What can sabbath teach us in this scary, yet sacred time?

by susan on April 1, 2020

This past Sunday was The Well’s “Sabbath Sunday”. Since we began, encouraging people to stay home to engage in their own renewal each 5th Sunday was one way we chose to make rest a valued part of our life together. Many of us had come from churches where work seemed to be way more valued than rest. Sabbath may have made the top 10 commandments, but it has carried a whole lot less weight than the others. Like the pervasive culture surrounding us, the church has tended to elevate busyness as a virtue worthy of praise & a measure of success– rest not so much.

We wanted to resist that temptation.

When this Sunday came up right in the middle of the still unfolding worldwide CVD-19 pandemic, I began to think about the intersection of sabbath & what we are experiencing right now. What is their for us to learn in this scary, yet sacred (it seems set apart in some weird way) time?

Instead of no gathering at all, we decided to host an online conversation and to explore what is at the heart of sabbath & what (if anything) it has to do with where we are right now. A couple of connections have still been stirring around my heart & head.

  1. Home is at the heart of sabbath. We have a ton to learn from how our Jewish neighbors observe Sabbath. The Jewish Shabbat invites families to return home, to sing & pray light candles & remember that rest & freedom are vital parts of what it means to be human. Home is a place of remembering, resting & re-centering.

Right now, as we are all feeling somewhat trapped & isolated at home, perhaps we could allow ourselves to remember who we are here – to return to some things that we have lost – to remember that we are more than consumers & producers. We are more than our achievements. We are human beings & we need to learn how to “be” here.  

  1. Sabbath reminds us what is essential. There is a great deal that goes into preparing to observe an entire 24-hour period of rest. For one thing, during a true sabbath, you must make sure you have the essentials on hand because buying and selling are off limits.

 “Essential” is a word popping up a lot right now. We are being asked to do only what is essential, to pursue only that which is vital to our wellbeing. Do we even know what that is? Do we know how much is enough? One of the gifts for us right now if we dare to receive it is a new awareness of what is essential. Not only what, but who is essential. What people & professions are saving our lives, caring for our children, providing us food, making sure we have our daily necessities available? Imagine if we emerged from this experience with a new appreciation & prioritization of what is truly essential!

  1. Sabbath is better together. Sacred time away to replenish our weary souls & bodies is not just for our sakes, but for the sake of others. When we come back to our jobs, our friendships, our daily demands, we return with greater capacity to love, to share, to listen & to care. Jesus modeled this so often in his ministry as he unapologetically &sometimes rather abruptly left everything behind to spend time in solitude. This will look different for each of us because each of our lives looks very different. Some of us are working from home, others working double shifts, some are single parents, others retirees. During our time on Sunday, here are some sabbath-like practices that came up:
  • Taking a nap (shared by the mom of a toddler)
  • Starting the day with family centering prayer
  • Medititaion. The Insight Timer app is a great, free resource.
  • One participant shared that he is interrupting anxiety by re-reading & practicing The Silva Mind Control Method by Jose Silva.
  • Walking
  • Journaling
  • Porch time
  • Intentional tech-free time & social media sabbaths
  • What others would you add? What is renewing you & helping you rest from the worry & work right now?

Like many of our gatherings, I left Sunday’s conversation with more questions than answers (for one: what does sabbath look like for those who are working non-stop or who have no home to go to?!), but also with a renewed sense of the importance of sabbath. Collectively observing intentional times of freedom & rest creates an alternative rhythm to the dominant one which puts production & consumption & a strong economy at the forefront and compassion as a distant second.  

In her book, “Altar in the World”, Barbara Brown Taylor writes that ultimately “Sabbath is not only about getting a little rest, but also about freeing slaves, forgiving debts, restoring property, and giving the land every seventh year off…”. Right now, we are seeing some of these ideas emerge. I hope & pray it can be more than a temporary reaction & a much needed lesson that can guide us into a more just & generous future.


Here are a few other resources, some of which were shared during Sunday’s conversation:

Sabbath as Resistance by Walter Brueggeman

Subversive Sabbath: The Suprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World by A.J. Swoboda

When Economic Reversal Catches the Elite By Surprise

A Debt Jubilee is the Only Way to Avoid a Depression

Pandemic, a poem by Lynn Ungar

Artwork above: Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Siesta”

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