Last week, I wrote about the importance of finding a balance in our lives, which includes finding time for rest and renewal. The biblical word for this is “sabbath”. We need to make time to stop the busy–ness that fills our lives. We need to find and make time to renew ourselves and our relationships.
Keeping sabbath becomes an act of self–care. Parker Palmer writes, “Self–care is never a selfish act — it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others.”
I want to continue my reflections on keeping sabbath. I used the title of Marva Dawn’s book as the framework: Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting. Last week, we focused on ceasing and resting.
The third element of keeping sabbath is embracing. This picks up Palmer’s emphasis on self–care. Sabbath is something to be embraced as a healing gift in our lives. It doesn’t just come to us by itself, particularly in a world which prizes achievement and production so much. It is hard to carve out time for ourselves, time in which we stop meeting the demands of the world and meet our own needs for renewal and rest.
We need to embrace sabbath intentionally—to make time for it. Many people resist taking sabbath because they think it is selfish. Or perhaps they tried to take a sabbath and someone else once accused them of being lazy. Some people will say, “I don’t need a rest. I have lots of energy; I’m a Type A person. Sabbath is only for sissies.”
Sabbath is not a sign of weakness. Keeping sabbath means to deliberately build restfulness and renewal into lives which are much too busy. To embrace this practice means to fill time with just the right amount of people and activities to refresh and restore your soul.
When we embrace sabbath, we pay attention to our spiritual needs. We are more than consumers. We are more than producers. We are more than a target market audience. We are wonderfully and mysteriously complex people who need to care for ourselves physically, emotionally, relationally, vocationally — and spiritually.
Embracing sabbath thus means to engage in practices which connect us more deeply with our spiritual side. For followers of the Christ, it means to worship, gathering with a community of people who come to be renewed together. Many other faith traditions also have a time when the community gathers to light candles or sing spiritual songs and other such practices. Such a gathering is a means of nurturing our spirit.
The fourth element is feasting. Last week, I wrote about a time when my Dutch grandmother visited us. During her three–week– long visit, Sundays were agonizing days of inactivity. We had to stay in our Sunday clothes all day long. We weren’t allowed to play games. There was, in fact, no sense of renewal at all.
Feasting means to celebrate the abundance which God pours into life. It has to do with acknowledging that much of our lives comes to us as a gift. Marva Dawn indicates many ways in which we can feast in our lives: through the arts, with beauty, with food, with affection, with celebrations of many different kinds. “Feasting” in this sense celebrates all that is good and whole and holy in our lives. When we celebrate, we delight in everything that makes us who we are, and we take the time to cherish each other.
Keeping sabbath helps us celebrate God’s abundant life, given to us in this place and time. Sabbath is not meant to be a stingy testing of our character. It is meant to be a time of dancing in the joy of the life God has given to us.
To feast renews our lives as we celebrate God’s goodness. It helps us remember that our lives are lived in an abundance of love and hope. It reminds us that ultimately, we really are not in control of our lives. We simply receive life as a gift to be treasured, to be honoured, to be cared for, and to enjoy deeply and profoundly.
Ceasing. Resting. Embracing. Feasting. Keeping sabbath is a necessary thing for us. It makes our lives more healthy and more balanced. It makes our lives more whole. It helps us to make the promise of shalom, of deep and lasting wholeness, real in our lives.
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook.