Today is my Dad’s 81st birthday. I have inherited a lot of traits from my Dad. Today I’ll celebrate the good ones: loyalty, punctuality, orderliness, discipline [We won’t mention the times when it becomes a bit obsessive compulsive!] This quality can be seen in the following piece I wrote for REJOICE! magazine. I post it today in his honour.
It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon in the midst of harvest season, and my dad is lying on the couch having a nap as he does every Sunday. In his family and church this had been a practice for a few centuries, at least. If you had asked him, he could probably not have articulated a theology of why he was doing this; it was just a part of his rhythm of life that was almost as routine and involuntary as his beating heart.
Looking back from a technological market-driven society, my dad’s Sunday practice seems almost ridiculous, or at best, quaint. Yet, when I think about it, I begin to see how revolutionary the Sabbath rest could be.
I live in a vastly different world than my parents did. My parents operated a small, mixed farm on the Canadian prairies. They owned a hundred acres of arable land, some pasture for cows, a barn full of pigs, a shelter for chickens, and a large vegetable and fruit garden. Few such farms remain on the prairies. Does the practice of Sabbath that was so much a part of my father’s lifestyle still have relevance? If so, how do we practice it today?
The Sabbath principle is part of the Ten Commandments. Our Creator God commanded God’s people to model their Creator, working six days and resting on the seventh (Exodus 20:8-11). An additional reason for the Sabbath is given in Deuteronomy: to remember the release from enslaved work in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). Sabbath literally means to stop. It is a cessation of activity—more than just taking a day off of work.
Keeping the Sabbath is about time, but it is also a mindset of stepping back from an excessive focus on work and productivity. It is about living contentedly in God’s provision. The principle of the Sabbath gives us the time to reflect and to put work and life in perspective.
Keeping the Sabbath will look different for different people; it might involve playing, worshiping, going offline, or even sleeping! Because my work involves reading, writing, and talking, I like to go in the backyard by myself to pull weeds, trim trees, or dig in the dirt to practice Sabbath. The timing or activity is not the most important thing about Sabbath; it is just doing it, or more accurately not doing anything that resembles our working days!
Sabbath means that we let our work projects sit idle for a time in order to rest and reflect. My dad trusted God that there would be another sunny day in which to harvest. I return to my college office with a refreshed mind and replenished emotional and social capital. In a fast-paced, consumeristic, technological society, practicing Sabbath is revolutionary, because it dares to assert that God and not the market rules our lives.