Proper 13, Year B
August 5, 2018
We have reached week three of our three-part series on Sabbath. We began by hearing Jesus call to each of us to “come away and rest awhile.” We explored how engaging in Sabbath rest can begin to change our relationship to time—reminding us we are not indispensable. However, Sabbath rest doesn’t just happen. It requires intentionality in the midst of a world committed to “busyness.” It also requires mindfulness, in particular being mindful and aware of those things which can pull us away from Sabbath rest, be they errant shoes that need to be put away, emails from colleagues awaiting a response, an un-mowed lawn, or the siren call of social media.
So, as promised, today we will dive deeper into the nitty-gritty details of Sabbath rest. How do we start a Sabbath practice? Are there things we are not permitted to do or that we can do on Sabbath?
There are myriad resources available on Sabbath from many different perspectives, from Orthodox Jewish to Evangelical Christian and everything in between. If this topic has peaked your interest, I’d encourage you to explore it more deeply from various perspectives. There is one resource I’ve found particularly helpful and I would commend it to everyone. “Sabbath in the Suburbs,” by MaryAnn McKibben Dana has proven to be an accessible and down-to-earth approach to Sabbath observance. Today’s “tips” come largely from MaryAnn’s text—which is available in our parish library.
So let’s dive in…
Tip #1: Begin by defining your boundaries.
As we discussed in week two, Sabbath begins with intentionality and intentionality necessitates boundaries. Boundaries, however, do not have to be brick walls—unbending and solid. They can be like the coastline, as MaryAnn describes in her book—always present, but shifting as the water and the sand move against one another, making adjustments as needed and as each requires.
MaryAnn offers a helpful list of questions to consider to help us get started defining the boundaries of Sabbath. They include…
- How long will the Sabbath be?
- Will the Sabbath be the same day each week? We in the Christian faith traditionally engage in Sabbath on Sunday, in Judaism its Saturday, in Islam, Friday. But perhaps Tuesday works better for you?
- Will Sabbath move each week?
- If the time frame needs to shift, when and how will that be decided?
- How will the Sabbath time begin? With the lighting of a candle? A ringing bell? A time of silence?
- How will the Sabbath end?
And perhaps the most important and most challenging question,
- What is work? What should we be ceasing from?
One suggestion MaryAnn offers as a place to begin regarding the question of “work,” is to choose to refrain from any activity that changes your environment. For one day, we allow things to be as they are, for better or for worse, and appreciate them for what they are in that moment—just as God did on the seventh day of Creation. So we choose to walk past the errant shoes sitting on the staircase, enjoy the feeling of the tall grass between our toes instead of pulling out the lawnmower, and leave the email for another day.
Or, what if we never knew the email was there to begin with. One of the other great Sabbath questions to consider is “What do we do with technology?”
Technology is a wondrous thing and it can also leave us feeling over-stimulated and exhausted. The ability of technology, particularly our smart phones and tablets, to draw us farther away from Sabbath rest and deeper into conflict and busyness of the mind is insidious. We don’t even notice its happened until we emerge from behind our screens feeling exhausted and anxious.
I would encourage you to give deep and serious consideration to practicing a “screen-free Sabbath.” No phone, no IPad or Kindle, no computer, and perhaps even no TV. Allow your heart and mind space away from the constant influx of information and so that you might simply be.
This feels incredibly challenging in our world of constant information—“What if something happens and I don’t know!”
Well…what if something does happen and you don’t know? If it’s an emergency directly related to you, a friend or a family member, I guarantee people will find you. If it’s something in the world, would it really be a problem if you don’t know until tomorrow?
OK, so we’ve got some boundaries around when and how—we know what we AREN’T going to do, but what ARE we going to do?
Tip #2: Let delight be your guide
What delights you? Do you know? Can you name it?
Sabbath is a space custom-made for following our delight. Allow delight to be your guide and give yourself permission to do the things that bring you joy or to experiment with things you think might bring you joy.
Always wanted to try your hand at bread baking—find a simple recipe and dig in. Love to read—grab your favorite book and immerse yourself in it. Feeling tired—curl up on the couch and take a good nap. After all, Sabbath rest is about rest as well.
Sabbath is also an opportunity for those of us with children to explore what brings them delight. Encourage them to try their hand at activities that don’t require a screen (riding a bike, reading a book, playing a card game) but also to notice if they truly enjoyed that activity. By helping them explore what brings them delight, we can help establish a pattern of Sabbath that will bring rest not only to the adults in the family, but also to our over-stimulated and often over-committed children.
Following our delight also means asking the question, “Is what I’m doing still bringing me delight?” Has what began as a time to play in the garden shifted away from delight as the day progresses, and become “yard work?” If the answer is “yes,” then it’s time to stop, and follow your delight in a new direction.
Which brings us to our Tip #3: Explore being unintentional
It can be easy to fill Sabbath up with as many activities as a regular day—but that isn’t what Sabbath is about. Remember, Sabbath means STOP! So give yourself over to unintentionality—trust the boundaries you’ve created and allow the day to take you where it will. You may be surprised where you end up.