We live in a culture that worships work, hard work, endless work. We pride ourselves on our work, on working hard. Friends meet for a few moments – a chance meeting – and exchange the list of how many hours they’ve been working, how many important projects they have been asked to do.
In the Hebrew Scriptures (aka The Old Testament), the creation story recounts the magnificent creation, day to day. This is the story of creation in the ancient Hebrew culture. And in the story, the reader discovers that God not only created this abundant and diverse world, diverse with creatures – and now, with cultures, with languages, with ways of being – and then, when the hard work of creation had been accomplished, God rested.
The ancient Hebrew people took this rhythm seriously, working hard for six days, and setting aside the Sabbath Day to rest, to make love, to enjoy the fruits of their hard work, to honor the great Creator who had gifted them with this abundance. The day of rest that God had known in the ancient tale became the day of rest for human beings.
We may think of this as an old, old, story. We may think of this as a myth, for all cultures have their own imaginative story of how this world we know – the only world we know – came to be. How did we get here? We ask. What is our purpose for being here? We ask. Who am I in this huge, abundant world? We ask. What value does this ancient story have for me, for my life, for this complicated, tech-driven world? We ask.
A day of rest, a day of Sabbath allows us to ask these questions, to reflect, to consider, to frame our difficulties differently.
Most of us can tell a story of the time we came upon the answer to some problem, some dilemma in our lives. And often, when we tell that story, we recall that we had taken a step back from that dilemma, and then, the answer, the resolution of the puzzle that had plagued us became clear. Solved! Our problem has been solved! Magic!
A day of rest allows for that kind of space in our own busy lives.
I’m an American, and so I know my own culture very well, so well, that it is as if I am swimming in it. When I go somewhere else, I unwittingly take my culture with me wherever I go. And I know that Americans are known the world over for the value, the importance, the worship they give to work. “This is how it is,” we unconsciously sing, moment to moment. This is the power of culture. And across the world, “Americans,” that is, people who are from the United States, work hard, and expect the same of everyone. This is the culture we swim in. It is as much a part of us as we are of it.
And so, all of my words are an invitation to you: gift yourself a Sabbath. Renew yourself. Take time to look out the window, to sit on the windowsill, to walk around the block or down the road, to talk to that friend you have been thinking of, too busy to call. Take time to dust off from your body and mind the pressure of hard work and endless thinking that has driven you. Don’t worry – all of that will be there when you return. After the time of Sabbath, may you be gifted with new energy, new imagination, new hope for the life you are living.