Monday, July 23, 2012

Freedom from, freedom for

Laura Ingalls Wilder was not allowed to sew clothes for her doll on Sunday. Reading this in the Little House books as a child, I realized that not everyone loved Sundays as much as I did.  Until I was in second or third grade, I was convinced that "Sunday" was so named because the sun was always bright on church days (this is a rather strange conclusion for a child of grey midwestern winters, but then, induction has never been my strength). As my parents and I would walk to church, I would imagine that the birds sitting on the telephone wires were arranging themselves upon avian pews in preparation for worship.

Not everyone who grows up in a Sabbath-keeping household has such fond memories of Sundays. I have a friend who is reluctant to call home on Sundays for fear that she might let slip that she did her laundry after church. Even as a grown woman, she fears the disapproval of her sabbatarian parents. Even without irksome memories of keeping a Sabbath, many Christians seem ready to dismiss the idea of sabbath-keeping without any discussion, much less any prayer.  "That's just legalism," I've heard more times than I can count. Or they will invoke Mark 2.27: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."  I don't contest that Jesus challenged many of his culture's rigid ideas about keeping the Sabbath holy, but I think it is worth considering Mark 2.28, as well: "So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath."

I cannot claim to understand all of what Jesus means in Mark 2, but I do know that Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it (Matt 5.17), and the command to keep the Sabbath holy is one of the central laws God gives to his people.  As I have tried to show in other posts (here and here, for example), keeping the Sabbath as a day of worship and rest is both discipline and liberation.

Because I know that Sabbath-keeping has a tendency to turn into rigid rule-keeping, I have not yet provided a list of practices for keeping Sundays as a holy day.  However, I want this to be a blog that integrates ideals and practices. What I offer here is not a prescription for a holy Sabbath, but a glimpse of my own small, evolving habits of consecrated rest. Next Monday, I will discuss habits that I do not yet practice, but which I hope to begin observing.

On Sundays, I free myself from....

Professional obligations
     I love my work, but come Saturday night, I set aside my lesson plans, my grading, my research, and my writing. During seasons when work is stressful, Sundays are days to have faith that "when God made time, he made enough of it." At times when work is satisfying and joyful, Sundays are days of release and humility: I remember  that all my work, no matter how eloquent or moving or lasting, will one day pass away.

Getting and spending
      Except in emergencies, I do not shop or spend on Sundays, nor do I research possible purchases nor update my budget spreadsheet. I let go of my instinct for gathering, focusing instead on contentment with what I have.
      I try to extend this practice to eating out, as well. Whether or not the employees at a restaurant are Christians, I don't want to support markets that thrive on Sundays. This can be tricky, since many people use Sunday lunch as a chance to build relationships with friends from church.  Once I am established in a church community, I try to suggest alternatives to eating out, such as a potluck in my home. However, of all my practices, this is probably the one I most often set aside.

Sometimes, I free myself from being awake.
     I dedicate time each Saturday night for cleaning house, not only because I don't want to do the very real work of scrubbing, washing, and arranging on Sunday, but because waking to a clean, tidy space on Sunday morning is one way I welcome the Sabbath as a treasured guest.

     Rarely do I listen to the news on Sunday, and I am careful not to watch movies or read books that will make me sad. This might seem like escapism, but it is not: it is my challenge to the hard news, shocking realities, and brutal facts I let break my heart six days a week. On those six days, I ask God to show me how I can fight the darkness, but on Sundays, I surrender my feeble weapons, trusting that it is God who truly gives victory.

On Sundays, I free myself for....

     As a Baptist girl, I did not grow up with any knowledge of fasting and feasting as spiritual practices, but as an adult, I use a number of weekly "fasts" to set Sunday apart as a holy, joyful day. On Sundays, I sweeten the hot tea that I have drunk plain all week. On Sundays, I often serve meat and make desserts. On Sundays, I wear my prettiest dresses and watch movies. During the winter, I end my Sundays with a long, soaking bath instead of a quick, conservation-conscious shower.

    I love the hymns, testimonies, and sermons that constitute most Baptist worship services, but after church, I try to set aside at least part of my Sunday for cultivating silence. Remembering the faithful patience of the Quakers, I turn off my music, shun my phone, and close my computer--sometimes for a quarter of an hour, sometimes longer. Sitting in my own home in such silence changes my perception: the light always looks a little different, and without the flow of sounds I have chosen (such as music), I hear new things--train whistles, children, neighbors, rain.

   During the week, my attention is almost always divided. Even as I focus on one task, the day's to-do list continues reeling across my mind's eye. I get distracted while reading by plans for the next day, or I forget something from my grocery list because the long-hunted word for my thesis interrupts my search for brown rice or tomatoes. On Sundays, I attend to one thing at a time. I don't plan for the week to come, even if the plans are happy ones. I exchange my computer, with its ever-alluring tabs and windows, for the relative austerity of a letter-paper. I go for a walk and pay attention to what I am seeing, rather than what I need to do when I return.

Remember, I see these habits in terms of freedom, not force.  As human practices, these observances are only holy insofar as they make me more like Jesus. I would not force them upon any brother or sister, but I have invited my friends to join me in seeking ways to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

Will you join me in discussing and practicing what it means to follow "the lord of the Sabbath"? What, if anything, do you free yourself from or for on the Sabbath?


  1. I have struggled in the past with working in the pharmacy on Sundays when scheduled. Then, as I was going into church, I realized that Jesus healed on the Sabbath! So, what little I could do to help humanity should be without breaking the Sabbath. And we are supposed to do as Jesus would. The sicknesses afflicting patients do not care about the day!

  2. I free myself from my schedule. I keep Sabbath on Saturdays because it is my one day without commitments (for the most part). Saturdays are my one day to sleep in and catch up on sleep (sleeping in until 8am is a victory). I free myself from my ¨work first, play later¨ mindset. My Sabbath is a time to spend on a craft (until crafting becomes frustrating and work) that I considered too frivolous to work on during the week. My Sabbath is sometimes a time for special baking (a loaf of bread in the bread-maker or a new dessert that I don´t take the time for during the week. Sometimes baking is work, but sometimes it is a celebration and acceptable for my Sabbath). The Sabbath is a pause, a breath, that comes before the next week. Sometimes something comes up on my Sabbath and I have to remind myself that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. I remind myself that it is more important to keep a day of rest than to keep a specific day work-free (I have kept Saturdays and Sundays as my Sabbath before, but I prefer Saturdays because I don´t have tasks dictated and by giving my Saturday to God, I feel like it is my fattened calf).