I woke to a list of tasks and projects to complete – important, worthwhile, necessary duties.
But the Holy One said, “Rest.”
I argued. “Lord, I have to do this. I need to get that done. And the yard needs raking.”
“Stop!” the Lord said to me. Stop it.
So I turned on myself, flaying myself with guilt and shame. “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you get more accomplished?”
“Shabbat.” God said. Shabbat.
We drain ourselves with too much doing, striving, and succeeding. We push past our limits and strain our bodies and make ourselves sick. The neglected soul shrivels and turns dry and hard like the dusty, wrinkled slice of apple I swept up from under my table.
Shabbat or Sabbath means literally to stop. Interestingly, the Hebrew “Shabbat” sounds a little like “stop it.”
Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it. Exodus 20:8-11
What Israel learned from the fourth commandment is that Sabbath rest is an alternative to aggressive anxiety, writes Walter Brueggemann in Journey to the Common Good (pp 25-26) .
Most Christians think of Sabbath as a day of worship, which may actually turn into a day of production, activity, and achievement, as many clergy will tell you. Though church seemed long and boring to me as a child, endless Sunday afternoons at my Mennonite Grandmother’s home, sitting on a couch with prickly upholstery and listening to the clock tick was not an improvement. At least at church we had music. At grandma’s my brother and I itched and fidgeted to go outside and play.
However, at its origin, Sabbath was not about worship. Brueggemann continues, “It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being.”
To cease working for a day is an act of defiance in a godless system of aggressive production and accumulation. To keep Sabbath is an act of rebellion against Pharaoh’s kingdom of scarcity where there is never enough. To keep Sabbath is a statement of faith in the abundance and provision of the Kingdom of God, where sharing by all will mean scarcity for none. Finally, “to stop it” is an act of obedient trust in God’s goodness, as one rests and enjoys the wonder of all that God has made.
Recently, people, who come to me for spiritual guidance, seek not so much counsel or suggestions for how to pray, but, rather, the permission and opportunity to be still and rest in God.
A woman tells me, “I think what I need today is to just be quiet and for you to lead me in meditation.” A little music, Psalm 27, and an extended silence followed.
We sat together facing our internal distractions and anxious mental sorties away from our intention of presence to God. We calmed our fretful souls, and held ourselves steady before the voluminous mystery of love. Over time this Sabbath being, this doing nothing, will change the quality and the character of all our active doing. By disengaging from Pharaoh’s system of scarcity and anxiety, we root more deeply into the realm of the endless mercy and providence of the Holy One.
Here is a god, who had so much fun doing and creating that he took a day off in order to rest and delight in his own handiwork. Then God, tickled with himself, commanded all his creation, including livestock and resident aliens, to enter into the joy of such rest. “Go outside and play. Take a look at what a marvelous universe I have made. I can’t get over how wonderful it all is.”
As the woman, who needed rest, and I participated together in the wonder of the gift of our being, the silence thickened, ebbed and flowed, smooth as satin and softly throbbing. We drank deeply from that well. When the session came to an end, we drew back reluctantly from the living water.
“You were very thirsty?” I asked. Yes, she nodded.
“Me too.” I said.
Learn by little the desire for all things
which perhaps is not desire at all
but undying love which perhaps
is not love at all but gratitude
for the being of all things which
perhaps is not gratitude at all
but the maker’s joy in what is made,
the joy in which we come to rest.
May you discover the maker’s joy in your Sabbath rest.
“In returning and rest you shall be saved.
In quiet and trust shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30: 15
This is the second in a series of posts this year on
Isaiah 30:15. Read the first post on this verse here: Returning