Do any of you remember the good old days? Now, of course, the good old days weren’t always good, but back before the internet and 24/7 consumerism and cable television, life was different – Sundays were special. For many of us, Sunday was a day of rest. Only a few restaurants were open, there were no soccer games and swim meets, and our hometown theatre “the Reel Joy” didn’t open its doors for the Sunday matinee until 3:00 p.m. On Sundays, we would go to the A&W for root beer floats in frosted glasses, riding our bikes through quiet streets, but that was often the extent of our excitement beyond a neighborhood baseball game or the San Francisco Giants on the radio.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we go back to the 30’s 40’s, 50’s or early 60’s. I like cable television and often fall asleep during a Hallmark movie after church or a PBS Mystery Sunday night. I delight in the internet and enjoy Facebook. I like to travel, and none of us would want to go back to medical practices, Jim Crow laws, and the ostracism of gays and lesbians of sixty years ago. And, yet, sometimes, as the poet says, “the world is too much with us, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers” – and that was Wordsworth in the 19th century!
It’s good to be alive now. This is an exciting and wonderful time, but it is also a frenetic and busy time….. We need sabbath. A time of rest, a moment to catch our breath, an hour in which we forget the machinations of politicians, posts on Facebook, the stock market, the sale at Macy’s, and lists of tasks that awaits us.
When we lived in Potomac, Maryland, there was an orthodox Jewish synagogue in our neighborhood. On Saturday mornings, you could see scores of worshippers faithfully walking to temple in their sabbath best; families and elders taking time away from technology and work to focus on God and family.
The scriptures affirm the need for Sabbath. Sabbath is so
important that even God takes a rest. The Jewish mystics called this rest “zimzum,” the divine quiet that made space for the world to be creative. Yes, even God, needs a rest – God shouldn’t micromanage everything or over-function in controlling the universe and human history. God is the example: just as God doesn’t need to be on duty 24/7 neither do we. Even at church, we need to be a place of rest rather than busyness, a place where we can do good works without becoming stressed out.
I have discovered that “Manana” is a good attitude toward life’s
optional activities. Not everything is urgent, sometimes we can wait to finish a task. We can choose to rest, to have leisure, and to play.
Many people, including myself, do our best to take an internet
Sabbath. In my case, from Saturday afternoon to Sunday morning right before church, when I check things just in case I miss an important notice from one of you. The world can live without my wisdom for eighteen hours.
Some of us take rests from eating – my son Matt says that the best way to maintain your weight at a healthy level is to take a mini-fast each day – eating dinner around 7 p.m. or before, and not eating again till 9:00 the next morning. I protest of course, because that means no ice cream as I watch my favorite BBC mystery.
Sabbath is an attitude, more than a rule. It is a matter of looking at
your life in a leisurely manner. I make daily lists – and add to them, even as I cross things off. Sometimes I find myself feeling anxious – thinking I don’t have enough time to do all this – and then I discover that half the things on the list are purely optional. Things I want to do, but do not have to do and things no one expects me to do. And, then I exhale.
Yes, Sabbath is a way of life. It’s remembering the Serenity Prayer – the things you can and cannot control. It’s resigning from being God or Goddess.
This Labor Day weekend celebrates good work, the rise of unions and a fair wage and treatment for workers; it also reminds us that once upon a time, there were no child labor laws, sweat shops abounded, and workers were forced to work at least six days a week with no yearly vacations. This still is true across the globe, and often in the production of our clothing!
Labor day is about leisure. We work – and may it be good work – but we also rest and play, and do things that neither toil nor spin.
There is no one way to practice Sabbath, but I suggest that we can
each find time to draw away from busyness to pray and meditate, to gaze at our garden or the beach, to turn off the television and cable news, to rejoice in beauty, to spend time gently with family, loved ones, and friends. To play and laugh and let God be God.
“Once upon a time,” probably 55 years ago, I was the youngest
boy playing in a pickup baseball game in a vacant lot near our home. As the youngest, I was often the object of tricks. I recall one day hitting a grounder past first base. The fielder purposely bobbled it as the opposing team shouted, “You’ve still got time, Bruce,” and so I rounded first and headed to second. The ball was poorly thrown, again perhaps on purpose, and so they shouted, “you’ve still got time, Bruce,” and I barreled to third. Now they wanted to get me, but once again the ball was poorly thrown and I streaked toward home, making an inside the park homerun.
Over half a century later, the wisdom of that moment still guides
- “You’ve still got time, Bruce.” You can work hard but be available when someone’s in need. You can plan a lot of projects – and we have a few here – but let go of them if something more important comes up. You can have a vision of each day, but be willing to see your agenda as a possibility not a necessity.
Today, take a Sabbath, trust that God will be with you when you take that nap, hit the golf bal, meet with friends with mahjong, have that extra cup of coffee, or take time for a contemplative walk or daily prayer. You will discover a wholeness and holiness that will slow down time, and enable you to be faithful, healthy, and open to what providence places in your path. You’ve still got time.