by Maggie Roth
“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.” (Exodus 20: 8-11)
I remember reading a book by Anita Diamant, a Jewish author, who told of how preserving the Sabbath was an integral part of her week, how she looked forward to lighting the candles and stopping for a moment to reflect on her blessings, her struggles, and the relationships she held dear. Her words, far more beautiful than mine, touched me and I thought of them this weekend as our family began our own similar Lenten journey.
Last week, for the first time ever in my life, I preserved the seventh day — I kept Sabbath.
This small but powerful practice will repeat itself for the next six weeks, beginning every Saturday at sundown and ending the following evening. And you know what? I think I’m gonna like it. As a quick refresher, our Sabbath commitment entails joyful worship, refraining from the marketplace (i.e. buying stuff), reduced technology usage, and ceasing from work and worrying. Yep, just those little things…
I have to say, off the bat, some of it was easier than we thought it would be and some of it more difficult. Our Sabbath began on Saturday evening, we put the kids down to bed and awaited a visit from friends with whom we’d previously scheduled dinner plans. Given the need to avoid the marketplace, we ended up inviting them over for dinner instead. I served vegetable enchiladas and they brought dessert. Not a bad start. Great conversation and some much-needed catching up framed the start of our Sabbath in a wonderful way.
As our evening ended, I thought to myself that there really is something to having people over in your home, there’s some unspoken dynamic that occurs when you share a meal. I adore going to new restaurants, but all my deep abiding relationships are with folks who I would much rather share a pizza with on the floor of their condo than meeting up at the swanky new neighborhood bar. That’s where the real conversation happens, the real relationships begin.
How did our joyful worship go the next morning? Hmm… Can you hear the giant THUD of failure? I can.
Our joyful worship went kaput when, in the middle of the night, our daughter (almost three) woke up crying with a 103.3 fever. Turns out her little cold had turned into a big nasty cold and she spiked a very high fever. Motrin, cuddles, sleeping in our bed… by 5:30 a.m. you can imagine how exhausted we all were.
There would be no trip to Holy Covenant. No joyful worship for this family. Instead I ran to a quick early morning service at the local church in the suburb where we now live and returned home. This really bugged me. If we’re not worshipping as a family, what’s the point, I thought. By the end of the day I would think differently about the situation, but that was my mindset on Sunday morning.
Fortunately, the rest of our commitments were carefully planned out and arranged for ahead of time, untouched by the nasty respiratory virus that plagued our three year-old. We’d made a lot of arrangements beforehand so that we wouldn’t accidentally “mess up.” We moved our laptop out of the main area of our house; we bought bagels the day before so that we wouldn’t be tempted by Einstein’s as we walked out of church. I even did a bit of laundry so that I wouldn’t get caught without some kid items that I knew I’d need that day. With all those things in place, we were free to just be.
I wondered throughout the weekend what it would be like to be an Orthodox Jew, making arrangements each week in order to keep Sabbath. This is just a few weeks for us and we’re not nearly as strict as an Orthodox family. I recently read that Jewish migration patterns in suburbs are so distinct because families like to live within one mile of their synagogue. Why? No driving on the Sabbath. Now that’s a spiritual discipline. If we were to keep this up year-round, how would we change our life patterns to accommodate Sabbath? Would it affect our entire week? Our entire outlook? I can see how truly adopting a practice can change your attitudes toward faith. It requires something of you, time, energy, logistics and planning. How many of us do that? Sure, we get out of bed on Sunday and head to church, but is that sacrificial?
Anyway, back our Sabbath. Given our little one’s illness, our day was spent at home, just hanging out with one another. We played, we ate, we talked, and found ourselves with oodles and gobs of time together. Sundays typically go by so fast. We were amazed at how many hours in the day there are when you aren’t killing time on the internet or running errands. Sunday lasted forever!
It occurred to me that night that if we hadn’t already dedicated the day to keeping the Sabbath, we would have probably been really frustrated by our daughter’s illness. Dealing with her health would have messed up our plans, compromised our to-do list, and prevented us from feeling like we’d gotten a real day off. But somehow, because we’d already dedicated ourselves to just being, it was a really peaceful way to spend the day. Sure we were watching her like hawk and trying to get her to rest, but it didn’t matter. We were at home, we were with each other. We were wearing a more spiritual attitude already and so taking care of her was far less frustrating because we knew we were right where we were supposed to be. Home.
I guess the real question though, the deeper and more spiritual matter at hand, is whether or not we felt closer to God. Mike and I both discussed this Sunday night and came to the conclusion that we can’t honestly say we feel the spirit moving within us anymore than we had the previous weekend. Not yet anyway. But, we felt much more space in our lives. Space for each other. By the end of this journey we may feel the frustrations of not being able to use technology or not buying something we need, but right now we are just more fully aware of the extent to which we cloud our lives up.
Sabbath was less cloudy this week. We’re looking forward to the next one.