I think today may be my first official attempt to take a deliberate “Sabbatical” rest type day. Granted, the whole phrase doesn’t even really make sense: today is Sunday, the “Lord’s Day” in historical Christian terms, not the Sabbath. In fact, as a Christian, I realize that I’m not obligated to “keep the Sabbath” (thinking particularly of Col. 2:16 and other Pauline discussions about “freedom from the law”).
Admittedly, for years this reasoning has served as my basis for resisting the notion of observing the Sabbath. Emerging from an extremely legalistic atmosphere, specifically my years in college, I can see numerous ways that I have reacted against being pressed under other people’s individual convictions (i.e., those things that are not explicitly characterized as sinful in Scripture). I’m not anti-authoritarian by nature, but the stifling atmosphere of that authoritarian environment certainly pushed me to treasure the freedom to work out righteousness by considering Scripture and not simply by following the convictions that someone has claimed for Scripture. And in short, as I came to the conclusion that if the New Testament gave Christians freedom from the requirements of the law, then we ought not to return to the Pharisaic practice of throwing people under the burden of weights that no one can bear.
Fundamentally, I am still okay with those ideas. And yet many things have changed. I’d like to think I have matured as a Christian, that I’ve been able to become more positive about non-obligatory aspects of Scripture that are still valuable for spiritual growth, that I’ve learned to read Scripture with more insight and complexity. But I also realize that a significant change in my response has simply been the positive example offered by other Christians, people who live in the Sabbatical principles with humility and love… and with shalom, a balance and a “right”ness in relationships.
So here I am: my first real attempt to have a day of rest. I am surprised to discover how much discipline it takes to actually practice the art of resting. After all, I could be reading or touching up a paper or translating. I am reminded of A.J. Jacobs’s report of his experience in The Year of Living Biblically; sure, I found it amusing and a somewhat sad reflection of our busy culture when I read about his struggle not to check his e-mail, to refuse to write, ultimately, not to allow himself to do work. My own parallel experience serves as reenforcement that I need to let go of that obsessiveness in me, to actually work at learning how to rest.
As I close my first week at the beginning of PhD work, I hope this is the first day in a lifelong line of “Sabbatical” rests to come. It is an opportunity to take a break, to remember that the American fast-paced, goal-oriented lifestyle in which I too fully participate is not a faithful reflection of God’s intentions for toil or for human life and relationships in general. It is a reminder that even though we spend so little time doing it, worshiping God and being with people is actually what living is about.