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“Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”  A commandment.  Perhaps the commandment with which I struggle the most.  But I know God must be trying to get my attention, because Sabbath keeping is showing up over and over again in the things I pick up to read.

Eugene Peterson started it off as I was reading his memoir about being a pastor.  He recounts a conversation with a colleague of his when they were in the diner.  His colleague had had many conversations with their waitress, apparently about the spiritual life. Peterson’s colleague, Tom, says “Eugune, did you see us talking, the way she was talking–that intensity? I wish I could do that kind of thing all day long, every day.  Every time I come in here and there are no customers, she wants to talk about prayer and her life.” Peterson asks why he doesn’t, and Tom answers in a way that haunts me. He says, “Because I have to run this damn church.”

Certainly, that must have been a sign of his colleague’s burnout. It made Peteson and a group of pastors realize just how much they were all overwhelmed by the tasks of ministry. They all began a practice of serious sabbath keeping which Peterson speaks of in his chapter called “Emmaus Walks.” Peterson made the commitment to keeping a Monday sabbath, and describes the shift they made from taking a day off to keeping a Sabbath.

I’m a little fascinated by this.  I try very hard to set aside one day as a day off, but my husband and friends would say that I’m not very good at it. There is always a sermon that just didn’t get finished or there are bulletins to run or there is a possum to get out of the office (no, seriously!) When I’m in town, I might get a chunk of time for myself, but more often than not, I spend it cleaning or doing errands in town. Maybe I will get in a long walk with my doggie, but that’s about it as far as doing something completely for myself. I understand that I need a day off.  But I also understand that it’s not enough. I want something more, something other. I want delicious time to think and pray and listen and watch.  I want to fill my soul.

I’ve been “reading at” Abraham Herschel’s Sabbath again, and I’m reminded of what a beautiful job Jewish folks do with Sabbath keeping. They don’t cook or clean.  They don’t drive.  They don’t use electronics. They pray and worship and enjoy family time, without the destractions that weigh us down.  I want that.

I can’t however, for the life of me, figure out how to actually make it happen.  I did make a start last night.  I stayed up and cleaned the house.  I ran my errands yesterday.  There is still a sermon to finish today, but it feels a little bit different.  It doesn’t feel like one more thing on a very long to-do list.  It feels like a cherished time to write and think about God’s word. Assuming the hurricane doesn’t come in this afternoon, I’m looking forward to a long walk in the cornfields.  Maybe I’ll cook, just because I love to cook–not because I have to get a meal on the table. Maybe I’ll draw as I pray– like I used to do.

Maybe I can learn to Sabbath a little bit at a time, until the whole thing just takes over my being.  After all, it’s 8:42 in the morning, and I’m still in my pajamas listening to the dogs snoring on the couch beside me. I’ve not made a manic rush out the door in an attempt to fit more things in to an already crowded day.

It’s a start.


If you’d like to read more about Sabbath keeping, here are some books I love:

Babara Brown Taylor’s “An Altar in the World”

Eugene Peterson’s “The Pastor: A Memoir”

Wendell Berry’s “A Timbered Choir: Sabbath Poems”

Abraham Herschel’s “Sabbath”

Don Postema’s “Catch Your Breath”