I returned to work the first of July after a week off in Northern Virginia with our daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren. While the grandchildren (6 and 3-years-old respectively) left me exhausted, it was a good kind of exhaustion. For a week, I put aside concerns of the church and my ministry as a bishop to focus on family. It wasn’t a day of sabbath rest; it was a week of a different form of sabbath.
About seven years ago, I read a book by Ruth Haley Barton entitled Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. The eighth chapter is appropriately entitled “Sabbath: Establishing Rhythms of Work and Rest.” At the chapter's opening, she quotes Isaiah 58:13-14.
If you stop trampling the Sabbath,
stop doing whatever you want on my holy day,
and consider the Sabbath a delight,
sacred to the Lord, honored,
and honor it instead of doing things your way,
seeking what you want and doing business as usual,
14 then you will take delight in the Lord.
I will let you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will sustain you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob.
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Then, after sharing a story of an enforced rest in her life because of an accident, Ruth Barton comments, “If we do not allow for a rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness becomes our Sabbath – our pneumonia, our cancer, our heart attack, our accidents create Sabbath for us.” (Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms, p. 131; quote taken from “Wayne Muller’s book Sabbath)
I have long been a believer in vacation time (which Europeans call “Holidays”; originating from the phrase “Holy Days”). One of the gifts my parents gave me was the gift of family vacations. In our case, they were mostly spent camping on our way to or from my grandparents’ home in upstate New York. It didn’t take a ton of money (we camped!), it took time. Looking back over raising our own children (and now interacting with our grandchildren) I realize that time is a treasured gift.
I have long argued that we live at a pace of life that is unsustainable. (And yes, confessionally, I am as guilty – if not more so – than anyone!) I believe time away is a form of Sabbath. It is something honored by God that has a blessing not just for ourselves but for those around us, especially our families.
We know the Ten Commandments. Pause with me on the cusp of our July 4th celebrations and recollect on the forgotten commandment…
“Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it – not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)
I submit that the application of this commandment is for more than one day a week. Holidays are Holy Days in America, too. We do not worship our country (remember the First Commandment), but we are deeply thankful for the blessings our nation has spread upon us all. Time off to celebrate and give thanks is important. So too is time off for joy shared.
We tend to think of Sabbath as quiet time or solitude or even just laziness. But what if we begin to understand Sabbath as time for laughter and abandoned joy? What if we think of Sabbath as time spent splashing in pool with our children and/or grandchildren? What if we think of Sabbath as a time of “re-creation!?” What if we understand that vacations or holidays are needed, extended Sabbath time?
Last Saturday, June 29, we went with our daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum extension (the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia). It was exciting, awe inspiring and fascinating. We had a blast! The time off was refreshing and renewing. As we come up on the July 4th celebration, I am reinvigorated and thankful for the pioneers who have gone before us.
Even more so, I am thankful for a creating God who blesses us with an understanding of Sabbath time!