During the days of my childhood I remember my father’s tractor sitting idly on the field each Sunday of summer. It wasn’t because of any personal belief to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Gn 20:8). He refrained from working out of respect for those who did hallow it by observing the commandment not to work.
Year by year, however, even the devout farmers of the community were drawn to their fields on Sundays, the threat of rain clouds apparently justifying their actions. Eventually my father joined them, and I distinctly remember the loss — no leisurely Sunday drives, no family gatherings under the shady trees of our big front yard, no relaxed interaction with friends. Life had changed from a rhythmic pause one day in seven to a relentless beat.
Those who choose to march to a different drum are becoming fewer and farther between, risking not only benefits that are intangible, but their very jobs as well. Sunday is one of the busiest days at shopping malls. Factories and companies run 24/7, and employees are scheduled accordingly, with little resistance. For busy people, setting aside one day in seven for rest, relationships and worship seems too much of a sacrifice to make.
But is it? Jewish people have kept the Sabbath for thousands of years, but perhaps not as much as the Sabbath has kept them. Christians adopted Sunday — the day of resurrection — as their Sabbath, and Christ affirmed that it was designed to bless humanity in general: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27). It was designed, not as a rigid obligation, but as a benefit to body and soul. During recent decades adherents have wandered away from those benefits, joining the secular world in its ever-increasing search for materialistic gain. But is it a wise move?
Aristotle spoke of the practical wisdom of seasoned knowledge gained by a community of people through actual life experience. Such wisdom understands that the perpetual pounding of a busy life must be balanced by regular intervals of peace and quiet. Any such pauses, however, are being largely ignored, eroded by our efforts to “save time” by prowling through shopping malls on Sundays and catching up on overdue chores. Allowing ourselves no time for rest and worship, we become enslaved to values that leave us spiritually poorer and physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Many recognize the symptoms but find it difficult to break the tyranny of the times. We want to be efficient. We want to meet expectations, or even exceed them. We want to break away from any restrictions our parents imposed. We dismiss as irrelevant the advice and example of our creator God, who himself “rested on the seventh day . . . and blessed the seventh day and sanctified it” (Gn 2:2,3).
But mostly, we want immediate payoff, and the result of setting aside one day in seven does not result in instant gratification. practising the Sabbath requires a change in our thinking, a long-term commitment, and drawing boundaries where none exist.
The results, however, are freedom from the relentless pressure of productivity, a break from the rat race of materialism and the soul-satisfying peace of deepening our relationships with others and with God.
Barkman is a freelance writer who lives in Winnpeg. (www.almabarkman.com)