Showing posts with label renewal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label renewal. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Take a Breath!

Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall cease, so that your ox and your donkey will rest, and the son of your maidservant and the sojourner will be refreshed.
Exodus 23:12
The observance of the Sabbath is mentioned in many verses of the Torah, but this one is my favorite.  It proposes that we stop working on the Sabbath not only to allow ourselves time to rest, but also to allow our work animals and laborers an opportunity to shore up their strength, because all living creatures need rest.  The biblical scholar Everett Fox translates the last word of this verse, vayinfash, as “pause-for-breath.”[1]  This definition of Sabbath rest resonates for me.  Since my college days, I have taken advantage of this weekly opportunity to turn off my phone and power down my computer, close my writer’s notebook and lock my car in the garage.  Through the years, people who learned of my strict observance of the Sabbath have asked me if it’s difficult not being able to do laundry or run errands on Saturday. It’s true that I have occasionally imagined being more productive by foregoing my Sabbath rest.  But these thoughts are fleeting.  Observing the Sabbath refreshes and recharges my spirit; this weekly commitment to pausing for breath has changed my life.

Christians share with Jews the scriptural commandment to honor the Sabbath. With numerous variations, we traditionally observe the Sabbath on Sunday, which we call “the Lord’s Day.” In communal worship, we understand the Sabbath as a “little Easter,” an experience of spiritual resurrection, refreshment, and renewal. I have to say, however, that the concept of physical rest, which Tziporah expresses in the pause-for-breath time she takes each week, is often lost in my own Sabbath practice. Tziporah’s example inspires me to realize my need to honor the “take a breath” in all its fullness. Taking Sunday (or another day) to “close down” and not just “rev up,” would enable me to express in practice my conviction that spiritual health is intimately linked to the physical, mental, and emotional well-being that God wants for all God’s people—and God’s creatures!

The Quran mentions the Sabbath as a commandment to the Jewish people.[2]  For Muslims, the essence of the Sabbath as a day for connecting with God has two aspects.  First, when practicing Muslims put on hold whatever they are doing and turn to God at different times throughout every day to perform their five prayers, they are observing an aspect of Sabbath.  In fact, the Arabic word for prayer is Salat, which means connection. Furthermore, Friday is a day that brings numerous purposeful actions, including the congregational sermon and communal Salat; during that time, Muslim men are prohibited from working. Friday is also a day for increased remembrance of God and reaching out to the community. The feeling that Tziporah describes as the fruit of her observance of the Sabbath is the same sense of peace I feel as an observant Muslim. This feeling is derived from the highest purpose a faithful person can have, and that is to obey the commands of God in order to seek His pleasure.

[1] This word, which appears only twice in the Torah, is also used in Exodus 31:17 to describe God’s taking a breath on the seventh day after completing the Creation.
[2] See 2:65, 4:47, 4:154, 7:163 and 16:124.