Sabbath in the Suburbs: chapter 3, October

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In this chapter we encounter our current reality: October is a busy month, with Halloween and lots of activities and possibilities and church opportunities and what’s likely to be the last of the nice weather, not to mention the craziness of election season. And all of this meets what is essentially the monotony of life as well–we’re into the routine of the school/program year, we’re just about to get tired of the same packed lunches or the same routine of the day-in-day-out.

What would happen if we started thinking of the routine not as monotony, not as a rut, but as liturgy? The work of the people, repeated ritually because it provides a framework for understanding our lives as part of God’s creation, as part of God’s community, as part of God’s kingdom plan? How can our daily liturgy be more God-focused? How can we live Sabbathly in the midst of what feels like a day-in-day-out follow-the-plan? (Some of you may not experience the joys and the boredom that come with routine, for any number of reasons–but I suspect many of us can relate to the reality of simply doing the same things we did yesterday, or last Friday, or whatever…)

There are two keys to this, at least in this chapter.

1. Delight. Do I delight in what I am doing right now? Isaiah (and other parts of the Bible too) describe keeping the Sabbath, and keeping God’s law, as a delight. What is something you find delightful? How can that feeling be a part of the Sabbath experience?

2. Boundaries. We may not love the idea of boundaries, but we all need them. To keep a Sabbath practice will require some boundaries–the when/what kind, mostly. How long will Sabbath be, and when? And what kind of things are permissible during your Sabbath time, and what are not? The key to making boundaries is to have them be flexible enough, but not too much so. We don’t want to be transgressing our boundaries all the time–that’s not healthy in any other relationship, so why would it be healthy in a spiritual practice? If the practice is going to transform us, we need to be committed to keeping it as much as possible (and maybe even a little more than we think is possible–that stretching and sacrifice can be good for us!). MaryAnn uses a metaphor our spirituality professor in seminary used–boundary as shoreline. Where water meets land is a flexible line, changing and yet not. How does that kind of image feel to you? What boundaries do you need to put on your Sabbath practice, and how can you keep them?

One of the questions that often comes up about Sabbath is similar to what Ann asked in last week’s post: what constitutes work? If I love to play a musical instrument, and I practice for an upcoming performance, is that Sabbath or work? If I love to read, and I read a book that is related to my job but also brings me intellectual pleasure, is that Sabbath or work? Etc Etc Etc. I think the key to the boundary list here is that each of us needs to decide for ourselves what those boundaries are. In the September chapter MaryAnn chooses to define “work” as “activity that changes one’s environment”–so refraining from work on the Sabbath meant giving up trying to change things. That may not be a definition that works for you, but I confess I kind of like it. Since so much of our lives are about trying to change things–to make the world better, to change people’s minds, to change our bodies, to improve ourselves, etc–it seems like one day a week when we trust GOD to change things, rather than relying on our own effort, is about right.

But as the Dana family learned in October, sometimes even just having fun can be all too much as well. Their Halloween Sabbath turned out to be exhausting, and they discovered that it’s possible to not do any work and to still feel as if the day was “consumed rather than experienced.” Have you ever felt that way?

We all know this practice is hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it and there’d be no need for books about time management or sabbath keeping or stress relief. But it is worthwhile, and commanded (for a reason), so figuring these things out are a part of our practice too. And for those who feel it might just be too late to start a Sabbath practice–it’s never too late. At the end of the chapter MaryAnn mentions that though we have lofty dreams for our kids (I would add even for the people we work with, teach, interact with, etc), the best way to plant those seeds is to live those dreams ourselves. If we want our children to have some balance in their lives, to appreciate what they have, to be generous, to have confidence and humility in equal measure, to practice faith, to live gratefully, to be compassionate, to understand the power of time away from work….we have to practice those things. And for those of you without children at home, think of this in the same way we Presbyterians are fond of thinking about evangelism–we often say that it’s about how we live, and people will notice that we live differently (or have more inner peace or joy or whatever). That only works if we actually live differently. Here’s an opportunity to try it out.

What do you think? How do you define work? What boundaries can you put around your Sabbath time? What do you hope people might notice about you when it comes to your faith-life? 

Was there anything else in this chapter that made you think, or wonder, or just take note?

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