Think about it.
We have permission to rest for one-seventh of our lives. That is a huge gift, don’t you think? Actually, it isn’t even permission; it is a commandment, the fourth to be exact. We need to keep the Sabbath Day holy.
There might be some difference of opinion about what “keeping it holy” means, but the Creation story in Genesis gives us a framework to help us define it.
The Hebrew Bible begins with the act of creation, or should I say the acts of creation. Initially the place in space where eventually Earth and the heavens would be formed was unformed, void and dark. The process began at day one with God generating light. Day and night were differentiated.
On day two, the sky or firmament was formed. On day three, the seas and the land with vegetation were made. On the fourth day, the moon and the sun were created, which allowed for the seasons and years to occur. And the next day, the living creatures of the sky and sea were made. Each of the first five days was declared “good.”
On the sixth day, God created the beasts of the Earth including male and female humans. The creations of the sixth day were declared “very good.” And then God, admiring his creation, decided he deserved a rest, a day with no work. And he declared that day “qadosh” or holy.
The day was holy, not the space or the Earth itself, or even humans — the day was holy. It is the first time the word “holy” is used in the Bible; admittedly, it is in the second chapter of Genesis near the front of the book, but nevertheless, the DAY was holy.
I fully recognize this summation of the Creation has none of the poetry included in the actual text of Genesis. It is perhaps an overly simple account of the story of Creation. The point of my version of the story is that the Sabbath Day, or the seventh day, was set aside for the admiring of Creation, all creation, even our own.
For some this is worship — the valuing of those things that are of worth — the sky, the moon and sun, the vegetation and creatures of the Earth and sky. It is a time to worship that we were created in the likeness of the Creator.
What this means to me is that we are in God’s likeness creative humans, individuals in relationship with each other and the divine.
When I was growing up in the 1950s, there was little to do on the Christian Sabbath. By law, we could not buy anything. No stores were open; even gas stations where I lived in Utah were closed on Sundays. My grandmother would put that pot roast or stewing chicken in the oven before going to church in the morning. We’d all come home after Sunday school and eat.
There was no prohibition about driving, so often we would have family from all over show up on Sundays for that delicious dinner. We would spend the afternoon talking, or napping, or reading. Sometimes we would take a destinationless afternoon drive. In good weather, we’d spend most of the afternoon outside appreciating nature.
It was all so relationship-oriented — relating to family and friends, relating to the worship we shared, and relating to nature. When I think back to those times when we had no choice about buying or working on Sunday, we kept the Sabbath holy.
Today I feel as if it is different. Things have changed. We have given ourselves permission to work seven days a week. We often judge ourselves by how busy we are or by what we produce. Somehow we need to produce more or do more so that we can buy more and have more.
The philosophy we practice is often called “getting to yes.” In some ways that means getting to consensus, but it is also used as a way of filling our activity plates with even more. Consider the pressure to say yes. How difficult is it to say no when asked to do something you consider beneficial or when you are asked to tackle a critical program at work that will get you that next promotion, but deny you time with your family?
We are culturally programmed to say yes with the result that we do not keep one day each week open for the possibility of the presence of the holy.
In a book titled “An Altar in the World” by Barbara Brown Taylor, the author proposes that a very good spiritual discipline might be the ability to say no. Set aside a day — and if not a day a few hours — to simply BE, acknowledging the holy in our lives. Say no to yourself when you want to grocery shop or work overtime on Sunday.
Actually, it doesn’t have to be Friday, Saturday or Sunday. It can be anytime when you stop and smell the new grass, or feel the wind on your face or look into the eyes of your beloved. It is the process of keeping time holy, and innately I think we all know what that means; slowing down and just being.
In Leviticus 25, the land is allowed to lie fallow not only every seventh day, but also every seventh year. Slaves were to be set free in the seventh year of their servitude. The beasts of the field were allowed to rest for a whole year.
There is some good sense in this. When we work hard, we also need to rest hard. Recovery is needed; a recovery of the sense of our place in the universe, of our relationship with God (or the divine or the holy), and a recovery of our sense of our creative selves.
My suggestion is to try to make one-seventh of your week a holy day. You might actually find yourself being a more productive, a more creative, and a more joyful person. Just give it a try.
Can’t hurt to rest a bit.
The Rev. Becky Gunn is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.