Day 16 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.
Taking a Sabbath day is challenging. During some seasons, I’ve had a consistent practice, but much of my life, I have not.
My earliest practice was patterned on the Jewish Shabbat which drew upon the tradition of a Friday preparation, and a complete ceasing (shabbat means to cease) from labor, technology, and consumerism on Saturday. I lived in an intentional community at the time and while my housemates did not practice with me, their presence and encouragement helped me stay consistent. Ironically, this season of practice ended when I took a church staff position.
Another season, I was a teaching assistant for a course on Sabbath, co-taught by a Roman Catholic scholar and an Orthodox rabbi. A highlight of this era was visiting the Jewish community on campus and experiencing their lovely prayer and celebration at the start of Shabbat.
Finally, this past year, I’ve set aside a few hours on Friday or Saturday each week to visit Sinsinawa Dominican Convent. A friend and student at UDTS committed to do this with me, and it has been a wonderfully regular (but not perfect) practice each week.
All of these expressions of the practice have a common characteristic: community.
So often we berate ourselves for not maintaining our formative disciplines, but in truth, many spiritual practices require support from a practicing community to remain vibrant and nourishing.
Sabbath was one of those practices from the beginning, starting with God resting on the seventh day.
God wrote Sabbath into the fabric of the universe and made the community of creation the locus of its practice.
As an expression of it’s centrality to relationship with God and creation, the Lord of the Sabbath made ceasing-from-labor one of the ten commandments. God even expected the farm animals to have a day off each week and the land to be allowed to rest every seventh year.
Creation is restored by rest, both by physical rest, and by abiding in Jesus, our Sabbath Rest (Hebrews 4:9).
What does this mean for those of us who long to practice this rhythm, yet feel alone and fully immersed in the frenetic pace of 24/7 society?
First, God is our community. God meets us in our rest, whether we are absolutely consistent on observing it, or inconsistent. God meets us exactly where we are: I may set an intention for Sabbath, and miss the mark 9 out of the 10 times. God meets me in that first time, and also walks with me even in those 9 times when choices and circumstances get in the way.
Second, we can cultivate communities of Sabbath to reinforce our practice and encourage others. Find others who long for this practice in their lives–friends, colleagues, or family members, and be resolute. In my weekly practice of going to the convent, my friend and I remind each other, sometimes pull each other along. Observing Sabbath time with at least one other person helps with follow-through.
Finally, discuss the possibility of a church-wide focus on Sabbath, encouraging the community to consider how Sabbath might be practically lived out as part of life together.
Reflection on a community Sabbath would start extremely important conversations on how to support those among us who care for family members and never have opportunities for respite. It would also bring to light the situations of those who must work multiple jobs and long hours to make ends meet. I’m convinced that if church communities truly take on Sabbath, then all people, all creation, would have the regular chance to cease their labor.
How might Sabbath be practiced in your current season of life or in your community? How do you experience the Lord of the Sabbath resting with you as you rest from work?