So, here’s the thing…this is one of those awkward post in which saying the thing, you kind of undo the thing. For example, if I say that I have become more humble, then the very silent or verbal acknowledgement of that fact undoes it. I’m writing about what I am doing for Lent, not with the intent to humble-brag or share some weird piety, but to document my journey in a space to wrestle with community in developing a new and counter-cultural spiritual discipline. I seek the stories of others who are wiser and farther along on this path than I am.
As a Southern Baptist (aka evangelical Christian, although that term leaves a bad taste in my mouth in this neo-Trump era), I don’t come from a faith tradition that typically embraces or observes Lent. However, I have acknowledged and participated in the Lenten season more often than not since college. Sometimes I give up something, but I have learned that I usually do that for silly, non-spiritual reasons. Sometimes I take on a new habit such as prayer or hospitality. Recently I have been doing a lot of reading about the concept of Sabbath. First, our small group at church read the Walter Brueggemann book, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. On my own, I am currently reading Shelly Miller’s book, Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World. I am savoring this book slowly and reading one chapter every Saturday, alone in the still of the morning. I have also recently read The Slow Professor by Barbara Seeber and Maggie Berg. Although this book, in contrast to the others, is not written from a spiritual perspective, many of the themes of being counter-cultural and going against social norms are quite similar.
For Lent, I am working on the developing the skill of taking a real Sabbath. One thing I have considered is that observing Shabbat is well-known and respected in Jewish culture. Most people would consider it insensitive not to honor the fact that observant Jews rest from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. However, even I as a Christian, don’t really honor that fellow Christians might be observing a day of rest. We expect people to be at our beck and call, to respond, to work, almost 24/7 these days. Part of that reason comes from the fact that even among Christians who do practice observing a Sabbath, that day may vary. A Sabbath day, although historically a Saturday, has been made into a Sunday in the contemporary Christian church, with most believers not setting it aside for any special restorative purpose. Some people who do observe a Sabbath may do so on a Wednesday or a Friday due to work schedules. In our post-New Testament culture, it seems that the day of Sabbath doesn’t matter in terms of day of the week, but the purpose of Sabbath still exists and is an important Biblical COMMAND.
I have thought I was observing the Sabbath in the past. I typically take a nap on Sundays and have a fairly relaxing afternoon. However, I am often up late, grading or prepping for Monday morning classes and end my Sunday feeling stressed and begin my work week feeling out of sorts. I do have in my syllabi that I don’t respond to email after 5:00 pm during the week or or weekends, and my students respect that. However, fellow committee members and colleagues often still send emails requiring timely, if not immediate responses.
This weekend I brought home a big bag of grading. I have to teach two classes tomorrow morning. I need to resubmit a research proposal and work on a couple of conference presentations. I am even farther behind than usual because I had an out of town conference last Thursday afternoon until Saturday, so I had a shorter than usual work week and a busy, tiring weekend. Still…I am resting. The grading will wait until tomorrow. Since I am rested today and will go to bed earlier than usual, I will get up early to finish last minute prep for class. For now, my rest and my dependence is on God. Class will still happen, learning will take place, and the household will continue to function without me in control. That’s the lesson of Sabbath–dependence on God. I don’t have to do it all and that is so freeing. However, Sabbath isn’t about chucking responsibilities. It’s about refreshment from them, so I am rested and prepared to start anew tomorrow, with a peaceful soul and renewed creativity and vigor.
I am not being legalistic about what I can and can’t do on the Sabbath. I am not doing housework. There is laundry piled up that I would usualy do on Saturday, but it didn’t get done because I wasn’t here. (And laundry is not “women’s work”–my husband washed sheets and towels and remade beds while I was gone. I just don’t like him to wash the clothes because there are always some items that need different instructions). I am not opposed to baking on Sunday, but I won’t be cooking any big meals or doing big food prep. We’ll rely on sandwiches, leftovers, and the crock pot. Today, we had a simple lunch of apples, cheese, and crackers. For supper, I fried up some leftover rice with a few vegetables that we had on hand. Each “meal” took no longer than 15 minutes.
The afternoon was spent reading and napping, followed by ironing fabric in preparation for cutting out a new quilt (an artistic pursuit, rather than a chore or work), planning out and designing the quilt, watching a little TV with Robert, and crocheting. Sabbath for me will mean no work, relying on God, engaging in creative pursuits, spending time outside, watching a movie and reading, spending time with friends and families, and reflecting on the past week and the one to come. It will include laughter, may include media, and perhaps hospitality. It will not be the dreaded, dour experience that Laura Ingalls Wilder described of her grandfather’s Sabbath experience in Little House in the Big Woods.
When your Grandpa was a boy, Laura, Sunday did not begin on Sunday morning, as it does now. It began at sundown on Saturday night. Then everyone stopped every kind of work or play.
Supper was solemn. After supper, Grandpa’s father read aloud a chapter of the Bible, while everyone sat straight and still in his chair. Then they all knelt down, and their father said a long prayer. When he said, “Amen,” they got up from their knees and each took a candle and went to bed. They must go straight to bed, with no playing, laughing, or even talking.
Sunday morning they ate a cold breakfast, because nothing could be cooked on Sunday. Then they all dressed in their best clothes and walked to church. They walked because hitching up the horses was work, and no work could be done on Sunday.
They must walk slowly and solemnly, looking straight ahead. They must not joke or laugh, or even smile. Grandpa and his two brothers walked ahead, and their father and mother walked behind them.
In church, Grandpa and his brothers must sit perfectly still for two long hours and listen to the sermon. They dared not fidget on the hard bench. They dared not swing their feet. They dared not turn their heads to look at the windows or the walls or the ceiling of the church. They must sit perfectly motionless, and never for one instant take their eyes from the preacher.
When church was over, they walked slowly home. They might talk on the way, but they must not talk loudly and they must never laugh or smile. At home they ate a cold dinner which had been cooked the day before. Then all the long afternoon they must sit in a row on a bench and study their catechism, until at least the sun went down and Sunday was over.
If you are interested in joining me in this pursuit of the spiritual discipline of Sabbath, I would love to know so we can share and support one another. If you’re just thinking about it, I highly recommend the two books above, as well as the Sabbath Society (weekly Friday newsletter and special month Sabbath calendar).