Living The Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest & Delight, by Norman Wirzba
“Sabbath keeping” seems very anachronistic in our 24/7 society. It is also a phrase from which contemporary Christians tend to recoil because of our terror of legalism – why should we keep one day special? where is the grace in that? There are some important answers to such questions, but this book focuses very little on what a particular Sabbath day might look like, and much more on what a Sabbath directed life should look like.
Central to Wirzba’s thesis is the understanding that Sabbath is the goal towards which creation is headed, as described in Hebrews 3-4. Part of our kingdom mandate then is to live with a rhythm of rest and delight – a rhythm very different from the pattern of the world. Such a Sabbath-lived-life will have a centeredness to it, and will impact how we interact with the world – at our work, in our homes, in our economic and education systems, in our thinking about the environment, and as we worship.
Wirzba contends that, “our anxious obsessions prevent us from adequately considering and enjoying the convivial life God so much wants for us.” Living a life less anxious begins with the very basic, such as an appreciation for the food that we eat. When we eat it should be with a sense of gratitude to the creator, and with a sense of our dependence upon the plants and animals we feed on, and the soil that sustains them. This in turn should give us a concern for the care of those plants, animals and soil, and keep us from simply being consumers who eat “products” as fuel.
Living in this way will lead us into delight. Wirzba differentiates pleasure (what we consider good for us) from delight (the affirmation of the goodness of what God has made). It is not that pleasure is wrong, but that it is too narrow. If we live only for pleasure we will be surely disappointed, whereas delight can survive even terrible pain: “The goodness of creation does not narrowly depend on the possibility that it is good for me (this was one of the important lessons learned by Job) but more broadly on the affirmation that a good, loving God made it.” Wirzba then argues that there is a decline in delight in our culture even as, paradoxically, there is an increase in entertainment. The fact that we find “real life” dull and need evermore stimulating forms of entertainment is, he says, evidence of our inability to find delight in the created world, in friendship, in God.
God’s Sabbath commands to the people of Israel touched every area of their lives. It called for regular rest, not only for human workers but for their animals and even their land. The weekly Sabbath was a foretaste of the Sabbath year, which was a foretaste of the Year of Jubilee – a year of rest and of freedom. And every year was punctuated by feasts – times to enjoy food and family and rest and worship. All this is itself a foretaste of the renewed heavens and earth when work and worship and rest will find their perfect, untainted, rhythms. This eschatological dimension isn’t explored thoroughly enough by Wirzba, and I feel his arguments get a little shaky when he tries to apply his Sabbath principles to the cold realities of 21st century life. But this is a thoughtful and thought provoking book, which is worth reading. Here is a quote that sums up what he is about:
Sabbath observance…gives us the time and the space to take a considered look at what our work is finally about. Our temptation is to think that we live through our own effort and that the goods we enjoy are ours because we have earned and deserve them. A moment’s reflection can quickly dispel that illusion, as everywhere we look we can see the generosity of others: earthworms aerating and rebuilding soil, plants turning sunlight into energy, family providing for us since birth, teachers looking out for our children. The list of kindnesses goes on and on, but we often fail to notice. We are simply too busy with our own agendas and our sense of self-importance.
2009 is bound to be busy, every year is. So take some time out to think about Sabbath, and live a life more rounded.