Sabbath

Finding Rest in a World that Doesn’t Stop

I read a phenomenal book last year by Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel titled The Sabbath. Heschel’s writings on Sabbath and rest are profound and accessible, and one of the many quotes I highlighted was:

“Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else.”

As I’ve been thinking through what it means to find rest in a world that doesn’t stop, I think about three things that we all are facing:

1. Our capitalist economic system: a system fixated on never-ending growth that requires constant work to generate ever more profits.

2. The COVID-19 Pandemic: a pandemic where the virus mutates to infect ever more people, including those that are vaccinated – forcing all of us to remain on edge as we work to keep those we love protected and healthy.

3. Our democracy here in the US: a system of government that has moments of moral clarity, but then so often returns to the machinations of systemic inequity that so obviously scar our nation.

Where do we find rest in a world that doesn’t stop? Amidst American Capitalism? Amidst this pandemic? Amidst our system of government?

I can’t help but repeat Heschel’s words over and over in my head: “The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else.”

In my faith tradition, that Someone Else is God – the God who first showed Himself to the world through the Jewish people, and who then made Himself available to all of humanity through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The fact that our souls belong to this God requires us to think through how we can find Sabbath and rest in this non-stop age. We have to think through how we live in the “six days a week [where] we wrestle with the world,” as well as think through our practices as we take time to “care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.”

In thinking through Sabbath and rest and their relationship to our economic system, our current pandemic, and our democracy, I was reminded of a verse in the Psalms of King David: “‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth,’” (Psalms 46:10 NIV). I’ve known and quoted this verse for most of my adult life, but I never noticed until now the kind of “Sabbath/Rest Equation” built into this verse.

Let me try to explain:

Be Still + Know that God is God = God will be exalted among the nations and in the earth

Or, more…

Rest and Be Present with God + Be Present in the Knowledge that God is God and We Humans are not God = God is exalted everywhere

Or, even more…

My Sabbath and Rest = God is exalted in all of Creation

This “Sabbath/Rest Equation” does require a definition of terms, because one might mistake “Sabbath/Rest” for doing nothing or being lazy – a kind of passive or negative event. However, both Sabbath and rest in this context are far from passive events. Being still and present with God, much like being still and present with your kids or your spouse or in a meditation, requires effort – an act that is “intrinsically positive” (Heschel). And more, we see positive action from God on His seventh day: “What was created on the seventh day? Tranquility, serenity, peace and repose,” (Heschel).

In total, by being still and by sitting in the knowledge that God is God and I am not, God is so intensely worshipped that our worship echoes throughout all of Creation, all that ever was, is, and will be. And tranquility, serenity, peace, and repose are birthed. What a crazy equation, right?!?

As we process a work-life amidst Corporate America, as we navigate the Delta Variant, and as we come alongside those who are working to realize a more perfect American Experiment, we must take time to rest, to Sabbath, to be still, to know God is God and we are not. And, in so doing, our rest is transformed into worship that resounds across the universe and echoes throughout time.

In other words: in Sabbath and rest, we give our souls back to the One to whom we belong. “What is the Sabbath?” asks Heschel, “Spirit in the form of time.”

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