In the Jewish tradition Sabbath is the observance of a weekly day of rest rooted in the biblical account of God’s day of rest after the creation of the heavens and the earth. For thousands of years, the Sabbath has been considered a celebratory day when the Jewish people (including Jesus and all the early disciples) set aside a day free from the relentless day to day labors of living to contemplate the spiritual aspects of life and to spend time with the people they love. It traditionally begins 20 minutes before sunset on Friday and lasts through Saturday dinner. This weekly day of rest honors the 4th of the Ten Commandments “to keep the Sabbath holy” by holding one day free of work, not necessarily to please or appease God but rather to remember that God knows us better than we know ourselves and knows better what we need because God designed us. God knew for us to live “optimal” lives as human beings, we needed time to rest. Just like a flower needs sun, water and light, so too human beings need downtime, silence, and human connection.
Wayne Muller in his book entitled Sabbath writes “Our culture consistently assumes that action and accomplishment are better than rest; that doing something – anything- is better than doing nothing. Because of our desire to succeed, to meet these ever-growing expectations, we do not rest. Because we do not rest, we lose our way. We miss the compass point that would show us where to go, we bypass necessary nourishment. We miss the quiet that would give us wisdom.”
Thomas Merton says “The most pervasive form of contemporary violence is overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form of violence. To allow ourselves to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit ourselves to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything…is to succumb to violence.”
Sabbath honors the necessary wisdom of dormancy. If certain plant species do not lie dormant for winter, they will not bear fruit in the spring. If this continues for more than a season, the plant begins to die. If dormancy continues to be prevented, the entire species will die. A period of rest in which nutrition and fertility are most readily absorbed is a spiritual and biological necessity. A lack of dormancy produces confusion and an erosion of life.
We, too, must have a period in which we lie fallow, and restore our souls. “In Sabbath time we remember to celebrate what is beautiful and sacred; we light candles, sing songs, tell stories, eat, nap, and make love. It is a time to let our work lie fallow, to be nourished and refreshed. Within this sanctuary, we become available to the insights and blessings of deep mindfulness that arise only in stillness and time.” (Muller) The Kingdom of God is built one relationship at a time – especially with those who are closest to us – and attention is a form of love. When we act from a place of deep rest, we are more aware, more capable of right understanding, right action, right effort, and right relationship.
So, observing the Sabbath, or taking a day of rest, isn’t really a suggestion from God, or an option…it’s a commandment. One of the big ten – right up there with “thou shall not kill” – not because God is controlling, but rather because God knew from our beginnings that this kind of rest was critical to our well-being and the continuance of our species. We need Sabbath time to absorb the vital nourishment of silence and connection that bring meaning and joy to our lives. This is how we are designed. Just like a car needs oil, humans need weekly rest and relationship.