Shabbat. To cease.
In my Bible, it’s intoduced on page two. It has been observed by millions around the globe and through the centuries both religiously and half-heartedly. I think it’s the key to something that I’m only just now beginning to glimpse–something that can only be unlocked by truly observing it with intent and discipline. Yet, the benefits are powerful and rewarding enough for even the then solitary Being, the God of the universe to partake–no, initiate.
“Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” (genesis 2:3)
The fact that the Sabbath Day is a worthwhile, relevant and necessary habit is evidenced most powerfully by God’s own action–or inaction, by definition. Shabbat is translated throughout the Bible as “rest.” However, since God has never, nor will ever require rest, the more inspiring translation I found in my google/wikipedia-supplemented pondering is this: “to cease.” I can’t help but believe that this stopping holds key principles for maintaining a life in true harmony of spirit, harmony within and with God. In fact, there’s a deep breath rising up in my spirit while I’m only thinking and writing about Shabbat. The simple thought of a designated ceasing brings an inexplicable sense of “this is as it should be.” The Jewish tradition of Shabbat observance may have gotten somewhat legalistic and removed from purpose over the centuries since Moses’ day, but I can’t help but think they got something right in their utterly thorough preparation and observance of this holy convocation.
“For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation. You shall not do any work; it is a sabbath to the LORD in all your dwellings.” (leviticus 23:3)
Shabbat is God’s own divine and perfect project management system, His omniscient, omnipotent scheduling method. It is a command he demonstrated in His own “work” of creating all that exists. The sentiment, and yes, the words are clear. Shabbat, the holy convocation, should be complete. It summons all my spirit, all my desires, all my actions, all my loves, all my hates, all the places where I truly dwell into the same assembled stop. The same assembled deep inhale and slow exhale that was God’s choice. To cease on the Sabbath was God’s choice to release Himself from the constraints of doing. The joy of Shabbat is to bring my spirit into harmony with His example by choosing to stop, to put down the schedule, to put down the constant pull to do something on my ever-increasing list. Even things that I love to do. Even things that I’m excited about or things that bring me joy. Shabbat is not just about stopping the mundane things or the things that tire me out or the things that distract me. It calls me to put down the need to do something, to put down the need to move along to the next. It forces me to bring everything into focus for this moment–not what needs to happen in the next one or what should have happened in the last one. What freedom!
“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (deuteronomy 5:15)
At it’s core, Shabbat boils down to freedom. God commanded the people to use Shabbat to remember how He brought them out of slavery in Egypt. Their liberation brought the freedom to stop, to rest. They were no longer beholden to task-masters to toil at the whim of another. Thus, the freedom of Shabbat is demonstrated, the freedom to allow the moment to take me where it wants, or the Spirit to take me where He wants. The freedom from ought tos, from should haves, from need tos. The freedom to fully, without reservation or guilt or sacrifice or multitasking, make a conscious choice about what I will do (or cease doing) in this moment.
“For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.” (exodus 20:11)
Shabbat is a ceasing God, Himself, infused with meaning. Although it is most often used for “church” in modern Christianity, Shabbat was not set aside for worship in its origin. It was set apart for ceasing. A fast from working, from doing. Shabbat is a God-given holy day in every week where time set apart for stopping is elevated to celebration status. A time to cease. It was the first holy day mentioned in the Bible, and God, Himself, was the first to observe it by example. If God can set aside His work, can’t I? If God saw value in incorporating the holy into the daily grind, shouldn’t I?
Yet, what is the inevitable outcome of this holy convocation? Yes, it is worship. It is delight. In the Lord. It is freedom, riding on heights. It is satisfaction, fed with God’s heritage.
“If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, and honor it, desisting from your ways, from seeking your own pleasure and speaking your own word,then you will take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (isaiah 58:13-14)
May you feed on the heritage of ceasing this Shabbat.