Still ruminating over the Sabbath question – been chewing over it ever since I recently found that I’d got the wrong end of the stick about the concept of “work”, and that the original instruction in the Bible was not just “avoid hard work and have a rest”. (see the P.S. in my recent post if you missed it)
So… no creative activity? wow. why? and please don’t say “because God said so” – I can see that he said it, I’m trying to understand what the principle is behind it. Because without understanding the principle, I can’t work out how to apply it in my own life – how far should I go? which types of activity should I avoid? how important is it to God compared with other things? and no, “this is what Halacha says” is not the kind of answer I’m interested in either – not as an authoritative answer. I’m trying to put aside preconceptions, and I’d ask you also to put aside preconceptions and think about it afresh. I’m interested in hearing what you think, I’m also interested in hearing what you’ve learned from your own experience – though please don’t assume that your own experience will necessarily apply to me. We’re all different, with different personalities/lifestyles etc. Even what worked for me back in the late 90s doesn’t work for me now, because my lifestyle has changed.
Back in the late 90s I was living in London on my own and doing the normal 9-5 kind of lifestyle. Work was a clearly defined term for me back then – it was what I did when I was in the office, Monday to Friday, from 9.30 to 5.30 except for an hour’s lunch break. Saturday was my chance to slow down and do things at my own pace. During the week I was having to get up early and rush to work, function on a combination of adrenaline and caffeine, and cram all sorts of other stuff into the time I had after work: social life, shopping, church meetings, tv, reading, etc. On Saturdays I would get up at 9, and sit there for a while with a mug of tea, just letting my thoughts go round – I didn’t know yet about being an introvert and what it means, I just knew this was something I needed, a weekly luxury of sitting quietly with a mug of tea and not actually doing anything. And in the afternoon I’d go for a leisurely pootle round the local high street. (Cross-cultural translation note: “high street” is the British term for the main shopping street.) It was a lovely antidote to the rushed dash round the supermarket during the week – I love browsing in shops, as long as I can do it at a leisurely pace.
But I know people who would practically die if they had to slow down like that – people who can’t sit in one place for too long, who need to be doing something, even if it’s only fiddling with stuff or doodling. I guess their Sabbath would need to look rather different – maybe more outings with more stuff to see and experience, or maybe staying in but playing games?
For myself, that ritual I had back then was what I needed at the time, because of the lifestyle I was leading; but now I’m not rushing around in the week, and I don’t have something that is clearly defined as “work” (except for the odd bit of proofreading I do once in a while), my work/rest/play lines are a lot more blurry. Last week I particularly enjoyed deliberately pausing to rest on the Sabbath because, for a change, I’d had a really busy and tiring week. But most of the time it’s not like that, I have plenty of “Sabbath moments” as part of my daily life. So part of the question for me right now is: rest from what?
And no, I’m not looking for a detailed list. I really don’t think God wants me to get hooked on some kind of list of regulations, I think if he had wanted to give me a detailed list he’d have done so, and he’d have spelled it out clearly. I don’t believe in looking for hints in the text of the Bible like some kind of treasure hunt – if God wants to tell me not to do something, I trust him to say it loud and clear.
And if the answer to “rest from what?” is not just work (leaving aside for the moment the problem I have with defining what actually is “work” for me right now) but also creative activity, then my next question is: what for? what is the purpose of this?
Since Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man and not the other way round, it seems to me there ought to be something in it for me – and whilst I can see the benefit in resting from whatever work it is that you do during the week, I’m wondering what the value could be in avoiding any creative activity for a day.
I’ve heard the suggestion that this could be a way of making us more open to hearing God – but here are some problems I have with this idea:
People can, and do, have very busy Sabbaths, spending time with family/friends and not sitting quietly and listening to God. So avoiding creative activity does not, in itself, mean you end up spending more time with God. People can fill up their time with all sorts of things.
In fact, this is one of the things I keep hearing that Shabbat is supposed to be for – spending time with your family (and I can see the value in that for people who are busy in the week and who have children – not my situation). (But do you need to avoid creative activity in order to spend time with your kids? I think it’s great when parents show kids how to do creative stuff, it would be a wonderful thing to do when you have time. So this can’t be the reason why.)
And for some people, doing something creative is actually a really good way of opening up to hearing God. We’re all different. There are people who can’t concentrate very well if they’re not doing something with their hands – those who doodle whilst talking on the phone, or do embroidery when listening to a talk or a sermon. Some hear God best when they’re gardening, or painting, or doing the washing up. (I’ve found sometimes that doing embroidery helps me to become still, so I can hear him better.) So I don’t buy the idea that this instruction was aimed at getting us to hear God.
I have no answers at this stage – just questions. If you have insights to offer from your own experience or from your understanding of life/God/Scripture, I’d love to hear. Even if you don’t share either my faith or my Jewish identity, you may have insights about the value of pausing and about stuff that works for you.
In the meantime, I’m enjoying a day of ignoring my to-do list and not trying to achieve anything in particular, accompanied by having my coffee in a nice mug that I keep for guests or for Shabbat, and having made myself a yummy omelette – a leisurely thing that I don’t tend to do in the week. And rambling here is one of my tools for thinking through things – it helps me pin my thoughts down. I know I’m breaking quite a few rules of Jewish Halacha, but that is not my concern.
Over to you now.