Spiritual disciplines are the habits we keep that connect us to God. They come from the Jewish conviction that action shapes and reveals what we ultimately believe. Our faith might come and go, but our actions should never waiver. This can be true for people of all faith claims.
We dance in rhythm with God when we keep the Sabbath. The reason we are called to take a day of rest is simple. Humans tend to forget that we did not make the world and thus, that the world does not depend upon us.
Barbara Brown Taylor tells a story about a friend, David, growing up in Atlanta and what he taught her about fidelity to God:
When I was a junior in high school, my boyfriend Herb played on the varsity basketball team. He was not the star player however. The star player was a boy named David, who scored so many points during his four-year career that the coach retired his jersey when he graduated. This would have been remarkable under any circumstances, but it was doubly so since David did not play on Friday nights.
On Friday nights, David observed the Sabbath with the rest of his family, who generously withdrew when David’s gentile friends arrived, sweaty and defeated, after Friday night home games.
Following each Friday night game, David’s friends came to his house to describe the game in great detail. “Blow by blow” the gentiles were allowed to speak and create worlds in David’s living room. Someone in the room asked if it bothered him to sit at home while his team “was getting slaughtered in the high school gymnasium.”
“No one makes me do this,” he said. “I’m a Jew, and Jews observe the Sabbath.” Six days a week, he said, he loved nothing more than playing basketball and he gladly gave all he had to the game. On the seventh day, he loved being Jewish more than he loved playing basketball, and he just as gladly gave all he had to the Sabbath. Sure, he felt a tug, but that was the whole point. Sabbath was his chance to remember what was really real. Once three stars were visible in the Friday night sky, his identity as a Jew was more real to him than his identity as the star of our basketball team."
It is essential for Christians to create regular, intentional spaces of time in which we do not work, e-mail, fax, clean, or do laundry.
A time when we allow our hearts to settle and the voices to hush. Sabbath is a time when we remember that God made the world and rested; that He calls us to rest with him, to hear his voice, to be aware of his presence.
And it is a time to remember, according to the Hebrew Testament teaching on Sabbath and Jubilee, that there will be a day when all peoples of the world will rest—not just the ones who can financially afford to take a day off.
Sabbath-keeping reminds us that we are pilgrims in a foreign land, awaiting the world to become what the world was meant to be.
We remember vividly that, although God made the world, the world is not the way God made it.
When we keep Sabbath, we proclaim to the rest of the world that God is about the business of making things new. God needs a way of reminding us that we are no longer in Egypt, stacking bricks for the Empire. If busyness and idolatry plague our collective life, Sabbath is a means by which we can become more like the person God created us to be.
For the last few years, I’ve rigorously worked to keep a full Sabbath day in my weekly schedule.
It hasn’t always been easy.
Deaths, births, tragedies, miracles, and mundane duties of life show little regard for my personal desire to rest.
Slowly, over time, when those things occur on Sabbath, I’m tempted to jump in and fix everything. Sometimes, when the circumstances demand, I have to get involved. Most of the time, however, keeping Sabbath convicts me that the world can run just fine without me. I see a clear role for myself in the divine story. I am important in this narrative, but I’m not the main point or the main character. Sabbath teaches me this.
Whole. Rested. Listening. Attentive. Cleansed.
This is what Sabbath is about. It creates the space in our lives for us to remember who we are. To remember that we are players in a different story.
Americans work hard. Maybe too hard.
This is an invitation to Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Atheists, Agnostics, Buddhists, and Christians.
One day a week. Rest. For God’s sake.
Dr. Josh Graves is a minister and writer in Nashville, Tenn. (www.ottercreek.org). He is the author of three books: "Tearing down the Walls: a Guide for Muslims and Christians in North America" (2013), The Feast (2009), and "Heaven on Earth" (2012, with Chris Seidman). Josh completed doctoral studies at Columbia Theological Seminary focusing on the relationship of Christianity and Islam in the United States. He blogs at www.joshuagraves.com and tweets from @joshgraves.