tired that I barely had time to rest from all the activity, let alone from the six days before.

In hindsight, it’s a pretty funny contradiction – teaching the principles Sabbath on the Sabbath to the same group of people pressured to attend, serve, and commune. It wasn’t until I left traditional church that I actually experienced a regular, weekly Sabbath.

Sabbath began as a Jewish practice. According to Genesis, the first book of the Bible, God created the world in six days and rested on day seven. God named the day of rest “holy” and instructed the people to follow suit. Jews practice Sabbath on Saturday. Christians changed the Sabbath to Sunday, since Sunday is the day that the resurrection of Jesus is celebrated.

It’s not that a Sabbath has to be a specific day of the week. But if we don’t dedicate a chunk of time to rest, it’s probably not going to happen. There’s too much to do and that list will never take care of itself.

For me, Sabbath is a practice of slowing everything down – my pace, my thoughts, my responsibilities. Our typically hurried state of being and intense stimulation tend to crowd the space we inhabit, making it difficult to hear and see within and around ourselves. Sabbath is an invitation to stop, look, listen, breathe, and rest.

I don’t practice Sabbath like the Jewish tradition of not working for 24 hours. And I don’t practice like many Christians do of going to church. Instead I devote one or two mornings a week to keep my schedule clear so that I can spend the time tending to all my senses. It is 4-5 hours of no expectation and no obligation. There are things that still get done, like taking care of my dogs. But I don’t ask myself, “What should I be doing?” Sabbath is my break from that question that plagues many of us day in and day out.

Rest can be difficult though, if we aren’t used to stopping. I often hear people express guilt over not doing something. Our culture values what we do/produce/accomplish. As for rest? Well, that’s for when the job settles down or the kids get older or we get older. Even vacations are busy for most of us.

Sabbath is sometimes painful. What I see and hear may not be what I want to know. The space created doesn’t always feel nurturing, but rather intimidating or lonely. Not returning to that To Do list is hard. Honoring Sabbath means saying no, sometimes to things I want to do.

However I have experienced many benefits because of my Sabbath practice. My resilience has increased. I feel more myself, fully myself, connected, content and focused. I have an improving awareness of what’s going on around me. My experience and understanding of what is sacred deepens. My values and priorities become clearer. And all of this, paradoxically, because I am not trying to do any of this.

Thank God for the Sabbath. Literally.