Our family has had the great fortune of attending Moon Beach Family Camp for the last 10 years. We’ve also had the good fortune of attending our church’s January retreat at Pilgrim Center for the last 8 years. We all have very fond, happy, comforting memories of both these places. There are times when I long to go to Moon Beach or Pilgrim Center especially when I’m feeling sad, overwhelmed or restless. A couple years ago, I realized that our son Gabe also uses this as a coping strategy. I’ll never forget one wintry morning he came downstairs for breakfast before going to school. When he got to his chair, he just laid his head down on the table. I asked him what was going on. And he said, “I just want to go to Moon Beach.”
Most of us have special places that have become sacred to us; where we can just lay our head down and be. These places are settings that help us reset our functioning and remind us again of who we are.
I have to admit that I’ve felt this desire to go to Moon Beach even more intensely in the past couple of months—just to escape from it all which I know isn’t the most mature way to be a citizen. But lately I’ve been wondering if my soul is actually trying to tell me something—and maybe besides just escaping there is a valid reason for my longing. What is it about the setting at Moon Beach and Pilgrim Center that creates in me a longing to go back? And my first answer is—Sabbath. It’s a place that gives me permission to take a break, a rest.
I’m realizing that in these really challenging times, it’s very important to consider Sabbath rest as vital to our work of justice—now more than ever even though we may be tempted to do the opposite. It might be our tendency to speed up, to work 24/7, to increase our efforts, to allow our Sabbath time to be invaded by good and important justice work. But I wonder if this is a healthy move. The anger and the anxiety continues to escalate in our world and it’s very easy to get caught up in this cycle of anger, then reacting, which increases anger, which increases reactions. Rather than operating 24/7, a better formula would be 24/6—something that God proposed a long time ago.
So what does it mean to honor the Sabbath; to observe it and keep it holy? I appreciate Marva Dawn’s definition that is listed in the bulletin which is stated on the front page of the United Church of Christ Camps’ website: “Sabbath is ceasing from work and also ceasing from the need to accomplish and be productive.” I would add that this honoring of the Sabbath doesn’t need to happen on one specific day; we can have Sabbath rests throughout our week. However, we may want to try and protect the boundaries of what we consider Sabbath Sunday at least to some degree. We are told in the commandment why we are to take a Sabbath rest—because God did. God designs a pattern of six days for work and creating and one day of rest, which gives a rhythm to our lives that is life-giving. I thought about this rhythm when our family visited the ocean in 2012. I wrote in my journal: It was incredible how the ocean orchestrated the sunbathers and all of us to move to higher ground as high tide rolled in. No one protested this natural occurrence and in true form we all (hundreds of us) paid our due respect to the rhythm of the ocean waves. That rhythm caught my attention. I was reminded from the ocean that there is a beauty in the rhythm of work and Sabbath rest, prayer and service, worship and daily obligations.
So then, what would be the benefits of continuing to heed this commandment even in these very tumultuous times? I can think of a few.
First of all, and maybe most important, in honoring the Sabbath we remember our Creator. We remember that affirmation we proclaim at every baptism—we belong to God. This belonging, as mysterious as it is, means that we can enjoy a relationship with God.
When Arthur Michael Ramsey was named Archbishop of Canterbury in 1961, the media asked him to describe his relationship with God. He said, “I enjoy God.” Now this is not what the reporters expected to hear from the new Archbishop or any Archbishop. Perceptions of archbishops may be that they are always serious and do not enjoy anything. Any maybe perceptions about our relationship with God is one of seriousness and hard work. What a lovely answer for this man to share. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say this about their relationship with God. Would it be that in Sabbath rest, we are invited to enjoy God?
In addition, there is something remarkable that happens in remembering that we belong to God—we realize for the good of everyone, that we are not the center of the universe. We shift back to our secondary position and remember where our strength, hope, and guidance comes from. As we give thanks to God, our Creator, we remember that we are recipients of transforming grace and mercy and that this grace and mercy extends to the ends of the earth. Our value is our worth to God. And when we remember this anew, our souls can be satisfied.
Second, honoring Sabbath helps us to shift our thinking about time. Dorothy Bass, author of Receiving the Day, says that “time is a gift from God. So characterized, time may not be earned, spent, squeezed, stretched, or lost. In addition, as with all divine gifts, time is given in abundance. Each of us receives all the time we require to be and do what God intends. There is no lack of time!!” This is so at odds with how we often live our lives. Too often we consider time short, frenzied and fleeting. And we respond by trying to buy time and at all costs not to lose time. We are on the move 24/7.
I deeply love the words that are shared with our preschool Sunday School class as part of their orientation to the class.
Children hear these words:
The Worship Center (referring to their Sunday School class) is a very special place. It is a special place to be with God. In this place we have all the time we need. So we don’t need to hurry.”
I wonder what would happen to the quality of our days if each morning we said a prayer something like this:
God of all, thank you for this new day. Thank you for the time you give in abundance. Today I remember your divine love that fills the earth. Today I remember that you give to me the gift of time and that today I have all the time I need to live out your values and follow your way. I receive this day, the hours of this day, solely as gifts from you. Amen.
This understanding that God gives us all the time we need helps us to frame our days differently. We don’t own our days and our time; we receive them as gifts.
And finally, by honoring the Sabbath, we remember that we don’t live in an either/or world. We don’t need to choose between Sabbath rest or working for justice. We remember that being disciples, following in God’s ways, is about the word “and”. Quaker Elton Trueblood said the most important word in the Bible is “and” which he calls “the holy conjunction.” Faith is both /and – not either/or. So…
We honor Sabbath and work for justice.
We pray and strive for racial justice.
We grieve and give thanks.
We listen to the “other” and learn.
We discern and do the Spirit’s leading.
We engage in spiritual practices and we offer works of service.
We disagree and we stay connected.
Who knew that honoring the Sabbath could teach us so much?
I want to close with a poem by Mary Oliver. For me, this poem lifts up the beauty of Sabbath rest.
The Poet Dreams of the Mountain
Sometimes I grow weary of the days with all their fits and starts.
I want to climb some old grey mountain, slowly, taking
the rest of my life to do it, resting often, sleeping
under the pines or, above them, on the unclothed rocks.
I want to see how many stars are still in the sky
that we have smothered for years now, forgiving it all,
and peaceful, knowing the last thing there is to know.
All that urgency! Not what the earth is about!
How silent the trees, their poetry being of themselves only.
I want to take slow steps, and think appropriate thoughts.
In ten thousand years, maybe, a piece of the mountain will fall.