“I don’t have time to Sabbath right now,” I confess to my friend on the other side of the video screen. “I know I’m not supposed to say that,” I continue, “but that’s just how it feels. Sunday has become my day for catching up on the rest of my life that I’m not getting to with school right now. Plus, I’ve got that retreat I’m leading next weekend and when else am I going to find time to prep?”
“I hear you,” she speaks compassionately, and with a distinct firmness carries on, “But I think you really need to make space for this. I’m going to pray for you to prioritize sabbath this weekend.”
Just what I need. One more thing to do.
Eugene Peterson sets, what for me is, a radically different framework of sabbath practice. He rebukes the idea of taking “a day off” in order to be more productive in the coming week. Instead, he looks at the rhythm of our days as a microcosm of our week. If we attune our bodies to a “Genesis rhythm” of evening followed by morning, we begin to submit to a way of life in which grace leads to work, and not the other way around. He points out that it is a command and not a suggestion. It seems this is another reminder that God is at work first and we then get to respond in gratitude; He always makes the first move. Peterson wraps up the idea by reminding us of the Biblical reasons for honoring the sabbath command. In Exodus it’s given as a time of reflection leading to prayer. In Deuteronomy it’s a time for play.
Prayer and play: I’d like this to mark my life.
This practice benefits the individual as well as the community. Peterson writes poignantly that sabbath-keeping is a way to keep us from commodifying one another, where we see our neighbor through a lens of utility: “The moment we begin to see others in terms of what they can do rather than who they are, we mutilate humanity and violate community.” This is a serious charge, and an ugly reality that is easily spotted in our productivity-driven culture which overlooks the poor, the disabled, and the elderly for their lack. Thus, practicing sabbath is a way to push back on this broken system that honors the sleek and fleet by rejecting the metric that we are only as valuable as what we are able to produce.
Seminary and ministry at this point don’t feel like the difficult spaces to step away from productivity, it’s all the rest of my life that I keep setting aside to meet their demands on my time that feel never-ending. How can I choose play and prayer when there is so much that needs doing before diving into another week? There’s that misshaped time framework: Sunday is actually the beginning of the week. I am receiving before I am able to give. This sounds lovely and I want to be all-in, but the idealism snags on the piles of laundry, the messy bathrooms, the ants now zig zagging across the crumb smattered countertops. It’s a tough sell for my overwhelmingly otherwise-supportive husband who went grocery shopping and made half the dinners this week as I was working on a research paper; who will hold down the fort when I’m gone leading a retreat next weekend. Sabbath under these conditions feels selfish. I wish it weren’t true, but there it is.
I come home from church and spend a couple hours working on the house. I leave the clean laundry in chest-high piles on the couches in the back room. I have a whole list in my agenda ready to be checked off, but as I approach my desk I find myself reaching past it for my journal. Pages beg to be written, lines laid down to process my life, and I ask God for clarity with what is to be my next small, faithful choice. I set down the journal after writing, fully intending to pick up the agenda, but spot my second-hand copy of Perelandra by C.S. Lewis. Reasoning with myself that I do need to have the book finished for book club, I pick it up. Stopping only to grab a sparkling water, I hunker down in our recliner and don’t get up until I’ve finished the novel and my bones burn with the radiation of beautiful, helpful words—words which have advanced the boundaries of my imagination one more step.
Later that evening after cleaning up the kitchen, I pick up my phone. “Dude, I sabbath-ed so hard this weekend! Thanks for praying,” I laugh on her voicemail.
Aleah Marsden is an MDiv student in her final year of Calvin Theological Seminary’s distance learning program. She lives in Northern California with her husband and four children. For more of her writing and links to other published work visit: AleahMarsden.com or connect with her on Instagram or Twitter