This weekend I had two Sabbaths. The first began on Friday night as a close friend greeted me with ‘Shabbat shalom’ and a kiss on the cheek. The second began when someone at the back of church quietly handed me a mass booklet for the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany. Each is taken from different religious traditions, but both espouse an inner spirituality which transcends religious difference – and even religion itself – and which also paves the way for spiritual meditation within the busy confusion of life.
It is not a common occurrence for me to keep one Sabbath, let alone two. Church is something of a sporadic experience for me; even rarer is the chance to actually postpone weekday tasks and academic toil for one whole Sunday. Yet, as my friend reminded me before she began the kiddush, (the sanctification of the Shabbat with the blessing of Shabbat wine), the Sabbath is important.
Without doubt, resisting the temptation to do productive things in favour of a day of rest, (tackling the essay, trudging to the supermarket), is hard. Searching for a reason not to go to church, I feel an insinuating and pernicious obligation to ‘do something useful’. That ‘useful’ can encompass activities that are pleasurable, edifying, sociable, restful, prayerful, or soothing somehow seems to be forgotten in this vague and ultimately irrational compulsion. Even more harmful to inner peace is the fallacious reasoning of being ‘too busy’ to take stock of life.
The idea of ‘busyness’ has become so entrenched in the collective consciousness of modern people living modern lives that we cease to question its existence. Of course, people can genuinely be overburdened with too much to do; it can be a painful realisation that the burden of modern life is largely a matter of choice. We actively engage ourselves in multiple endeavours and work long hours. We commit our time and efforts to a limitless set of goals, each stemming from the next in an infinite web of hectic activity. It is obvious that the Sabbath has never been more important.
The Sabbath – as first received in Judaism as the seventh day after the creation of the world, and later adopted in Christianity as the day of rest in commemoration of the resurrection of Christ – is a time of stepping back to breathe. Forgetting external things and remembering the inner person: looking after one’s self physically, mentally, and spiritually. The day of rest is a meditative space; to be thankful for what is good, to reconsider things regretted. The Sabbath looks outwards to others as well as inwards to the self.
Of course, a meditative Sabbath is possible without religion, just as spirituality is possible without faith. The Sabbath – the inclusion of religious observance is optional – is perhaps one of the most momentous ways in which spirituality shapes our personal life. Work is never done, but we may set it aside for a day in the very midst of our messy human existence.