Sabbath: A Beginning

Sabbath-rest-348902821-300x200Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. This text comes to us from the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s a part of the collection of Hebrew Scriptures known as “wisdom texts.” I will admit, though, that I sometimes have my misgivings about just how wise it is.

Let me quote the very beginning of this book: “Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? … All things are wearisome, more than one can express…” This message of futility may sound right on to you, but it is not really consistent with the rest of the Bible. Many have wondered why Ecclesiastes was chosen to be included in our biblical text at all. Perhaps it is because it has been traditionally believed to be wisdom collected from the great King Solomon.

But this particular section of the text, the one that Annie read, has become very popular. It’s often chosen for funerals and memorial services. Others know it because of Pete Seeger’s song “Turn, Turn, Turn.” There’s something about this text that captures for us the great variety of human experiences, the mysterious patterns they make in our lives, and the difficulty of finding meaning in it all.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven – A time to be born, and a time to die… a time to weep and a time to laugh… a time to keep silence, and a time to speak. There is a time for everything, it seems; except for rest.

When is there a time for rest? It’s not mentioned in this text. And we live in a culture that has little room for it. When someone asks us the question: “How are you?” almost all of us can honestly say: “Busy.” In fact, we too often take a kind of perverse pride in confessing to one another just how busy we are.

Children are busy with homework and extra curricular activities. Adults are busy with work and with caring for their children, their spouses, their friends, their parents. We are busy with volunteering and social events. We are busy with yard and house maintenance. If we’re not busy, we feel like we should be. If we’re not busy, we find a way to be busy, with entertainment and information.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. But when is the season, when is the time for rest? When is the last time you stopped to get rest for your soul?

Our Judeo-Christian tradition has a provision for soul-rest. It is called Shabbat, or Sabbath. It is inscribed in the very first story in our bible. God creates the world in six days, and the scripture continues:

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:1-3)

God rests. Even God needs rest, how much more must we need it! God rests, and blesses Her time of rest, and makes it holy time; because in that time she rested from all the work she did in creating.

When is the last time you stopped to get rest for your soul?

What would happen if we made time for rest? What would happen if we claimed for ourselves some time when we neither accomplished nor consumed? What would happen if we made time, not for listlessness, or leisure, or boredom, but for soul-rest: blessed time, holy time?

Over the coming weeks I’ll share more biblical passages related to the practice of Sabbath. We’re going to explore this idea of holy time slowly, because, I think, it is very hard for most of us. It’s hard to understand why it’s worthwhile. It’s hard to imagine how it might be possible for us. So we’ll talk about how to make space for Sabbath; and what it is, exactly, we’re making space for. We’ll talk about what gifts we might receive from this time; and how to integrate it into our lives. Each week, I’ll provide a simple practice and prayer that you can try.

For every thing there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. And woven throughout all our action, God says, is a time for rest. Thanks be to God.

Practice: Jewish and Christian Sabbath practices both begin with candles. Set aside a few minutes early in the morning, before a meal, or at bedtime. Light a candle and say a short prayer. Take a few mindful breaths. Let the world fall away.

Prayer: Jesus, you tell us: come to me, and I will give you rest. Help me to find rest for my soul in you. Amen.

For more on Sabbath, come to worship this summer, follow along on our blog, or try reading:
Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller
Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family’s Experiment with Holy Time by MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time by Dorothy C. Bass