Why you, too, need and deserve a Sabbath

Part of the Build Your Own Rituals series of reflections

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.

And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.

Genesis 2.2-3 (The old timey King James Version, cos I think it sounds nice)

What does the perfect Sunday look like to you?

Maybe it’s going on a family walk; recovering from a hangover in front of some deliciously trashy television; having a pub roast with friends; or simply putting off, until the last minute, the onset of the dreaded Sunday Blues.

All of these activities absolutely have their place (except maybe the Sunday Blues). But I want to invite us all to reflect today on the traditional Sabbath, and what this sacred ritual could offer to us all, regardless of our faith background.

The Sabbath is the Jewish and Christian day of rest. The creation myth in Genesis tells us that God made the world in seven days, and on the seventh day (Saturday if you’re Jewish, or Sunday if you’re Christian) she rested.

Some may consider the weekend the contemporary Sabbath – a break from working, for those who work 9-5 jobs. A break from our usual routine. A time for rest, fun and family.

But there are some elements of the traditional Sabbath which make it special and worthy of reflection. What are these, are how could they help all of us reconnect with what matters most?

Rest is as essential and sacred as work and play

Firstly, if you take another look at the Bible verse quoted above, god considered the seventh day, the day of rest, as an essential part of the seven days of creation. Not a break after all the work was over, but one of the seven days of creation in its own right.

It means doing nothing. I mean NOTHING

Sometimes, weekends can become a hectic schedule of social engagement and ‘life admin’. In that way, they’re just a personal-life version of your busy working week. The Sabbath calls for rest. Some translations of the root word for Sabbath suggest it is derived not from ‘doing nothing’ but rather ‘abstaining from creating’. In the productivity cult in which we live, it’s essential to practice the art of doing nothing. This can be extremely hard for many of us – but like anything, practice makes perfect.

This is particularly important to those who are care givers or those concerned with social justice. This brief time for you is essential if you are to continue your important work and will in fact reconnect you with what is important.

It is holy – whatever that means to you

The Hebrew Bible (called by Christians the ‘Old Testament’) specifies several times that the Sabbath should be kept holy and kept as a Sabbath to the Lord.

Holy essentially means ‘set apart from the ordinary’.

While I 100% support you carving out some time to lie vertically on the sofa binge-watching Netflix on Sunday, that doesn’t necessarily make it a Sabbath activity.

This is because your Sabbath time shouldn’t just be relaxing – though it will be that, too – it should genuinely remove you from distractions and create mental space. It should connect you to what you care about. A brief meditation. Listening to instrumental music. Gentle yoga (no headstands or backbends today). Taking time to note down just three things that you are grateful for. Prayer, if that’s your thing.

It is as essential as any other type of ‘work’

The traditional Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments. This means god mandated the people of Israel to mark the Sabbath – and if you search ‘Sabbath’ on an online Bible, you’ll see she reminds them about it a lot! Taking time to simply rest in the goodness of the Lord was as important an act of worship as any other ritual.

Create a ritual in the spirit of the Sabbath

If you’re ready to build a little Sabbath time into your week, here’s a few points to consider:

  1. Start small
    Don’t overburden yourself with another thing for you to do and achieve. If you can set aside thirty minutes for a little meditation and mindful non-doing on a Sunday morning, that’s perfect. It also doesn’t have to be on a Sunday – but if you work Monday-Friday like many of us do, including those caring full- or part-time for their children, Sunday can make a perfect time to reset before the start of the new week.
  2. Make it special
    Try to create the conditions to make time which is ‘set apart’ and ‘holy’. You could achieve this by making sure you’re not disturbed; lighting a lovely candle or some incense; playing a favourite song. Allow yourself to arrive at your Sabbath.
  3. Do it every week
    Whatever your chosen ritual, commit to it as a show of self-care and compassion to yourself, and to any higher power(s) you acknowledge. Be as committed to your sacred rest as you are to your acts of work, love and play.
  4. Enjoy!
    Hopefully, with a little thought and little discipline, this will become an essential reset in your week, helping to punctuate those weeks of frenetic activity. It can be challenging for us, living in our cult of productivity, to truly do nothing. But there’s plenty of research supporting the theory that taking time to ‘do nothing’ boosts overall productivity and creativity. Plus, as we’ve learned from the Sabbath, ceasing from creating is a sacred act.

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