Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11, NIV)
Some years ago a friend of mine gave me a book entitled Keeping the Sabbath Wholly by Marva J. Dawn. I recommend it to you. Around that same time I read an article which I can no longer find in my files, but which I remember being by Eugene Petersen (though I’m not certain of that), called “Confessions of a Sabbath-Breaker.” Both of these readings challenged me to think deeply about what it means to keep the Sabbath. My understanding of Sabbath-keeping continues to grow and develop, but my general principles are simple. First of all, maintaining some type of Sabbath observance is important. It is commanded by God and it benefits us as people. God did not create us to work endlessly without rest. I think this message is more essential in our busy world than ever. Secondly, Sabbath-keeping means taking a break from the routines of our lives. Dawn in her book speaks of four activities: ceasing, resting, embracing and feasting. My current approach is to do nothing out of compulsion or duty. Instead I want to rest by doing that which is enjoyable and which brings me closer in relationship to God and others.
The challenge in determining what it means to observe the Sabbath is that anytime we begin trying to determine a list of what is allowed and forbidden, we end up becoming legalists and destroy the very notion of the Sabbath. Our activities or lack thereof becomes a measure of our spirituality, rather than a freely-offered response to God’s goodness. This is what Jesus attacked when he pointed out that the Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. Some argue that one should never watch television on the Sabbath. Others say we should be certain to enjoy the natural world. Still others … All of these can be valid arguments. But to elevate any of them to rules which we must observe is, in my opinion, to violate the very nature of Sabbath by making it into a duty and making ourselves slaves to the law of Sabbath.
At one time I felt quite strongly that I needed to observe the Sabbath by not using my computer in any manner. This was in part a response to the fact that I spent a large portion of my work week and even my leisure time on the computer and I felt the need to step away from it for a time, to free myself from the tyranny of urgency that comes with electronic communication. However, of late I’ve felt freedom to use part of my Sabbath to correspond with friends. Most of the time this is by e-mail and therefore involves using the computer. There was also a time when I felt quite strongly that I should not watch television on the Sabbath. Now, although I try to leave it off most of the day, I don’t feel that I am in the wrong if I choose to watch my favorite football team or play video games with my son. In keeping with my basic principle stated earlier, if I began to feel like I must do any of these activities (either out of internal or external compulsion), I would want to release them and not engage in them for a period of time. For example, if I find myself thinking that I absolutely MUST write to any particular person on the Sabbath, I usually will choose to delay writing until another day. I want my Sabbath-day correspondence to be freely chosen.
Because this post is getting rather long, I will end here for today and continue my thoughts on this tomorrow.