Book of the Month: Keeping the Sabbath Wholly

Shortly before leaving for France, all of us met up in Philadelphia with the leadership of World Harvest Mission.  They asked each of us how they could pray for us, and Jason said, "My whole year in the US, I've been carrying around this book called...something about 'sabbath' and 'rest'... Anyways, I finally put it aside, because I knew I would have time to read it."  It stuck with me, because it typifies our lives so often.

We are so busy, too busy to rest.  The Lord commands us to rest, but he'll understand, since he values the work we are doing: caring for the sick, caring for the poor, seeking to bring his light and good news into darkness.

And I won't deny that this is a hard question.  I recently read Luke, and noted that there are 3 separate occasions where Jesus heals a sick person on the Sabbath and the Sabbath-observers criticize him for it.  That's a tough fact when every day, including every Sabbath, critically ill people are likely to show up needing help.

HOWEVER, I have come to believe that much (maybe all?) of our stubbornness to follow God's Sabbath command to rest is rooted in our belief that it is, in the end, us and not God, who will really get the necessary work done.  Also, (this is a huge one for me) our value, especially as Westerners, is found in our productivity, and so rest can make us feel worthless, and so we feel very uncomfortable with it.

Our friend Janet gave us this book and I finally got around to reading it.  Keeping the Sabbath Wholly with a great subtitle of Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting.  Marva Dawn is a PhD (Notre Dame) who was teaching at Regents at the time of writing the book.  Overall, it's a great comprehensive look at what Sabbath is and why it is so significant in the Bible and for the Jewish people, yet so often overlooked by Christians.  There are a couple particulars that I think are worth sharing here:

  • To "cease" on the Sabbath means not only to rest from employment, but from all work, so that physical and mental rest actually takes place, and we can also cease from placing our value in our own productivity.  This is in contrast to a day off work when we can catch up on our long to-do list and feel good at the end of the Sabbath that we've accomplished so much.
  • Dawn puts an emphasis on Sabbath observance regularly, one in every 7 days.  This is hard for doctors with call schedules.  However, her point is that there is value in the rhythm of 7 days, and  that we were created to function in such a rhythm, going further to challenge the reader that it is impossible to be "too busy" for Sabbath, since Sabbath rest increases productivity on the other 6 days to an extent that more than compensates for the day of rest.
  • She argues (largely from Jewish tradition) for ceremony and ritual as a way on magnifying Sabbath observance.  Special foods, special prayers, special family activities can add to our anticipation and celebration of Sabbath.  Regarding feasting, she makes the astute observation that our society does not know how to feast, because it does not know how to fast.
  • Perhaps the most significant idea she shares is from Abraham Joshua Heschel, who argues that Judaism (and by extension here, Christianity) is a faith that aims at the sanctification of time as opposed to Western civilization's primary drive to conquer space.  He points out that the first thing in the Bible to be designated as "holy" is the seventh day - a holy time, in contrast to a holy place, which is the case for most other religions.  The implication of this, for me, is profound as it runs counter to my constant desire to be more efficient.  Time is, in a sense, irreducible.  You can't spend an hour with someone in only 58 minutes, no matter how efficient you are.  And I think this inability is a gift to our society and it's obsessions with control and production.
There it is, in a nutshell.  The book is worth the read.  Missionaries, and especially missionary doctors, seem to do very poorly with understanding God's gift of rest to us.  So pray for us, that we would understand, that we would trust, and that we would obey.


John said...

Thanks for these reminders of the uniqueness of time. It is not only "irreducible" it is irreplaceable and priceless.

DrsMyhre said...

I am a total Marva K Dawn fan. And I NEED to read this. Kijabe has messed with our rhythms more than Bundi ever did.