Keeping the Sabbath

Recently the sermon topic at church was “Keeping the Sabbath”.  In this sermon the pastor didn’t talk about Sunday being the Sabbath, or that we should spend Sunday in church, but rather he explained that Sabbath is a day of rest.  There was much more to it, of course, but  during the sermon, I started thinking about my personal Sabbath, and the idea of Sabbath, on a number of levels.

First, it’s interesting that we, as a society, are quite familiar with the idea of a sabbatical, which by definition is a break from work or a regular job to rest, do research, travel, etc. (  Even though sabbatical and Sabbath most likely come from the same root words, if someone uses the word Sabbath to refer to a day off, it often has negative connotations in our society – it sounds old fashioned, stodgy, or overly religious.  But we still value the idea of a sabbatical.  I even know of a few people who have been able to take sabbaticals from their jobs, and by that I mean more than just the usual 2 week vacation.

I understand that the idea of  Sabbath is Bible based and that it has many Judeao/Christian implications because the definition of Sabbath is a day of rest and worship, usually Saturday for the Jew and Sunday for the Christian (  However, just saying, “I’m taking a day off” doesn’t seem to carry the same kind of weight as the word Sabbath caries or implies.  It can be very difficult to explain the need for some quiet, rest, and time away from regular work, or “me-time” with out sounding selfish – especially in a society that prizes accomplishments and monetary gain.  We have been told for a long time that rest equals being lazy.

I struggle with this because my shop is not regularly open on Sunday.  Because I work Monday through Saturday, Sunday is my day of rest, of Sabbath, coincidentally the same day most associate with the word Sabbath.  But there is a growing number of people  who promote the idea that corporate (meaning everyone’s) convenience outweighs personal well being.  We’ve grown into this society that thinks we should be able to shop, play, or be entertained, when we want to do it, regardless of the day of the week or time of day; grocery stores are open 24 hours, retail establishments open 7 days a week, you can watch movies or TV “on demand”.  I’ve been told that by closing my shop 2 days a week (Sunday and Monday), I’m telling my customers that I don’t want to see them on the other 5 days?!

Back to the idea of resting, or keeping a Sabbath, at it’s basic form, the human body is a machine.  How many machines do you know that can run 24/7/365 with out breaking down prematurely?  I don’t see why we should be any different.  Some may argue that sleep is all the down time we need, but I see that as regular maintenance, like an oil change.  It keep things running smoothly, and prolongs the life of your car, but eventually the other parts will need replaced, regular maintenance, or will simply wear out.  Sleep isn’t the only way to maintain the highly functioning machine in which your soul is encased, you need awake rest too – a Sabbath.  (I’m sure there’s a bunch of scientific research out there on this topic, but I just didn’t have the time to research the subject deeply.)

Lastly, even in nature the idea of regular periods of rest is evident, especially this time of year.  In our area, Fall seems to be one of the most dramatic seasons of change.  If you’v never experienced the red of the sumac or maple, along with the yellows and oranges of the trees in the Fall, it’s hard to describe the brilliance and beauty of this natural phenomenon.  There are all sorts of scientific explanations regarding the reasons each year’s display can be vastly different from the previous years’ displays, and I’m sure there’s a reason for this year’s dramatic color changes.  But as the leaves change and signal the coming of winter, it also signals the coming of  a Sabbath for the Earth in our area; the trees and plants go dormant; critters hoard and prepare for hibernation; the gardens mostly stop producing; cats and dogs change their coats; and we start to migrate indoors and change or habits to acclimate to the changing temperatures and shorter days.

Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, it’s hard not to admit that this time of year is magical.  It’s easy for me to understand why so many people see Fall as a spiritual time of change, and renewal.  Everything needs a time of dormancy, a time to rest, and a chance to create the resources that will sustain it’s life though the busy and active growing seasons.  Fall offers me hope.  At this regular time of death and decay, Fall is the assurance that just as the critters are capable of hibernation and sustaining themselves through the winter, so too are we able to sustain ourselves through the harsh winter seasons of life by observing a Sabbath regularly.  I don’t care if you call it Sabbath, your day off, a weekly sabbatical, or human machine maintenance, you and I need it, and I’m going to continue taking it.  I hope you will too.