Leaving Church and Finding God: Sabbath

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads…

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

I have heard this set of verses from Mark 2 quoted frequently. Most often as a prooftext for why it is ok to work on Sunday. I think that I have even used this as a prooftext for that point. Sadly, this application misses one of the richest practices that Christianity and Judaism have to offer, Sabbath rest.

Our world’s pace is increasing exponentially. We are able to do more, access more information, connect with more people than ever before. First we had laptops that would allow us to take our work home. Then phones that allowed us to take our work to the beach.  Now we have watches that allow our work to follow us everywhere we go. It is somewhat ironic that in this digital world that is largely controlled by on/off electrical signals, there is rarely anything that turns off.

This “always on” phenomenon is very new to our species. Nature as a whole has ebb and flow, on and off, activity and rest. Trees sprout leaves, grow, then lose them again. Animals migrate south in the winter and then north once again in the summer. The earth itself marks every 24 hours with light, then dark, then light again. Sine waves are the mark of nature, not the hockey stick growth demanded by wall street.

This same sine wave, on then off then on, pattern is what Jesus is pointing out about the Sabbath. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Turning off is an incredibly important part of being human. Indeed, the inability to turn off physiologically leads to death (Fatal Familial Insomnia).  I would suggest that just like sleep, Sabbath rest is indeed made for man. It was instituted to be a time of restoration. The “off” in an always on world. The bottom of the sign wave. Christians often get this confused and say that the Sabbath was created to worship or honor God. Not so, according to Jesus..

What Jesus is getting at in the story that I introduced this post with, is that the sabbath isn’t about rules of working or not working but instead, it is about rest and refreshment. Resting, but being hungry, is not very enjoyable. That’s Jesus’ point. The Sabbath is to be enjoyed. How does this all actually play out?

For me, it means turning off devices. Taking photos. Going on hikes. Enjoying good coffee and good food. Letting my mind rest, and my relationships with my family grow.  And, not just “when I have time.” Because in reality “when I have time” never comes. Sabbath for me has become a restorative practice that needs to be regularly observed. In my case “Sabbath” is most often observed on Saturday mornings complete with sleeping in, getting coffee and muffins from a coffee shop and visiting the local farmers market.

My employer recently implemented a benefit that captures this same spirit of Sabbath. Called “True Days Off”, each employee receives one day off each month to unplug and do nothing. The idea is to let your mind rest so that you can return to do your best work. The “off” is what sustains and makes the “on” possible.

Sabbath may look different for you than it does for me. But, it just doesn’t feel right if the focus is not on refreshment and rest.  It’s something we need. And it would do us well to heed Jesus’ advice.

This series of posts comes from the experiences and explorations that I am currently living. Being a long-time, church-going Christian I have recently moved beyond the confines of traditional Western Christianity and consider myself somewhat of a spiritual nomad currently. Though I am not currently in the church, I have many friends and family that find the church context extremely valuable. These posts are in no way meant as a criticism of that context. Instead, I hope to share a little bit of my journey. Some of this journey may wander outside of “Orthodoxy” and what is considered safe within the church. But I, at no turn, mean to offend or cause hurt. You can find an archive of this series here.

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