Keeping Sabbath

September 30th, 2016

He sat on the dilapidated, faded yellow seat of the old John Deere combine, waiting for the signal from his father to fire the old girl up. It was Sunday afternoon, and this was the first time ever in his fifteen-year-old life that his father had even considered the possibility of working on a Sunday. The exceptional decision had been prompted by weather forecasts that, if accurate, would delay the wheat harvest for several days. The consequences included the potential of catastrophic loss. Poised with his hand at the ignition switch, he glanced once more at his father for the go-ahead signal. Instead, the old man made a slicing motion with his hand at his throat, calling off the day’s work. He couldn’t do it. Never had broken the Sabbath, and wasn’t about to start now.

That family story is seventy years old, and that fifteen-year old boy is now a friend of mine for whom the keeping of the Sabbath is a sacred duty and privilege. Eighty-four years old, he still plays by the old rules, the rules laid down by his devout father decades ago. From that day until this day, he has practiced the Sabbath by doing no work on Sunday, including mowing the yard or sweeping the porch. He doesn’t go out to eat because that means someone else will have to work. After church he reads, rests, or watches a football game.

I am old enough to remember that this was the way my grandparents lived on Sundays, and the way we lived when we stayed with them. I am young enough to consider it rather remarkable that anyone still does it, and will readily concede that, for most modern families (including my own) it would involve a life-style departure so radical as to not seem feasible. I, for one, am not ready to forego a Sunday meal out, or a trip to the grocery store. But it might be time for us to acknowledge that our constant engagement with commerce, be it work or shopping or participation in the non-stop frenzy of the world wide web, is creating a spiritual emptiness that has both emotional and intellectual consequences.

Disconnecting from our devices and picking up a book, or watching a sunset, or spending some time in prayer/meditation, might be the opportunity God is looking for to mend the frayed nerves or the broken heart. Finding the space in busy schedules to create a time of Sabbath might be a first priority for those seeking tranquility in the midst of the chaos.

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