Remembering the sabbath and restoring our rhythm

If it signified human control over the world through the exercise of intelligence and skill, or human power over nature, then it was work which violated the restful intent of Sabbath.

I’m writing this while eating my lunch—a prime example of what I was decrying in my first Sabbath spirituality article: the serious disruption to our natural rhythm of work and rest due to the demands of our 21st century lives.

Remembering the sabbath and restoring our rhythm Archdiocese of Wellington Furthermore, I’ve totally ignored what I wrote in the second article about imitating a God who took a well-earned rest! In this final article I will suggest practical ways of rediscovering the biblical tradition of sabbath so that we can restore our rest/work rhythm and deepen our appreciation of what it means to be made in the image of God, who stopped work after six days and rested.

Sabbath is more than the absence of work. It’s not a day off to catch up on all the domestics, etc. It’s a time for sacred rest individually, as a family or as a community. For Christians it can be the first day of the week but it can also be an afternoon, an hour, or even something as simple as a Sabbath walk.

As the NZ bishops say:
This ‘time out’ from our clock-regulated pattern of existence is not to be thought of as an escape from social duties and responsibilities. It is in fact a minimum requirement for renewed commitment.

Jesus reminds us that ‘life is more than food, and the body more than clothing’ (Matthew 6:25). There are dimensions to our humanity beyond the demands and enticements of the marketplace that are necessary for the fullness of life.

Here are seven suggestions beginning with ‘s’ for a simple, sustainable Sabbath spirituality:
Sort out where your treasure is and spend quality time with them. Make them your priority now. Don’t wait until you’re not so busy. Enjoy their love, friendship and support. Let them renew you. Let the world stand still for a while. The given moment is the only time we can meet God—the God who comes to us through others.

Seek out one of your ‘captives’ and set them free or cancel a debt someone owes you. In the biblical tradition, Sabbath rest had to be granted to others—strangers, prisoners, animals, the land itself. Surprisingly, slowing down and turning inwards can make us more inclusive of others.

Slow down, stop and rest with God. It may be for only a couple of minutes initially. (Jesus was probably following Sabbath principles when he invited his disciples to find their rest in him.) Sink into the silence and stillness and hear the patterns of natural sounds—birds, rain, wind. Listen for the voice of God who spoke to Elijah in ‘a tiny whispering sound ‘(I Kings 19:12).

Start praying the place. We pray the rosary, the Our Father, the creed. Why not the ‘place’? With Moses we stand on holy ground. Tap into the God who ‘lurks everywhere’ as Andrew Greeley reminds us. This fundamental Catholic instinct insists that the Holy haunts the ordinary, the everyday, the everywhere. Imagine your street is like a great cathedral. Attend to its colours, smells, textures, sounds.

Surround yourself with celebratory experiences. Isaiah says ‘Call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable’ (58:13). Enjoy a meal prepared with love and eaten slowly. Learn to celebrate the little things in life as often as possible. Take delight in simple pleasures. Seize the day.

Steep yourself in the Sunday liturgy. Try to be totally present both to what is taking place and to the community gathered with you. Participate fully, actively and consciously as Vatican II urges us. Give yourself enough time to really arrive and take your time leaving. During the Babylonian captivity Sabbath worship was a way of reminding the Hebrew people of their identity as God’s chosen people in a foreign land. Ponder your Catholic identity in this particular parish.

Say ‘no’ to something that either causes stress (another task/request/rushed meal/purchase) or feeds addictions (alcohol/gambling/computer games/text messages/emails). Because Sabbath was to provide rest for humans and animals, particular types of work were forbidden, eg, gathering wood (Num 15:32), unnecessary movement from place to place (Exod 16:29) and engaging in business (Amos 8:5). The principle used to determine which work was forbidden related to its purpose. If it signified human control over the world through the exercise of intelligence and skill, or human power over nature, then it was work which violated the restful intent of Sabbath. In keeping the Sabbath the people recognised their dependence on God as the ultimate creator and sustainer.

By means of these seven very simple practices we can begin to find the balance between work and rest. Through deliberate and careful attention we will develop a sabbatical ‘habit’—a natural way of being in time that allows us to loiter reflectively and attend to our daily rhythms of work and rest. This sabbatical ‘habit’ will prevent both overwork and mindless escape; enable quality time with family, friends and communities; ensure the ‘land of our bodies’ lies fallow; guarantee a contemplative attitude so that we can see God in all things; and finally prepare us for an eternal Sabbath—an eternity of resting in God.