Is It Sabbath, If It’s Not on My Schedule?

By Rox Thompson

Admittedly, I cannot take credit for the title of this blog, Is it Sabbath if it’s not on my schedule? I first pondered on this question when a community member in my small group raised it during Week 4 of class, Spirituality for the Contemporary World. Since hearing it, however, I’ve adopted the question and personalized it. 

Reflecting, I’ve always interpreted Sabbath as a break from the routine of things so that you may restore, so that you may replenish, so that you may become anew.  

Said differently, to Sabbath is to cease what you are doing. So what does Sabbath intend to bring to an end for the human body? Answering the question, I contend that Sabbath wants to stop the depletion of our bodies made stressed with life’s challenges, made weakened by systems of oppression, and made complex by indiscernible targets. Sabbath then is the coveted restoration.

Marjorie Thompson captures Don Postema’s view of the Sabbath in her book Soul Feast, where he says Sabbath “is no longer possible to prescribe one way to keep the Sabbath holy and wholly.” I lean in on Postema’s keen observation of the wholly being impossible to meet on the basis that depletion of the body occurs at different times for each person simply because we are individuals. Thus, our physically and mentally diminished bodies may occur by Wednesday afternoon for me and Saturday midday for you. Still for another, on Thursday night, and yet another, Sunday morning. Thus, it suffices to say that collective Sabbath or collective ceasing is complex and not a prescription quickly filled.

To that end, if Sabbath is truly the replenisher of broken bodies, and stressed minds, then it needs to come or occur as it is required, as they are depleted.  

In the same chapter titled “Reclaiming Sabbath Time,” Thompson compares secular rhythms and sacred rhythms. She uses the analogy to point out that our lives move from work to play or vocation in the secular rhythms. Paradoxically, it is the reverse in sacred rhythms, where the Sabbath moves to vocation first. Where did we go wrong in our contemporary adaptation of the Sabbath?

Still, beginning with the Roman Empire and adaptation by various faith traditions, coupled with Henry Ford’s workweek definition, we are stuck with a prescribed Sabbath day on Sunday. Sunday for collective Sabbath hasn’t worked for a long time, and more and more people find the prescription a hard pill to swallow. Say nothing about the Christian lived experience of the Sabbath as Christians are not keeping the Sabbath when they worship on Sunday wholly. Think about it, lay leaders and pastors; Sunday is their big day, the main event. As paid employees for most congregations, they are at work on the Sabbath. Using this example, it would make sense that the pastor’s Sabbath or her rest day is on Monday.

Sabbath is a chance for a fresh beginning, but collectively, we cannot all rest simultaneously when we are in motion at various times. Who would fly the plane to take you on that well-deserved vacation, who would conduct the emergency appendectomy for the seventeen-year-old boy, who would rescue the family from the fire? While these examples seem extreme, we all know someone who needed those services on a Sunday and would hate if the skilled people were rendered unavailable because of the collective Sabbath.

I want to be restored and take my break when my body calls for it, when my overtaxed mind no longer thinks clearly, and when nightly sleep alone is not enough. Honestly, we lived in a household of six, which essentially meant six schedules. It also meant six different ways to Sabbath.

What counted for restorative experience was so varied. I like cooking a cuisine that is not of my own and long drives. My husband enjoys visits to specialty gardens.  

Sabbath requires surrender of the body and the mind, allowing connection and intimacy with God and our reflective selves. To deny ourselves this time is risky as it is a gift, but I contend that a prescribed rest or Sabbath is even more dangerous given our contemporary lives. Most are like not to take advantage of this much-needed time for the flourishing of our lives.

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