My Psalm 92
A Song for the Sabbath
The concept of relaxation is not a new idea. Many recently learned this past week as we celebrated Labor Day that the United States is the only industrialized nation that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation time or even paid sick leave. Indeed, in a nation that boasts its heritage as being based upon those seeking religious freedom and tolerance, the United States of America has a constitution that guarantees freedom of religion but not the time to practice that religion. Workers in the United States must incorporate their time for religious and spiritual renewal around their professional responsibilities.
The term “Sabbath” or “savath” in the Hebrew tradition was first used in the Hebrew narrative about the Genesis story of creation. In it, God creates the world in six days and rests on the seventh. Observing the Sabbath is listed as one of the Te Commandments: fourth in the Jewish, Eastern Orthodox, and most Protestant denominations of Christianity; third in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran faiths. It is also commemorated as a sign of the Israelites deliverance from Egypt.
While many think of the Sabbath as the seventh day of rest and in some cultures and traditions, a day in which no work may occur by the faithful (They have no problem hiring non-believers to do the work for them during the Sabbath.), there are seven Sabbath festivals which do not occur on the weekly Sabbath. Also, the term can be used to indicate a seven-day cycle.
In his book “Sabbath”, author Way Muller speaks of the need for the Sabbath. “In today’s world, with its relentless emphasis on success and productivity, we have lost the necessary rhythm of life, the balance between work and rest. Constantly striving, we feel exhausted and deprived in the midst of great abundance. We long for time with friends and family, we long for a moment to ourselves.”
Keeping the Sabbath, though, is not as easy as it sounds. “Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the LORD’s holy day. Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day, and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly.” This passage from Isaiah chapter 58, verse 13 implies one cannot simply relax. It is easy to understand the edicts against work on the Sabbath when reading other parts of the Old Testament. The thirty-fifth chapter, third verse of Exodus advises “Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.” In Jeremiah we find this in the seventeenth chapter, thirty-first verse: “This is what the LORD says: Be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day or bring it through the gates of Jerusalem.” Do some of these references conflict with each other or is there a way to balance relaxation and work spiritually?
Noam Shpancer is a clinical psychologist in Columbus, Ohio, and a professor at Otterbein College. In 2010 he published a most interesting article for “Insight Therapy” advising people not to stress out about relaxing. The emphasis on studying the art of and the inability to relax was first begun by psychologist Edmund Jacobsen. Dr Shpancer explains Jacobsen’s findings: “As his research progressed, Jacobson began to notice that the motor system is inseparable from the mind. He noted: “Tension is part and parcel of what we call the mind. Tension does not exist by itself, but is reflexively integrated into the total organism… If a patient imagines he is rowing a boat, we see rhythmic patterns from the arms, shoulders, back and legs as he engages in this act of imagination.”
Norm Shpancer concludes his article this way: “Relaxation is best approached as a tool for improving general body awareness and well being, rather than a means for managing specific clinical or situational conditions.” I think this is the reason we are admonished to keep the Sabbath and why we all have heard the phrase “Remember to keep the Sabbath holy.”
Could it be that purpose of the Sabbath is to improve our general awareness of our faith and increase our spiritual well being? Jacobsen found that everyone could describe pain but very few, if any, could describe painlessness. Ask any stranger on the street to describe hell and you will get an answer. It might not be a religious destination of hell but everyone has their own definition (or two) of hell. Ask another group of strangers to describe heaven and you will usually get a great deal of hesitation, questions of clarification; you will not get an immediate response.
We need to keep a Sabbath to remain balanced but also to realize just what it is we believe. It is those very beliefs that give our life balance. When we live in balance, then our soul can sing. Then we will have our resting place for inner peace, strength to live the life we encounter and make, a means for sharing the goodness and love that it necessary for community.
My Psalm 92
O Lord, Mother of my birth and Father of my ancestors:
It has been one of those weeks.
I have sung of your glory through my tears.
I have sought to remember your blessings
Amid the barbs of the ignorant and stupid.
I praise your Creation, Great Spirit,
And seek to walk in your steps;
Living your words and teachings.
Help me, O God, to find comfort and solace.
Help me to breathe.
Let me sing of your glory
And remember I was your child first.
Grant me grace to be in communion with all.
Whatever man may do and say,
You, Great One are steadfast in your love.
My faith is my key to letting go of the pain.
My Faith will soothe my grief.
The faithful shall prosper and the wicked shall perish.
In you, dear Lord, I find my inner peace.