Today is my sabbath day. I suppose I could call it a day off were I not so pathologically unique. But calling it a sabbath day reminds me that a day of rest is a commandment an not an employee benefit. I have tow friends who work shifts in factories and for whom a full day off is something life has not made possible for them. And we often talk about that and how they find sabbath in day-segments. My friend Marie, who works a night shift at a chicken processing factory gets Tuesdays off from 2:00 – 5:00. She goes to her local museum and looks at art. It’s not a full day, but it is a time of deep rest and joy. She sketches paintings and then uses pastels latest night when the kids go to be to re-create them. That too is sabbath time, says she. We do what we can.
Sabbath is a wonderful thing. It is rest. Sure. But it is also a reminder that life does not depend on us working. Sabbath is a reminder that we are not the center of the universe but that the God who, well, is the Center of the Universe, would like a word.
The value of making a sabbath is that we stop and listen. Interestingly, the church has long -used the word “make” for both Sabbath and retreat. I think it is because a great sabbath is something we create – we make. We construct a time of rest even if the rest is a marathon TV afternoon or a morning hike. We make it happen. We plan it and we make it.
When I was a monk, the Rule of Life we lived by had a chapter on Sabbath. I find it helpful as I try to follow this elusive commandment in such a work-addicted society.
Rest and Recreation
The hallowing of rest and the keeping of sabbath is an essential element in our covenant with God. The one who can find no happiness except in ceaseless work is afraid to be still and know that the Lord alone is God. If we find ourselves filling leisure time with tasks, we can be sure that we have begun to imagine that our worth consists in what we accomplish. When we regularly cease from our labor and enjoy rest as a holy gift, we can grow in trust that our worth in God’s sight lies simply in our very being, clothed with Christ.
In the culture in which we live the pressures to be busy all the time are intense, and it is a true ascetic endeavor to resist them in obedience to God. The Church itself is in constant danger of adapting to a culture of hyperactivity and stress. We have a particular call to resist this conformity and to bear witness before the world to the graciousness and wisdom of the sabbath. Our faithfulness will show itself in our attention to the needs of the body and spirit for sleep and rest. Our life is demanding and we must recognize how much power goes out of us in our ministry. By taking rest we show that we accept our creaturely need for replenishment and restoration as Jesus did.
Our ministries of hospitality, preaching, liturgy and retreat direction mean that Sunday usually makes many demands on our energies. Although the Lord’s day itself cannot be our actual day of rest, we should seek through our prayer on Sunday to lift up our hearts in the joy of the resurrection. Because our rest comes on another day of the week, it is all the more important to recall the sacredness of sabbath time.
The ways each of us will enjoy our sabbath day will be many and varied, but each of us will need to distinguish between leisure that is genuinely recreative and the drifting which comes from sloth. Our day of rest gives us the opportunity to refresh and deepen our friendships. It enables us to play and exercise and enjoy the use of our senses. It opens a space for music, art, entertainment and particular pursuits and hobbies. The fruits of our leisure time will prove whether we have hallowed or profaned our sabbath. If we have kept it holy we will resume our daily life reinvigorated and restored to ourselves. If we have wasted our leisure, we may find our day off leaving us with a sense of dullness and a residue of fatigue. We can help one another use our leisure time well by taking care not to give one another needless tasks on our day of rest.
Holy rest has its place in the rhythm of each day as well as the week. Those who reserve a time each day for some leisure that brings composure and refreshment set a good example for all the brothers to follow. The sabbath commandment is also a guide for our well-being in the longer view. We shall endeavor to provide opportunities for special times of renewal from time to time, especially when a brother has had some years of hard work in a particular ministry.
In each house of the Society the brothers shall gather regularly to enjoy conversation in a relaxed atmosphere. All should participate so that the common life may be strengthened.