This is Part 1 of a new series regarding Sabbath, my Word of the Year for 2015. In this Part, I will address "Why" to practice sabbath. The title - "An Apology" - uses the older form of apology, meaning "defense", in honor of my hero Michel de Montaigne and his "Apology for Raymond Seybond".
My family growing up didn't attend church, and we certainly weren't devout anythings. As an adult, I've drifted from various neo-pagan traditions near something Buddist-like or Humanist, but always in a more spiritual than religious sort of way.
So it was a surprise when my Word for 2015 arrived. Reading a former minister describing her first Sunday without a congregation, it was the word she used to describe that day which struck sparks.
Sabbath. I smiled a little, thinking how unlike me the word was. And that's when it - figuratively - blew open the door, strode in like a golden-furred lioness, and stared me into acceptance. It was, no doubt, a challenge to me to seek in the religious roots of sabbath a meaning which would fit my spiritual, rootless life.
In Judeo-Christian history, two reasons are given for honoring the sabbath. Both of them hinge on humanity being made in God's image: because we were made in His image, like Him, we need to rest. And because we were made in His image, like Him, we are free of slavery.
If we leave that history behind and remove YHWH from the equation, both reasons dissipate like the fog on these cool winter mornings. How, then, to defend and explain a humanist sabbath?
"Sabbath" comes from a Hebrew root word meaning "rest". All animals rest, and we, although we try to forget it, are animals. We must cease our activity for a period to allow our bodies and hearts to release toxins and replenish nutrients. This is the nature of rest. As we sleep, the cellular wastes created during our active period are purged. As we relax, emotions that are created during our activity arise so that they can be honored. As each biochemical or emotional process is release, space is freed up in our cells for nourishment to reach our animal selves.
The first "why" of a humanist sabbath is that humans, like all other animals, need regular periods of dormancy to release, heal, and replenish ourselves.
The second "why" of a humanist sabbath is that the practice of sabbath is a form of mindfulness.
A lot has been written about mindfulness in general, usually about the meditation form of mindfulness practice, and its benefits. It is easy to confuse the benefits of mindfulness practices with the reason for doing them - after all, most of the time, we do things to earn the benefits of doing them. Who doesn't want better health, more productive work schedules, clarity of mind, improved sleep, and more serenity?
The reason to practice mindfulness, though is.... to practice mindfulness. To practice choosing, in the moment, what we will and will not attend to, what we will and will not be hijacked by. To choose to spend a chunk of time - 10 minutes, an hour, a day - transcending ordinary activity. Because practice makes perfect, or at least better, and if we practice choosing to be mindful in ordinary times, mindfulness will come easier in hard times.
We observe a sabbath to transcend ordinary, every day concerns. To step out of our everyday rut and routine and spend time mindfully choosing what we give ourselves to. As someone meditating might spend an hour watching thoughts and feelings without acting on or following them, so shall we observe sabbath-time watching our impulses to work, to clean, to shop, to avoid rest without acting on them. We shall choose what we spend our time on... mindfully.
And if this practice produces benefits that we carry into the other 6 days, benefits such as higher calmness and better focus, those are gifts of the sabbath and rewards for practicing mindfulness.
Do you practice a sabbath? Share in the comments what reasons and benefits you find in your sabbath practice.
Part 2 of this series will provide some links and resources regarding sabbath, and Part 3 will address How and When.