Wednesday, February 20, 2013

keeping the Sabbath


Last night I gave a talk on the practice of Sabbath. While I was getting ready for that I looked through a number of resources, but one that I spent more time with than I expected and enjoyed more than I expected was Norman Wirzba's book Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight.

To keep people thinking about the topic and to share some things I didn't get in during the program last night, I wanted to offer a few quotations here from the book (and the book's preface by one of my favorite authors, Wendell Berry).

Wendell Berry opens the preface by describing the "industrial era" with its ideal of "ceaseless pandemonium."

... The industrial economy, by definition, must never rest. Rest would deprive us of light, heat, food, water, and everything else we need or thing we need. The economic impulse of industrial life (to stretch a term) is limitless. Whatever we have, in whatever quantity, is not enough. There is not such thing as enough. Our bellies and our wallets must become oceanic, and still they will not be full. Six workdays in a week are not enough. We need a seventh. We need an eighth... We need a job for the day and one for the night. Thank God for the moon! We cannot stop to eat. Thank God for cars! We dine as we drive over another paved farm. Everybody is weary, and there is no rest.
    To rest, we are persuaded, we must “get away.” But getting away involves us in haste, speed, and noise, the auxiliary pandemonium, of escape. There is, by the prevailing definition, escape, but there is no escape from escape. Or there is none unless we adopt the paradoxical and radical expedient of just stopping.

Sabbath, he says, is the answer. Berry puts it simply: "The requirement of Sabbath observance invites us to stop. It invites us to rest. It asks us to notice that while we rest the world continues without our help."

In the body of the book, Norman Wirzba argues that the call to Sabbath is a call to rest, delight, thanksgiving, and worship (see Exodus 20:8-11 and Psalm 92:1-4, "the Song of the Sabbath"). Ignoring that call is no small matter. “Our Sabbath commitment bears witness to whether or not we have brought our habits and priorities in line with the way and intentions of God.”

Like Berry, Wirzba thinks we need Sabbath as an alternative to a life under the constant stress of 'accomplishment' and 'productivity'. That's not the kind of life God intended for his creatures.

When we become Sabbath people, we give one of the most compelling witnesses to the world that we worship a God who desires our collective joy and good. We give concrete expression to an authentic faith that is working to deflate the anxious and destructive pride that supposes we have to “do it all” by ourselves and through our own effort.

Does the drive to complete tasks and accomplish things busy up your life? Have you ever given much thought to taking Sabbath time? What would you need to do in your life to set aside time to stop, rest, and delight?

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