Last night, I recalled our preparations for Sabbath keeping last weekend. Today, I’m taking a few moments to remember the day itself.
We woke Sunday morning early, determined to honor fully both the letter and the spirit of the day. However . . . we also learned fairly early on that it’s good to be people of grace when it comes to celebrating Sabbath. I hadn’t even had my first cup of coffee before I was confronted by a number of quandaries that might well have made a Talmudic scholar’s head spin.
- Is cutting your two-year-old’s nails acceptable during Sabbath observance, if you have reason to suspect that those nails could seriously damage someone’s eyes or soft tissue (as they almost seriously damaged your eyes and soft tissue when that two-year-old climbed into your bed to wake you by force)?
- Is it okay to sop up large puddles of milk spilled by your two-year-old at breakfast?
- What if your two-year-old finds and dumps half a bottle of “Black Berry” tinted nail polish on the bathroom linoleum? Can you do the necessary work to clean it up before it dries — and still keep the Sabbath?
We quickly answered yes to all three of those questions, by the way, but you can no doubt understand the momentary difficulty they posed for us. I finally managed to get my church clothes on, though I did briefly wonder if true Sabbath rest shouldn’t include staying in my pajamas all day.
Church was . . . blessed, wonderful, inspiring. My parents drove an hour to meet us in the church parking lot before services, and we all sat together. (I cannot tell you how much, as a pastor’s wife with three young children, I appreciate company in the pew on Sunday!)
Don’t get me wrong: the service was nothing particularly out of the ordinary. The sermon was good (Ken’s sermons often are, I find), the hymns were nice, the liturgy was familiar. It was all pretty routine. Somehow, though, I was different. More ready. More open. I don’t know how or why the mere decision to set the day apart as sacred could have had that effect on me, but it did. I walked out cleansed, inspired, and energized in a way that, sadly, is not at all typical for me.
After church and fellowship, we made our way home a few at a time. Ken made fresh coffee. I stirred the chili. The kids put on boots and coats and went out to play. The grown-ups sat and talked. No one seemed in a huge rush to eat, and when we did finally set the table for our meal, we lingered over it for a long time.
After lunch, we played and sang Christmas carols – on piano, finger cymbals, various rhythm instruments, a flute, two or three recorders, and one squeaky penny whistle. (Do you know how hard it is to play a flute, a recorder, and a penny whistle together in tune? Very hard. We never even came close to matching pitches, though I don’t think we cared.)
My oldest daughter finally left off asking about computer games and instead started challenging everyone to chess. (She only recently learned how to play, and she loves the game, even if she hasn’t yet won a match against anyone but her little brother.) Later, my son talked us into helping him build a racetrack for his Matchbox cars.
We went for a drive in the countryside to check out a property for sale. (My parents have been house-hunting for several months.) For some, this might have felt like a chore. For us, it was an excursion – a joy ride in the very best sense.
After Mom and Dad left, we shared a simple supper of corn dogs, popcorn, and pickles. We did take a few minutes to tidy the living room — yes — but only so that all of us would have floor space to play a raucous round of Wild Animal Memory together. So much laughter . . .
We finished off the family part of the day with Advent devotions before bathing the children, reading them a chapter of Prince Caspian, and tucking them into bed.
When I crawled into bed not too long after (much earlier than 2:00 a.m.!), I was struck by how happy and at peace I was — and by how much less frantic and more joyful the weekend had been than our weekends often are.
Too frequently, our precious Saturdays and Sundays wind up becoming messy jumbles of activity and inactivity, of chaos and lethargy. We try to do everything — housework, yard work, church work, play, rest, recreation, worship, exercise, entertainment, family time — all at once, and nothing gets the time or attention it deserves.
This weekend was different. We worked harder than we usually do on Saturday, yes, but it was happy work, in preparation for a good and restful time we knew was coming. And Sunday . . . Sunday was lovely.
In her book Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, author Marva Dawn describes the essence of Sabbath as fourfold: we cease from our labors, we rest in God’s grace, we embrace God’s goodness, and we feast: “We feast in every aspect of our being — physical, intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual — and we feast, with music, beauty, food, and affection. Our bodies, minds, souls, and spirits celebrate together with others that God is in our midst.”
I think that says it oh-so-well, based on my (so far) very limited experience of Sabbath keeping.
A week ago, when I shared the introductory post to this adventure on Facebook, my mom left me a short and simple comment: “I think you’ll start doing this every Sunday.”
She’s a wise woman, my mother. And I just might.