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?
You are THE BEST!
All good wishes to you and P and the elegant young men!
We miss being in Maine…and seeing YOU!
Alas! Mimi’s wound on her ankle will not heal!!!
But – Mimi will get better! (soon!).
Dear Joseph, We are sending prayers your way. So sorry not to see you up here. Blessings, Eileen
I love this. Just beeing and not doing sounds great to me. Beeing only for my family / three kids. Experiencing only mutual love. Relax, love and joy!
Thank you 🙂
God bless you! Best wishes’
Blessings to you Christina!
Shelley and I just got back from a wonderful trip to South Africa, where she taught some classes in Capetown and Zambia where we went from three different camps on safaris. Both parts of the trip were stunning—the most sobering was a visit to Mandela’s cell on Robben Island and a half day tour in a Township led by a guide who was born and raised there. After the safaris, the last three days were spent at a beautiful and unpretentious resort on the Zambezi River. Yes, two visits to Victoria Falls to see the magnificence of nature (as if seeing elephants and lions, leopards and buffalo, zebras, impalas and giraffes wasn’t magnificent enough!). But the last day we just rested…. Needed it to appreciate the gratitude we felt.
all the best to you and yours
What an amazing sounding trip Paul. So much to be inspired by. All the best to you and Shelley. Eileen
Really resonated with your blog today, Eileen, as I just finished reading Wayne Muller’s book, “Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives.” In it he says: In today’s world, with its relentless emphasis on success and productivity, we have lost the necessary rhythm of life, the balance between work and rest. Constantly striving, we feel exhausted and deprived in the midst of great abundance. We long for time with friends and family, we long for a moment to ourselves.
We need not even schedule an entire day each week. Sabbath time can be a Sabbath afternoon, a Sabbath hour, a Sabbath walk. With wonderful stories, poems, and suggestions for practice, his book teaches us how we can use this time of sacred rest to refresh our bodies and minds, restore our creativity, and regain our birthright of inner happiness.
A week ago Sunday, I had to put down my beloved pup, Sweetie Sue and my kitty, Snookie. They were both old and ailing. I kept Sweetie Sue alive for over a year with special diets, diapers and lots of TLC. But I could not reverse her aching spine, hind legs and growing years. Nor could I cure Snookie’s thyroid problem. In the end, they went, together, over the Rainbow Bridge.
This week, I’m taking time to rest at home. Doing a meditation retreat online and with friends, as a group, by phone. Resting, reading, writing, remembering. . . the many moments of closeness, the many romps, walks, picnics and pleasures we shared. Photos help as do poems. We need to take time in AND, out of our busy lives, and take care of our hearts, our bodies, our spirits and our Selves. Yesterday Robin Williams took his life. In homage to him, let us remember to breath life into ours and remember the Sabbath.
Dear Phyll, I’m so sorry to hear about Sweety Sue and Snookie. I know how much you loved them. May the memories hold you tight, and bring smiles, even through your loss. And yes, I am in mourning over Robin Williams’ death too. Such a huge loss to the world, and especially to his family. Big hugs, Eileen
Eileen, I love this. It stimulated a lot of thought and reflection about the choices I make.
It also reminded me of a recent visit to the Boston Museum of Science where we saw the Dead Sea
Scrolls. I was surprised to read this English translation:
“Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you.
Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God;
you shall not do any work on it—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or
your ass, or any of your cattle, or the stranger in your settlements, so that your male and female slave
may rest as you do. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the LORD your God freed
you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God has
commanded you to observe the Sabbath day to sanctify it. For in six days the Lord made heaven and
earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the
Sabbath day to sanctify it.”
Isn’t it curious that in the King James Bible and as well as in modern versions of the Ten Commandments,
no mention is made of God’s guidance about the proper treatment of slaves. How many pious slave
owners insisted that their slaves not work on the Sabbath? How did it come to pass that these phrases
came to be omitted and fell into obscurity? What does that tell us?
I am left puzzled. Does this mean that God did not consider slavery an abomination? Or does it mean
that God changes his values as humans evolve as a society? Do these ancient texts reveal the
words of God? Or are they only of historical significance?
Steve, you raise a really important point. In the Exodus Version that we used in the salon, it only said “man-servant” and “maid-servant” but not “slave”. It’s shocking to me to think how many untold people today are still enslaved, both literally and figuratively. One reason to have a day a week of rest is to give ourselves time to reflect on the ills of society and what we humans are doing to contribute to them or aid in their healing. Thanks so much for your comment. I’ll show it to Paul, who will be very interested as well. love to you and Joanne.
Thanks, Eileen, for your response.
I worried that my comments about the Dead Sea Scrolls was so off-point that it was a distraction from your beautifully articulated essay. I read your blog frequently and I find it very nourishing to my soul. And I aspire to introduce more rest and reflection on Shabbat in the future. I could start with setting aside time for a walking meditation as a start.
From what you said about the Genesis translation used in your salon discussion, it suggests that the interpretation with regard to slaves is subject to the potential biases or distortion introduced by the translator. We need a biblical scholar, an archeologist and an anthropologist to weigh in. I wonder if the translation of “slaves” means people who were like slaves in Egypt. If it is the same word in Aramaic in both locations in Genesis and Exodus, that would be meaningful. I don’t recall ever being at a Seder where the leader said: “When we were man-servants in Egypt…” 😉
I LOVE this post! The paradoxes of life are indeed fascinating. It’s tricky. Like The Matrix, we can easily get caught up in thinking we are making greater progress by doing versus being. I have certainly found that the greatest moments in my life have been facilitated by the synchronicity of the universe and NOT my greatest EFFORT. I think it’s a matter of letting go and trusting -ALL IS WELL and Is Unfolding according to DIVINE ORDER. Thanks for the reminder – I feel my shoulders relaxing as I’m typing. Mindfulness!
I’m going to take a break now, just reading about your break from typing! Thank you for the reminder Tonja. And yes, things do happen according to divine plan. warmly, Eileen
Hooray for the “twitching tail,” this is my FAVORITE of your blog posts yet, Eileen. Considering its hard for us humans to give/take one full day of Sabbath rest weekly…
I wonder if Sabbath might be shifting to be more like breadth, taken @ regular, frequent intervals of shorter duration:
– the collective pause before a meal;
– expression of gratitude;
– a smile/helping hand…
Unplugged & connecting:human to _______(whatever: human, nature, spirit) – that’s where it happens; and reflecting on our family traditions and verse from various “good books.” Write-on!
Thanks Sue. I love the idea of breadth and pause in every day. And I think that we still need a whole day a week, but the twitching cat’s tail in me is skeptical if I’ll be very consistent, even with the best of intentions! Purring to you! Eileen
What a lovely reminder of the ancient wisdom in each of us
Thanks Clare. If you’re going to be up in Maine this month, please give me a call. We can have a pause together! love, Eileen
Hi Eileen. I have many feelings about the wonder of creation and loved rereading Genesis– God’s creations reign supreme. Oh, the descriptions and the trying to decide which days are one’s favorites! The journey of religion in one’s life is an unfolding story.
Do I think a “Day of Rest” is important. Not exactly… I prefer to think that rest is an essential part of life and each of us has to figure out how to rest. Your thoughts are helpful. My remedies for rest are shared by many– handiwork, gardening, music, talking to family and friends, sharing an enthusiasm, giving, singing and reading a prayer book…
Writing on your online book blog each week provides rest which is to say your objectives are being “met” ! Healing and wisdom go hand in hand. Ancient worlds, modern worlds were
driven to communicate. I am fascinated people by the paradoxes expressed in all disciplines.
The salon is fun and seems to thrive through time.
HAPPY VACATION. I am dying to get out of the house, la maison.
hi Elaine, I like hearing about your many ways to rest. I share many of them – all but the prayer book actually, and that’s only because I’m leary about books that might tell me what to do! But I know there is much wisdom and beauty in them, as evidenced by the passages chosen by our friend Michael Kagan. I hope you get out of the house and enjoy some of your passions.
Wonderful idea! Keep in touch with yourself and loved ones and take a break from computers, internet, social media, etc. (tall order). Quiet is restorative.
Yes. It’s amazing how hard it is to make myself quiet, but when I get there, it’s SO worth it. Do you find the same? Thanks for writing.
It is worth it! Every afternoon I turn on soothing music, turn off the bright lights, and read. The dogs, even the new puppy, seem to welcome the quiet time.
Oh my goodness, when I saw the beautiful photo and the scripture quotes, I was delighted. I must confess, as a Christian, I am not sure what “salons” are, but eager to learn.
I chuckled when you mentioned being stubborn. Aren’t we all! The question is to what degree?
When you spoke of your grandfather reading the Bible to his family, and the rest of his faith traditions, my heart was shining. If only I had a grandfather like that. The one grandfather I knew and loved, I was told later in life, was an atheist. I understand that we are not to judge, but to show compassion and love.
The Sabbath in modern day, has been one of controversy, for sure. Yes, I believe we should keep it as the Creator planned. May it be drawing closer to our Lord, spending time with family, enjoying the magnificent nature surrounding us, visiting someone in need, or just plain rest.
Thank you for each and every blog you have taken the time to write. They are extremely introspective, interesting, and have helped me stretch my mind to go deeper.
Have a wonderful Sabbath day!
Love and Blessings, Judy
Your words are so encouraging Judy. Thank you for sharing your response to my post 24/6. I love hearing from and talking with people from so many backgrounds and religious persuasions. If God had not intended for their to be diversity, I suppose there would be only one kind of tree, and one species of bee. How lucky are we that He has regaled us with so much diversity!
Thank you, for your thoughtful response to me.
Loved your words. As my father-in -law, Ham would say, “We need to slow down to catch up.”
I so wish we could go back to things closed on Sundays. Even being in the “tourist business” it would cut into our income. It would be okay, families would have more family time. The Sunday dinner, where children and grandchildren get together and enjoy a meal. It is a great time for communicating.I realize all families can not do that anymore because everyone is so spread out living in different towns and states. I liked Judy saying,”May it be a day of being closer to The Lord, our families, friends and ourselves.
Love the thinking you give me.
Thanks Nancy. If my post created an opportunity for pause, I am happy. I fact, the writing of these posts is a creative pause in my day too. It grounds me. Thanks for tuning in.
And by the way, I got your package! Thanks for that too!
Screen-free Sabbath/Saturday or Sunday? 24/6 – what a great idea of yours!
Eileen, inspired by all the wisdom here, and by the wonderful stories in your memoir of how your family made up your own games and nature-based activities, may I offer this?
As you know, these days we see troubling signs of what has been called nature-deficit, especially in children who spend much of their waking time in front of one digital device or another – inside children.
Yes, we want our children, and youth, to be tech-savvy – essential in today’s digital age – but not at the expense of a close connection with each other, family and nature.
And with their own intuitive hearts.
There are health concerns with 24/7 exposure to these wireless microwaves and concerns with many people of all ages becoming addicted to the speed, distraction and emotional disconnect with screen-based activities. (Heard recently of radio stations playing half-length songs as their young listeners lose interest so quickly.)
Let’s set aside one screen-free day a week with ourselves, with our families, to unplug and reconnect and ..
wander in the woods
lie on the grass and look up into the sky
feel the wet sand squish in between our bare toes
Do not have your poetic gift of writing. Am reading your book again and discovering deeper layers and allowing my heart to feel the sadness of the deep connection you have with your dear brother, Richard. What a gift to the world he is.
Dear Kerry, Your comment about the importance of nature in nurturing our children – and especially in balance to technology, has me thinking that I want to write a post on that. Thanks for the great idea! I often don’t know what I’m going to write until I sit down, but at some point this will be the subject of a post. It deserves more attention. Thanks for the reminder! (And for your words, which I found beautiful.)
Eileen, in that post I hope you’ll include a few of the inspiring stories from your memoir. How many children today enjoy such creative adventures as crafting their own pirate flag from an old sheet, teaming up to build a raft, or placing in the woods an open door to nowhere?
I love how you bring those childhood memories to life inviting your readers to join in the fun and to see, if they will, that these kind of nature-based adventures are open to all.
Dear Kerry, thank you for the suggestion about writing some memories written in my memoir, about recreation made from our own imaginations. I will do that one of these weeks. Perhaps my next post!