July 24, 2023
I have been heartened to hear of many of you taking vacations this summer. To the beach or the mountains or a version of staycation. Summer affords this important antidote to the busyness that consumes much of our lives. We are busy, busy people. If not busy working, then busy playing, running errands, keeping our households or bodies in shape, shopping, volunteering, cramming activity into our lives to the point that none of these things any longer feel light or pleasant or healing. Instead, as it piles endlessly upon itself the whole experience of being alive begins to melt down into one enormous obligation.
I wonder why we are so busy or why our culture seems to prize it so? Is it because, at core, our sense of worth comes from doing – from what we accomplish – rather than simply from being – from what we are. Is It because we think life depends on our own efforts alone and do not, maybe cannot, trust that forces stronger and wiser than we, are mysteriously at work in the world even when we are not.?
I don’t know what drives our busyness. But I do know that the Bible prescribes a remedy to our ceaseless doings. “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” Sabbath keeping is the most ancient of Israel’s religious practices. Its roots lie at the dawn of creation itself where God labored for six days to create all that is and then, on the seventh day, God saw that it was all good and rested. God saw that it was good. And rested. God did not feel the compulsion to add one more species or to rethink the existence of mosquitoes. God rested.
Actually, the rabbis argue over whether creation took six days or seven. Those who argue for seven point out that the text reads, “And on the seventh day God finished God’s work and rested.” An ancient rabbinical teaching is that on the seventh day what God created was “rest” – menuha – which means tranquility, serenity, peace. God didn’t just take a day off exhausted after all that work. Instead, by resting – in the deepest sense of fertile, healing stillness, God brought the work of creation to fullness and completion.
So central was this affirmation of creation’s essential need for the rhythm of work and rest that when Moses came down from the mountain with the 10 commandments chiseled into the tablets of stone, one of them, along with don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t lie, was to remember the sabbath. “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work but the seventh day thou shalt not do any work.” For the Jewish people ever since, you might say then, that to keep the sabbath is not just a good idea. It’s the law.
Indeed, to this day as the sun sets on Friday night, in Jewish homes all over the world, the mother will light candles, and offer prayer as family and friends gather for a meal. With prayers and singing and worship they will welcome Sabbath – holy time in which, for one day, they are willfully impervious to all the compulsions that drive the other six days, liberated from the need to produce, to accomplish, to do. Free to tune their lives to the great harmony of the universe and to God’s own heart and desires. Welcome Sabbath – a day to let the earth itself rest and with creation lie back in God’s arms and wonder and remember the sheer goodness at the heart of it all.
Someone once said that the world aches for the generosity of well-rested people. And that’s one reason for us to find some way to join God in soul-satisfying rest – in Sabbath. But I like the reason offered by Barbara Brown Taylor who imagines that the first question God will ask us when we get to heaven is not, “What did you get done on earth?” But rather, “Why didn’t you keep the sabbath? Why did you leave that gorgeous gift unwrapped?”
My prayer for you is that, at some point over the summer, you will unwrap that gorgeous gift.
As ever in prayer,
PS I’m unwrapping that gorgeous gift later this week for some time in Arizona with family, returning early August.