Christianity grew out of Judaism. It didn’t replace it but, largely unknown to ourselves, we inherited much of Judaism’s biblical insights and traditions. The idea of the Sabbath is a case in point that I find to be enriching.
The Jewish Sabbath is about rest. ‘Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God: you shall not do any work…. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and all that is in them, and he rested on the seventh day….’ Read the rest of it in Exodus 20.
To allocate 7% of our weekly waking hours to just resting, to not doing anything useful or productive, may seem counter-cultural because being busy is how our culture measures worth. Since my retirement and return to Ireland I take a devilish delight in telling people who ask if I’m ‘keeping busy’ that I’m not busy at all. I’m usually rewarded by a quizzical “Oh!!??”
For hundreds of millions of people, busyness is the only way they know how to live. I suspect that many busy people cannot tell the difference between relaxation and narcolepsy, because the minute they sit down in a quiet place alone, they nod off. It’s fine as long as they understand that their nodding off is the result of constant and chronic tiredness, a condition that’s unhealthy.
Swiss theologian Karl Barth once said, “You are free only to the extent that you can determine the limit of your activity.” Saying ‘no’ is a difficult spiritual practice. More difficult than visiting the sick or hopping out of bed before the rooster is even awake. Saying no is about being free to be busy or not to be busy, depending. That’s the question!
Try saying no for one whole day in the week: to work, to business, to the Internet, to the car, to travel, to the inner voice that keeps whispering, ‘More.’ Make ‘More God’ the only thing on your list. Visit a church somewhere for twenty minutes or so in the morning. Then read a good book for an hour or two. Then make a tasty sandwich or salad for lunch. Then take a nap, and a long leisurely walk. By sunset, you will have experienced a real Sabbath rest.
Scripture sees Sabbath as a necessary component of healthy and wholesome living. We really don’t need the Self-Help shelf to tell us that, though it’s a good reminder. Contemplative monks have known about it for centuries. I feel non-monks, the likes of you and me, are gradually waking up to what has been in our tradition for millennia.
Fr. QQ 25/2/17