Sabbath as restoring or restorying?

Posted by on Nov 12, 2023 in Blog | 0 comments

high angle view of lying down on grass

Perhaps the title of this post is a little too clever, but it started as a throw away question in a podcast I was half listening to while going through my paces at the gym. My location is important, as it meant I was trying to follow a thoughtful discussion whilst gasping for breath and wondering if I would still be alive in ten minutes. In other words, I might well have missed the subtlety of the argument, but it did set me thinking.

So what was the speaker getting at when asking if the Sabbath is primarily about restoring or restorying?

I think the implication was that when most people think of the Sabbath they think of it as a time to recover and to be restored. One day in seven we are supposed to stop what we routinely do, and pause for a day of worship, reflection and rest. It allows time for church, family and friends, and gives a perfect excuse to switch off from the often relentless demands of the workplace – and at a time when many workplaces want 24/7 availability, pushing back in this way is often important for our mental health and long term wellbeing. The problem with the Sabbath is not that it fails to restore, but that many don’t take one day in seven off, and over the longer term suffer from their delusional conviction that their work could never get along without them.

The first thing I would then say is that if you practice Sabbath observance (in other words, one day in seven you firmly down tools and step away from what commonly fills your agenda, allowing time in that day for worship and contemplation), you will almost certainly find it restoring.

So what about the “or” of restorying?

First up, I think the “or” is mistaken. I think that Sabbath helps to both re-store and re-story us.

How re-story?

First, observing the Sabbath challenges the prevailing story most buy into – that we are indispensable and that our world couldn’t manage without us for 24 hours. That’s a false story, or at best, its a poorly constructed story. It is also a story where we become a false god. It is a story where we earn our way into significance.

The story the Bible tells is different.

For Christians, the first day of the week is Sunday, and most Christians consider this to be their Sabbath day. Sunday was chosen as it is resurrection day, and resurrection is at the heart of the Christian faith. Think about it – we take the first day of the week off to rest. Sounds odd, doesn’t it? Surely we should take the last day off, when we are exhausted and flustered – when we have worked hard enough to earn a break. Ah – but Sunday Sabbath observance pushes in a different direction. You get the gift of a day before you have earned anything. And that day is resurrection day. It is a gentle but significant reminder that the Christian faith revolves around grace – not around our hard work and diligence. You get given time to worship, think and reflect before you have done anything. Actually this is a dynamic principle. It suggests we should start the week in the place of prayer and thoughtfulness. Put bluntly, Sunday Sabbath observance reminds us to start with God – and when you start with God, you write a very different story to the one you write without God.

Some may say that this is in contradiction to the model found in the early chapters of Genesis – where God rests after 6 days of creation. True, there is a difference between the Jewish and Christian version of Sabbath (last versus first day of the week), but the creation account hints at a similar concern. Have you ever noticed the refrain after each of the six days of creation… and there was morning and evening, the first day. Wrong! It is consistently, “and there was evening and morning” the first day… evening and morning the second day and so on. Evening before morning. Evening – the time of rest before the busy action of the day. We get to rest before we do anything. Since when does a day start with the evening? Surely everything begins in the morning. True – unless you re-story and see that everything starts as an unearned gift. Everything is about grace. Everything calls us to gratitude. You write a very different story when you see everything as gift and grace and a call to gratitude.

There are other ways in which Sabbath might re-story us. The simple act of slowing down and listening to others, to our own self, and to the gentle whispers of God, might give us permission to re-imagine ourself and our place in life. We might start to think what we have never thought, do what we have never done, become who we have never been. You have to pause a while for those options to open. You have to pause to question if you like the story you are writing. And if you don’t, you have to take some time to find the courage to ask “why not?” to the story you know you are meant to write.

Perhaps this Sabbath will be a time to both re-store and re-story.

As always, nice chatting…

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