Driving through the snowy, foggy Homestake mountain pass, dropping down into Butte, Montana, I was struck by the simple beauty of the pines capped with snow, like a quintessential Christmas morning. They were recently given a gift from Winter, an investment in their vitality, adorning them with beauty in the current season and with hydration for the next. No wind or creature disturbed their stately branches, which flexed under the weight of a fresh powdery snowfall. There was a romantic simplicity to this still paradise. A calming peace, observing the snow rest on the trees, almost teaching the fog that was actively rolling in exactly how to gently kiss the mountain peaks above. Certainly, it taught me that nothing in Nature needs a reminder that rest is a gift. Rest, Sabbath rest, is available and it is too often overlooked.
I have learned what value comes from truly allowing myself to rest. Choosing the creation story as a model, I, with my wife, Dixie, have crafted for ourselves a habitual, weekly day of rest. As the story goes, Nature was crafted by God in the first six movements of creation. The symphony of creation began with a bang and continued to crescendo through the crafting of light and galaxies, planets, lands, plants, animals, and mankind. In the sixth movement, Adam (mankind) was created out of the rich soil of the Earth and given the breath of Spirit and Soul, marking the species with the Image of God. Then, almost as if the whole thing needed a joyous punchline, God’s finale, the exclamation point on the whole story, ended with a rest.
“…having finished his work, on the Seventh Day, he rested…” (Genesis 1:2)
I believe this offers several things for us to learn. First, though we often fool ourselves into thinking it, mankind isn’t necessarily the end of the story. Apex predator, perhaps, but cosmic apex? no. Divine breath was infused into us on the sixth, while, I would suggest, God chose to breathe the rest out into the universe itself, sealing the whole thing with an image of divinity itself (Colossians 1:15-20). Second, the seventh and final movement of this holy, cosmic Week ended with the Divine resting to enjoy It’s masterpiece. But the seventh Day to God was only the first full Day for mankind! This would suggest that whenever we observe rest, we are actually at the beginning of something new. Finally, and perhaps most obviously, if God himself chose rest to punctuate a Week of work and creativity and if we are crafted after his Image, his personal blueprints, then we certainly deserve to choose rest ourselves.
The Jewish community traditionally observes Shabbat from Friday evening to Saturday evening. Christians traditionally observe Sabbath on Sundays. My wife and I choose to observe our adapted Sabbath Thursday evening to Friday evening. My day job holds a four day, ten hour a day, work schedule, allowing Friday to be the first day of my typical weekend. Therefore, with a week’s worth of good work behind us, we enter Sabbath together with specific practices to interrupt the regularly scheduled programming of our other six calendar days.
Upon arriving home after work, I change my clothes into comfy lounge clothes for the rest of the evening. Before dinner, we (imperfectly) strive to power our phones all the way down and leave them off until Saturday morning. After enjoying dinner together, Dixie and I observe a time of Eucharist (Communion) by breaking a cracker, sipping some wine and praying together in gratitude for a week full of work, lessons, and memories behind us. The reminder of the evening is set aside for our weekly at-home movie date night. Friday morning, we allow ourselves to sleep in, with no alarm threatening to end our slumber (because even the alarm clock can rest once a week). We intentionally leave the bed unmade, so that when we return to bed on Friday night, we’re reminded that the world will not come crashing down around us if perfect order is not maintained. We begin the day with a sweet breakfast, usually pancakes. This is an adapted Hebrew practice, where the father of the household would wake the children on the morning of Shabbat with a spoonful of honey. This special bit of candy was intended to help train the children’s minds to associate the societal day of rest as a treat and a blessing, rather than a day of limits and regulation.
The rest of the day is spent through the lens of soul care. Chores are allowed to wait until Saturday. In the winter, soul care activities include playing Nintendo together, reading books with a pot of tea, naps, writing, playing music, building Legos, cooking food together, and listening to records. In the summer, we try to orient toward the outdoors. We will go for walks in the woods on local BLM land, play frisbee, hang hammocks in the park and read, go for picnics on middle-of-no-where backroads, and sit and talk on the back porch while I smoke my pipe. Almost every habit we’ve carefully cultivated is allowed to rest on our Sabbath. I mentioned that there is no alarm clock and that we forgo making the bed. In addition, I choose to let my low carb diet rest and take it as a “cheat” day, though I am not gorging myself. While every other day is noted and described in my journal, I want these special days of rest in my home to live specially in my memory, between me and my family, so I choose to leave the pen alone.
I even allow my bible to rest on the table for a day. While tradition would have Sabbath observed with community worship and scripture, I choose to let even this rest. Yes, Dixie and I regularly attend our church on Sunday, even serving on the music team regularly. For me, however, letting scripture rest on my table for the day helps me release it as it gift with an open hand. I’ve struggled in my spiritual journey by letting scripture reading, devotions, prayers, and the like become a source of guilt and shame if I missed even a day. I used to be so disappointed in myself if I lagged on a reading plan, rushing through to “catch up”, all the while, not attending to it by seeking the wisdom within. I never want to be guilty in the timing and manner I approach the bible, so, it rests alongside me. This has taught me valuable lessons too.
On a sunny, breezy woods walk in the summer, my bible, phone, and journal left at home, I realize that my sanctuary for today is the treetop canopy. My bible is the first incarnation, the world infused and held together with the breath of Spirit, of Christ. My hymnody is a simple silent attention to the dancing leaves, the subtle birdsong high above me, and the sunlight dancing through the branches. My silent thoughts and prayers mingle with the gentle breezes and assertive gusts that bring me a flavor of far off mountain air. What news from a higher elevation may I discern from the whisper of the trees that are presently bending at the weight of this rushing glory? An attentive disciple upon the peak of Sinai, sipping anew the pure substance distilled beyond language. Here is that breath of God of which I spoke, huffed into my lungs on the sixth Day, then sighed into the Universe on the seventh. Sabbath is here to teach us how to rest along with the universe.