Genesis 2: “And the heaven and the earth were finished, and all their myriads. And on the seventh day God finished His work, which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day… And God blessed the seventh day, and made it holy…”
This past week an English/Israeli philosopher friend of Paul’s and mine, Michael Kagan, led several salons at our house. One of the topics was on keeping the Shabbat, or Sabbath; a day for being not doing. He used several quotes from Genesis and Exodus to start the conversation. Here’s the other one, abridged:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath … in it you shall not do any manner of work…
I am not one to quote Bible verses, or to spend much time in any house of worship, but this conversation got me thinking.
August is our vacation. When I was growing up, my peers and their families took part of July and the entire month of August off, and most stores were closed every Sunday.
Vacations have grown shorter over the last half century as the drive to make money has increased. Where does time go? we ask ourselves as we check our iPhones for the tenth time, and rub our eyes. The weeks gallop by. Stores stay open seven days a week, and some are open 24/7. What happened to the Sabbath?
When my father was growing up his father read the Bible to the whole family every morning, and on Sundays after church they were expected to read quietly in their rooms and take walks as a family. Even doing homework was forbidden. It was truly a day for rest.
I was not raised this way, nor did Paul and I raise our sons to strictly observe the Sabbath. But when they were small we often remained home and they stayed in their pajamas all day. We did not stop all activity but we talked about the wisdom of setting aside one day a week for being, not doing. It’s not easy, and we don’t do it all the time, but here are my thoughts on the subject.
I will say up front, I don’t like being told what to do, and no amount of Bible study or Torah reading will change my stubborn resistance. However, if nature is a reflection of God, (or however you refer to some higher power), I take my lessons from the examples around me. If the Creator had meant there to be no rest, we would not need to sleep and there would be no night, winter, or ice ages. These examples from nature illustrate the importance of rest as a counterpoint to activity. Without time to germinate in the dark cold earth, most seeds would never grow.
How does this apply to us humans? Let’s start with our breath. Breathe out all the way and stop. Pause before inhaling all the way and stop again. Notice how the pause divides the exhalation from the inhalation. This happens most of the time without noticing. Our bodies mimic natural rhythms of nature in sunset and sunrise, between night and day, spring and fall, winter and summer. We are minute mirrors of the natural systems that support life on earth.
My stubborn side argues, “So, if we pause between each breath, why do we need to rest for a whole day each week? Each breath is a tiny Shabbat in every moment!” (If I had a tail to twitch at this moment, I would.)
I think about balance and paradox. The faster we breathe, the more we tire our bodies. The harder we work, the more we need to rest. The more we give of ourselves to others, the more we need to replenish ourselves inside. The paradoxes of life are fascinating.
Imagine if … for one day a week we did no emails or phone calls, didn’t drive, and resisted the temptation to shop for even a quart of milk. Imagine if instead we slept late, read a book, meditated, talked with our partner or child, or took a walk with a friend. How would the rest of our week go?
There’s an old adage, “Go slow to go fast.” A weekly day of rest is an opportunity for just that. While it might not always be possible, I propose we stop working 24/7 and change it by one number, to 24/6.
What are your feelings about taking one day a week for being not doing?