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by Mary D. Glasspool, Bishop Suffragan – Diocese of Los Angeles

In the Gospel lesson appointed for this coming Sunday we read that Jesus asked the apostles to “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” The Gospel writer Mark adds, “For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat” (Mark 6:31). Jesus is not instructing his disciples to observe the Sabbath day, but rather to observe some sabbath time.

The Jewish rabbi and beloved scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote a classic, meditative book in 1951 titled The Sabbath — Its Meaning for Modern Man. He begins the book with a reflective discussion of space and time, and points out that modern technology is fairly well aimed at the conquest of space, including the forces of nature and everything that comprises humankind’s spatial surroundings. But the meaning of the Sabbath, Heschel says, is to celebrate time rather than space:

Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to “holiness in time.” It is a day on which we are called to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.

For me, Rabbi Heschel expresses beautifully the nature, not only of the Sabbath day, but of sabbath time. Sabbath time is time spent differently than our more usual, workaday world. Sabbath time is non-productive time!

Sabbath time is being, rather than doing; it’s letting go as opposed to taking on; it’s receptive, appreciative, and allowing, as distinct from perceptive, managing, and driving.

Sabbath time is the time in which we realize and live our total dependence on God, our Creator, as distinct from behaving as if we really didn’t need God at all.

And one of the big problems in today’s world is that we take all of our leisure, sabbath time, and turn it into productive, work time. You know what I’m talking about! It’s not just doing obvious work on one’s day off. It’s contaminating the leisure into productivity. We can’t just ride a bike for the fun of it; we have to be in a race. We can’t just sit on the porch and read a good book (or even a bad book!) —  we have to go shopping, clean the house, mow the lawn.

And the deadly thing that happens when we turn our leisure time, our sabbath time, into work, is that the more natural, God-given balance and flow of life between action and reflection, between work and leisure, between ministry and sabbath gets skewed into a fearsome oscillation between driven achievement (both on and off the job) and some form of mind-numbing escape: sleep, drink, drugs, computer games, television, etc.

The healing of creation, and of our lives as creatures of God, requires a disengagement from the dominant systems of power and wealth. It is when we vacate, when we get ourselves out of the way, that we will truly be still, and know that God is God.

Lord, help us to be still, and know that you are God. Allow us to learn, in our very beings, that you love us not for anything we do, plan, or achieve — but simply because you created us to love. Teach us the truth of the words “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength,”* through Jesus, the Christ, Lord even of the Sabbath.


*Isaiah 30:15

Reposted here from the July 19 Diocese of Los Angeles Episcopal News Weekly