Summer can be a wonderful reminder of God’s gift of the Sabbath. Theologians remind us that the Sabbath represents a temporary stay of inequality, a day of rest for everyone alike, for animals and for children. Why? Because that is how God sees the world. The Sabbath sends all alike back to egalitarianism. It is a regular stay against the activity that engenders inequality on the other days of the week. Rest puts everything, even the land itself, back in a state of stasis, equity, equality. In this great scheme of equality, farmers were encouraged to leave what fell from their bales and wagons for the poor who scavenged the fields and for animals and birds who sought their livelihood, too. In God’s plan all humans and animals were entitled to the produce of God’s field.
The Sabbath reminds us that there is, indeed, enough for everyone. This is God’s plan, God’s providence. The Sabbath looms very large in the Hebrew Scriptures, pages and pages of prescriptions guide the believer. One does not carry loads or till the field or cook a meal. “Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it as the Lord has commanded you.” (Deut. 5:12); make it a time to reflect on what God has given you and give thanks. Offer to others all you have received.
Every seven years the Hebrew nation celebrated the Year of the Sabbath calling it a Jubilee Year. Debts were forgiven, familial estrangements healed, property shared, larders opened for the poor. Even the ground was to rest as nothing was to be planted where a harvest had been gleaned. Farmers left the margins of their fields open for the poor to grow food.
I am wondering if we are in a Sabbath year. We have been witnessing extraordinary kindness and generosity among so many people starting with caregivers and medical personnel. There are literally thousands of unknown acts of kindness extended everyday during this pandemic. We are sharing food, resources, talent. We are acting responsibly by socially distancing ourselves, wearing masks, connecting by Zoom. We are praying in virtual groups and we are sending messages to the lonely and the grieving. And, most importantly, we are acknowledging the disastrous tenacity of racism that has seeped into our American zeitgeist and controlled so much of who we are. It has taken a Sabbath, a spiritual equalizer, to uncover all of this. It is not a coincidence that a virus and racism have collided. Both can destroy health and bring on death. I wonder if the virus opened our eyes to our national vulnerability beginning with the body and moving to the soul.
Like many of you, I get discouraged at the sheltering-in-place requirement. So I’ve been making it a point to carve out personal Sabbath time, enjoying a day in the woods. I pack a book, notebook, sketchbook, water bottle in a backpack and fancy myself as another Annie Dillard off to the creek for prayer and reflection. (The name of our creek is Tinker’s Creek,the name of the creek that also inspired Dillard!) We need to make Sabbath times out of an imposed Sabbath time or we will find it hard to endure.
I suggest you join me in reading the Hebrew Scriptures, Deuteronomy, Chapters 5 and 6 and Genesis, Chapter 2. Reflect on these as you sit by the water or in the woods or even on a city park bench.
A few readings from the poetry of Mary Oliver and the writing of Annie Dillard will help as well.
“A river will rise in Eden,” (Genesis 2:10) to bless your time of Sabbath.