Oct 28 2012

Keeping a Sabbath

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…” Exodus 20:8

Although I am far from perfect, I generally do try to live my life in a way that honors God and that is true to the teachings of Scripture.  There is one area, however, in which I fail miserably over and over again.  And much to my shame, it is a big area.  It is, in fact, one of the Ten Commandments.  Even though I know better, I rarely honor the Sabbath as it is meant to be honored.  I have increasingly become convicted about this.  In an effort to help me move in the right direction I read two books this past week on the Sabbath, one by a Christian writer, the other by a Jewish scholar.  Both books proved to be very helpful.

The Christian book was Dr. Matthew Sleeth’s newest work, 24/6.  I have great admiration for Dr. Sleeth and for the work he and his wife, Nancy, do through their organization Blessed Earth.  I already knew that the Sleeths were serious about observing the Sabbath and this book tells the story of why they are and how they go about it.  Matthew does not believe that the “Sabbath” one observes has to be a particular day of the week, Saturday or Sunday.  What he does believe is that it is imperative that a person practice a “Stop Day” or Sabbath one day each week.  He emphasizes how observing a Sabbath is vital to one’s health—physically, spiritually, emotionally, and socially.  He notes, “Jumping off the hamster wheel once a week allows us to think about who we are, why we exist, and why we were made.”   Relying on his medical background, Dr. Sleeth clearly shows that we all need the rest that observing a Sabbath offers.  You might be surprised to discover all that he feels we need rest from.  I encourage you to take time to read 24/6.  You’ll find it to be informative, inspirational and fun.

The Jewish book I read was The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel.  For Heschel the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, Saturday.  This has long been the Jewish practice or understanding.  Heschel does a great job showing why the Sabbath is so important in Jewish life.  At one point he summarizes things by saying, “The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space.  Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time.  It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”   I learned a lot from Heschel’s small, but deep, book on the Sabbath.

About midway through his book Heschel says “The Sabbath is holy by the grace of God, and is still in need of all the holiness which man may lend to it.”  Both 24/6 and The Sabbath heightened my awareness of the need to do better in my own life.   Both books helped me better understand what a gift and blessing the Sabbath is and that we owe it to ourselves, to our world and most importantly to God to “keep” it.  Thus far I haven’t even come close to doing so.  I have sinned.  I rarely take a full day off and do not seem to know how to relax.  I have yet to master the spiritual discipline of stopping.  I know I need to do better and I want to do better.  Now if I can only muster the courage and discipline to actually do better.

–Chuck

(I took the three pictures above on my recent trip to the Great Plains.  The top two were taken at Custer State Park and the bottom one at Badlands National Park.)