Remembering and Observing
I grew up in the church, so the concept wasn’t foreign. Still, I hadn’t pondered it, or tried to figure out why it was mentioned so many times in the Bible, or considered that it should be a part of my life.
Whenever I talk about how I started thinking about sabbath, I mention Lauren Winner. She is one of my “writer friends” and the conversational, right-there-with-you way that she writes has made me feel like I know her.
Lauren wrote a wonderful little book called Mudhouse Sabbath which tells the story of her ongoing thoughts on sabbath and certain other elements of Judaism she missed from her youth as a member of the Orthodox community. (If you haven’t read it, I recommend her highly).
In college, I decided that I needed to try to set one day apart where I did not do homework or laundry or work. It was extremely hard, and I will not tell you that I was consistent about it. Especially as graduation approached, I did not keep my sabbath. I tried not to be legalistic about it, I don’t think that was the point I was trying to engage with (I certainly hadn’t gotten legalism from Lauren Winner). I ached for rest, though, even as I fought it.
After college, I found myself with a schedule that didn’t match most of the people I knew. I worked weekends, and I couldn’t dedicate either traditional sabbath to resting. I chose to make Wednesdays my sabbath for a while.
There are two things that I am learning (and will probably be learning for a long time) about sabbath. One is that it is best practiced in community, and another is that the important reason that I need to do it is because it forces me to give God control of what happens at least once a week.
Wednesdays were hard to keep consistent, mostly because I did them all by myself. Without community, something like sabbath seems like the equivalent of having a dinner party all by myself. There is a lot of food to go around, but it’s not very fulfilling. Everything I found in Scripture referenced sabbath being practiced in a group, whether it was within the family unit, or a larger body, it wasn’t something you were to do alone.
In our individualistic culture, it is difficult for me to get my mind around this concept. We say that we need each other, we need community, we need the Body of Christ, but I don’t always live that out. Sometimes, I decide that what I really need is a break.
I have found sabbath to be many things, but I have never found it to be a break.
Not only are sabbaths filled with people, mostly people I am very close to, but they are also a day where I don’t take things into my own hands. The hardest part is letting go, of expectations, of my to-do list, of the illusion that I have control over my own life. All the time, I say I trust God, I really do believe that I’m not big enough to mess up my own life, I know that He is sovereign, but I don’t always act like I believe that.
When I started digging deeper into what the Bible says about the sabbath, I came across something that I had never noticed before. You may know that there are two sets of the ten commandments, one in Exodus, and a reprise in Deuteronomy. In Exodus 20:8 God says: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” and in Deuteronomy 5:12 it says: “Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.” In the Exodus reference, it goes on to talk about creation, and how God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh. As you read on in Deuteronomy, the Israelites were urged to remember that they had been slaves in Egypt and God brought them out and that is why they should observe the sabbath.
Being a word person, I pondered this. The words are different, but they go together.
So often, God asks us to remember. No wonder. If you look through the Bible, you will notice that people are constantly forgetting what God has done for them. I am no better. God was always asking people to set up piles of rocks so that they would see them, wonder why they were there, and someone would remember the great thing God had done. All of the holidays were remembering devices as well. Every year, Passover helped celebrate the fact that people who had been slaves were now free.
Once a week, it seems, God wanted His people to remember that He made them, that He was good at time management, that He had freed them once from bonds that seemed far too strong and He could do it again.
I could stand to remember that once a week.
Once a week, He asked His people to observe. Not to engage, not to figure it out, but to observe.
Here are two of my favorite definitions of “observe”:
1. Notice or perceive (something) and register it as being significant.
2. Watch (someone or something) carefully and attentively.
Sometimes, for me, this all happens in a cycle. I forget what God has done, or who God is. I forget to pay attention, I forget that I am dust with God’s breath in me, animating my every move, thought and hope. Sabbath reminds me.
I am entering a new chapter in my life today. I am joining the ranks of people who work during the week. I am thinking about sabbath again, stirring to experience what it will look like for me in this season. I'm sure I'll need the reminder more than ever.