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day off

Something I read awhile back has made me rethink my idea of what constitutes a 'day off.'  Here is the quote from Douglas Steere:  "A day off...is a bastard Sabbath." [1]  What he means is that a day off is not a legitimate sabbath.  'Not working' does not constitute what God had in mind when he initiated a day of rest.  So what does it mean to keep a sabbath, and to keep it holy?  Steere suggests that it is much more than a day of 'not doing.'  It is a day of getting ourselves out of the way.  Embracing silence, embracing prayer. 

This quote of Steere's is taken from Eugene Peterson's book, The Pastor.  Peterson goes on to describe how his interaction with Steere initiated a change in how he and his family took a day off during the week.  "We deliberately separated ourselves from the workweek .. .and gave ourselves to being present to what God has done and is doing, this creation in which we have been set down and this salvation in which we have been invited to be participants in a God-revealed life of resurrection." [2].  For him and his wife, this meant a weekly ritual of sending the kids off to school, packing a simple lunch, and heading to a trailhead.  They read a psalm and prayed, then walked in silence for the morning.  Over lunch, they talked about anything and everything, but they especially paid attention to the week they had just lived through, the holy bits and the ordinary bits.  He states that it always turned out that they had missed a lot.  "Each Sabbath became a day of remembering, becoming aware of where we were, who we were - the gifts of God for the people of God." [3].

Thinking about this concept of a 'day off' reminded me of something Bernard of Clairvaux talked about - the four loves.  The first stage is where we love self for self's sake.  This comes pretty easy and natural to most of us.  We love and take care of ourselves first.  The second degree is loving God for self's sake.  Here we love God for what he can do for us, how he can improve our lives.  The third stage is loving God for God's sake, and this is where true worship happens.  The final degree is love of self for God's sake.  This is a very difficult one, but it is where we truly see ourselves as God sees us, and we unite our wills with his.

As I was thinking about this, I realised that a typical 'day off' which consists of rest and play and perhaps some celebration is very much on the first level of self-indulgence.  And much of my so-called 'holy activity' falls in the second category where I am looking for God to give me something or rejuvenate me.  So much of the time we are only concerned with our own amusement and well-being.  It is not a sabbath if it is centred solely around my own interests.  What Peterson and Steere are talking about is a day where I forget about my desires and my work and set some time apart to pay attention to what God is doing in order to reorient my life according.  That is a true sabbath.  Time set aside for God's pleasure.  I get to participate in that.  What a privilege and wonder!  Why don't I do it more often?

[1] Douglas Steere as quoted by Eugene Peterson in The Pastor.  (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 220.
[2] Peterson, 220.
[3] Peterson, 221.

The photo:  Me at the lake in St. Donat on a weekend away last year.  Photo credit to Dean.

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