My daughter and I stood in line, our reflections curved in the glass of the pastry case. It was Monday, back to work day for most, and the coffee shop was full. Retirees sat at big tables swapping stories and headphone wearing remote workers huddled in the corners, faces reflecting the blue hue of laptop screens. The man ahead of us came up to the cashier. They knew each other (this is the kind of place where half the people in the room know each other).
“How was your weekend?”
“Really busy. How about yours?”
That same exchange was probably being reflected a million times at that moment, around coffee shops or office Kuerigs or drive time cell conversations: How was your weekend? Busy.
The statement couldn’t have been in greater contrast to my Monday. My weekend was also busy because as someone in the church business Sunday is a workday and many Saturdays are as well. Monday, however, was a day for Sabbath. A time to resist the urge to work and spend time resting in the knowledge that God is God and my well-being doesn’t ultimately depend on my labor. That day my radius of travel would be small, my use of technology limited, my reading for pure pleasure. Our family would go for a long hike and spend as much time in nature as possible. It would be a day of delight and one that could in no way be called busy.
My wife and I started this practice of taking one day for rest and delight a few years ago when we welcomed our daughter into our life. It has remained a consistent practice for us, one that we fight for in our schedules. It is important for us as a family, but I have come to see this day of patient rest as an essential act for the world itself. The Sabbath is not a personal salvation, but a collective liberation. As Walter Bruggemann puts it in his beautiful book Sabbath as Resistance: Saying NO to the Culture of Now, “The Sabbath rest of God is the acknowledgement that God and God’s people in the world are not commodities to be dispatched for endless production…Rather they are subjects situated in an economy of neighborliness.”
We are in desperate need of such a reorientation. The creation itself is groaning from the commoditized reality that we’ve put onto the conveyer belts of endless production. We drive and run and rush. We are busy doing and in that process we don’t have time for even caring for our own homes or cooking our own food. A busy person is a consuming person. And yet our culture celebrates the busy, the worker, the doer even as our climate warms towards catastrophic levels all because we’ve been doing too much!I recently finished reading David Graeber’s incredible book, Debt: The First 5,000 years. Toward the end of the book Graeber offers this challenge to the standard narratives of American economic ideology:
I would like, then, to end by putting in a good word for the non-industrious poor. At least they aren’t hurting anyone. Insofar as the time they are taking off from work is being spent with friends and family, enjoying and caring for those they love, they’re probably improving the world more than we acknowledge. Maybe we should think of them as pioneers of a new economic order that would not share our current one’s penchant for self-destruction.
Graeber goes on to call for a “Biblical-style Jubilee”. Such a jubilee is rooted in the life of Sabbath. In fact so much of Jesus disdain for Sabbath rules was actually a result of his proclamation that the Kingdom of God had come, thus ushering in a universal state of Sabbath Jubilee. With Jesus everyday is to take on the nature of Sabbath. Just read Matthew Chapter 6:25-34–here is a call to Sabbath life.
By taking a day when we stick close to home, consume little or not at all, and delight in the creation, we are welcoming this Jubilee reality into our lives and training ourselves for the God’s Kingdom where the world will be marked by rest and rejoicing rather than labor.
So how do we practice this? A group called “Sabbath Manifesto” has interpreted the Jewish understanding of Sabbath for our time and I think it provides a good model. My wife and I have the Sabbath Manifesto core principles on our refrigerator. I encourage you to follow the link and do the same.
We need Sabbath and we need the changes the Sabbath will bring to our lives, personally and collectively. As Bruggemann says, “Sabbath is not simply a pause. It is an occasion for reimagining all of social life away from coercion and competition to compassionate solidarity. Such solidarity is imaginable and capable of performance only when the drivenness of acquisitiveness is broken…Sabbath is an invitation to receptivity, an acknowledgement that what is needed is given and need not be seized.”
Let us begin teaching and practicing such a reimagining.