Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On Keeping the Sabbath

I don't get to keep the Sabbath, because I work for a church. Sunday is my main day of work, the day when everything comes to a head and I'm rushing about trying to do 6 things at once and respond to 200 people as though I have time to truly see and hear them. It is intense, and not a day of rest for me.

You would think that I could just pick another day of the week to be my day off, but going into my third year of this, I can tell you that is far easier said than done. Whatever day I have picked has been eroded by slow encroachments. A meeting that could find no other time that worked for everyone, or a church related phone call made to my cell phone, an "emergency" email, or even just my own interest in a work project would serve to suck me into work on my day of "rest".

And then I have other work that takes over my day off - I usually still have to drive the kids to and from school and other activities, and I have to cook for the family, and a day off is the only good time to deep clean the house or do a home and garden project. When I attack my days off like that, actually just going to work at my office at church feels like a vacation from the "hard work" of being at home.

But, despite my demonstrated inability to actually do it, I do believe that there is a spiritual value to keeping the sabbath. Thinking about this problem, I have just read The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel. Although I am not Jewish and have never been particularly moved before by this theology, I found this book beautiful in every sense. It is beautifully written, with layers of metaphor and meaning and lovely prose, but it is also beautifully envisioned to begin with. Heschel argues that Judaism finds meaning not in space, and the material things that make up space, but in time and the eternity and spirit that imbues it. Time is its own phenomenon, separate from space and the events that occur in space in that time - time is eternal and holy.

"To Rabbi Shimeon eternity was not attained by those who bartered time for space but by those who knew how to fill their time with spirit. To him the great problem was time rather than space; the task was how to convert time into eternity rather than how to fill space with buildings, bridges, and roads; and the solution to the problem lay in study and prayer rather than in geometry and engineering."

I still don't know how I would keep a Sabbath day - it seems more practical to me to start out small with even a Sabbath evening or just a Sabbath Hour - but I have some new thoughts as to why I would want to. Time filled with spirit, rather than bartered for space or the material things is a moving goal.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for another good book recommendation! I love this: "the solution to the problem lay in study and prayer rather than in geometry and engineering."

    Sabbath is good. What I do personally is wish everyone a happy Sabbath on Sunday, and then model the practice of keeping a Sabbath myself on Monday. I always set it as a day "apart" from everything else, even though it doesn't always work out. I find I'm more protective of that time that way. Sometimes I know that when it all boils down, one hour is all I will have of "real" Sabbath, but I still block the day out in my calendar.

    I definitely come in and out of loyalty to this practice. When I am not keeping up with it, I find I lose my grounding so much more easily. It starts slowly and then whamo! One day it just feels like the weight of everything is too heavy.

    I have a friend who even does the whole "start at sun down the night before" thing. I really admire that. Maybe someday I'll figure out how to do that too.