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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Hope and Sabbath
distributed 3/23/12 - ©2012

During Lent, Eco-Justice Notes is examining several aspects of hope, and how we can cultivate that quality in our lives, our churches and our communities.

The series so far has included reflections on hope and community, commitment, resistance and 'a long view'.

My friend Judy wrote to me this week, describing how she is worn out -- overloaded with too much information and too many activities. Right now, this deeply committed woman knows that she doesn't need another meeting or another article to read. In order to keep up her diligent work on behalf of her community and the planet, she said that she is "craving outside time on weekends."

Judy points us toward a profound lesson about the nurturing of hope. Her craving for outside time reveals something deeper than self-care strategies of quiet time and relaxation. She gives us a hint about Sabbath as a special kind of rest which renews and centers our hope.

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Those of us who have not lived in close connection with Jewish communities may not understand Sabbath very well. We may not see how it provides a regular and intentional experience that re-connects us to that which is most real and good, to that which is the basis of our hope.

We find the foundation for Sabbath in the creation story at the start of the book of Genesis. In six days, the whole cosmos is brought into orderly being, and at the end of the process, God proclaims that it is all "very good." Then, the story says, "on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it." (Genesis 2:2-3)

It is not that God was exhausted after a hard week of speaking the world into being. God rests because creation is complete, and it is very good. There is nothing left to do but to enjoy it. God rests amid the goodness of creation, and the Hebrew people are told to re-enact that day of rest every week as a central practice of their faith. They are told to stop everything, so that they, too, can appreciate the goodness of creation. For the Hebrew people, too, Sabbath is not about recovery from exhaustion. It is about experiencing the deepest forms of goodness in community and sufficiency.

For a long time, living as I do in a secular society, I had confused "a day of rest" with "a day off." For me, a day off is usually a very busy day, when errands are run and a multitude of projects are undertaken in the house and yard. That isn't the meaning of Sabbath at all.

Some of my Jewish friends opened my eyes to the rich weekly discipline of a day when nothing is "done," and when there are strict prohibitions against "accomplishing" anything. Sabbath's day of rest shifts our focus from doing to being. It is a day to be in relationship with family and friends and the creation, to eat simply, to laugh and play.

Sabbath reconnects us to the glorious proclamation that the creation is very good. The world is filled with life and relationship, and we need to stop every now and then to enjoy and celebrate that goodness. There are plenty of days to go about the important tasks of earning a living, maintaining a home, and working for justice. In the midst of all that business, though, we also need to brought back into awareness of the beauty and goodness of the world.

Occasions of Sabbath provide an especially important perspective for those of us who are concerned about the desperate state of Earth. We long for a better and healthier world, and the multitude of Earth's problems weigh upon us. Earth's problems can be overwhelming, and solutions can seem impossible. That's when we need to remember that the good and just world we seek is "already, but not yet." It is both present and future, and the present (if partial) reality of that good world nurtures our hope and our commitment.

Wendell Berry points toward a brief Sabbath experience in his well known poem, The Peace of Wild Things. The opening and closing lines read:

When despair for the world grows in me ...
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water ...
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Munju Ravindra writes about the deep healing that comes from looking at the world and being caught up in wonder when observing nature. "When driven to the brink of despair by heartbreak -- whether personal or planetary (the despair, in my experience, feels the same), I take it as a kind of daily practice to notice, to bear witness, to look.   Look.   Again."

Wonder and delight, she says, "re-instills in each of us a sense of what is 'true,' thereby enhancing our resilience in times of crisis, sorrow, and the general impossible-ness of getting things done. ... Wonder connects me to something larger than myself and gives me the energy I need to keep on agitating. It also gives me the reason." (Her essay appears in the book "Hope Beneath Our Feet: Restoring Our Place in the Natural World")

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Jewish tradition claims one day a week for Sabbath. That schedule may not work for you and your family. But setting aside intentional time to be attentive to the goodness of creation, to experience joy and wonder, is absolutely essential in sustaining hope. A Sabbath day or evening is an occasion to actually experience, yet again, some aspect of the things that ground our hope, and that we claim as our ultimate realities.

What can you do for an experience of hope-renewing Sabbath? Here are a few key elements.

  • Sabbath is an experience of shalom in community and relationship. Spend time with family and friends, and be sure to experience wonder by entering into relationship with the great diversity of creation. Try to make your time together joyful, an embodiment of the peace, harmony and goodness of creation that is so much a part of our hope. Laughter and music are almost essential.
  • Sabbath is an affirmation of sufficiency, of enough. The focus is not on an elaborate meal or an adventurous journey. Keep it simple, and be grateful.
  • Sabbath calls us into a time of rest -- from our constant busyness, from accomplishment and goals, from ceaseless and repetitive news. Turn all of that off, and put it out of your mind as best you can. Live in the moment. And if you are exhausted, then be sure to get some bodily rest and rejuvenation.
  • Prayer and reflection in the context of Sabbath connect us to God, who forms all things, gives all life, renews and redeems us, and sustains us as we seek to embody God's shalom. Because we trust in God, we can take a break from our own efforts.

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Judy wrote of being worn out, and needing "time outside." Wendell Berry and Munju Ravindra both wrote of experiences in creation as an antidote to despair.

Precisely because we struggle and grieve at the tragic state of the world, we need to be intentional about restoring hope. Regular times of Sabbath allow us to experience the goodness and beauty of God's shalom that is present among us. A day of rest which reconnects us to that which is good and true is healing and hope-filled.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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