Tuesday is the day I observe Sabbath rest. I wanted to repost this blog about Sabbath – a conspicuously missing jewel in the rhythms of Christian spiritual formation. Sabbath is a gift from God that allows us to rest, recalibrate and be re-created. Sabbath was instituted by God on the seventh day (Saturday). So this post looks at how our current (and ancient) culture fights against the concept of Sabbath on the very day of the week it was instituted. And I hope this post would encourage you to take the courageous step by reclaiming the gift of Sabbath for the sake of your soul.
Saturday is named for the Roman god, Saturn. Saturn is one of those gods whose function is rather ambiguous and complex. In short, he was the god of industry and wealth. And we see this god-function carried over into our modern culture where many people work (are “industrious”) seven days a week in order to create more wealth. This attitude is also seen in those who believe that the ability to make a living rests solely on the individual. This overly sense of self-reliance defies the belief that our provision comes from God, who gives us the ability to make a living and who would provide for us even if we lacked the ability.
The other face of Saturn is the spirit of dissipation and revelry. The winter feast of Saturn (called “Saturnalia”) was marked by people going overboard, getting drunk, and participating in all sorts of worldly excesses. I believe it was the predecessor of the modern-day “office Christmas party”! It provided an opportunity for people to act differently than what they normally were – which is at the heart of what “dissipation” means (a division or dispersing).
The opposite spirit of Saturn is “Sabbath.” In fact, in Latin languages the role of Saturn is completely replaced on this day with the Sabbath (Spanish for Saturday is “Sabado” – Sabbath). In Sabbath, we choose not to be “industrious” by resting from work. It also shows that we are dependent upon God for our provision, not on our ability to work. The ancient people of Israel learned this in a practical way as they were instructed to gather twice as much manna on the day before the Sabbath (which God generously provided), so that they wouldn’t have to work on the Sabbath (when the manna would not come). On the Sabbath, our bodies and souls get a chance to recharge – to be restored – through rest. I’m developing a nice habit of taking a nap on my Sabbath. And what’s nicer is that to rest is a command from God (Exodus 20:8-11). Nice, huh?
But another function of the Sabbath is integration of our being through focus on God. Instead of the dissipation of Saturn (which leads to a culture schizophrenia of identity), Sabbath gives us the opportunity to get centered on God. On my Sabbath, I spend extra time in Personal Worship. It is in Personal Worship that I become whole (which is what “integration” means) as I recalibrate my being through loving God with my heart, soul, mind and strength and as He loves me in kind. Contrast this with finding our identities in typical Saturday activities (soccer mom, gardening fanatic, “weekend warrior,” arm chair quarterbacks, or party animal).
This is not to say that we shouldn’t have hobbies or interests. In fact, Sabbath means engaging in “life-giving” activities (I enjoy watching sports, playing jazz piano, riding my bike, socializing with friends and gardening). But the enjoyment of these things as gifts from God is different than “living for them.” Sabbath is about God re-creating us through these gifts; not making our recreation into gods.
Admittedly, keeping the Sabbath is a difficult discipline to maintain. Everything in our culture works against it. And creating a legalism around it doesn’t help one bit. Like other spiritual disciplines, we start with baby steps – like setting apart a few hours for restoration, recalibration and recreation, and then increasing it as we are able. And like everything else, we view it from the lens of grace. Sabbath is a grace and being able to observe it – rather than the ways of Saturn – requires even more grace. But it is a grace that our God wants to give us as we desire to make every day His day.