Sabbath Saved My Life

Originally posted as a guest blog for friend/author J. Dana Trent :

I’m about four years into a do-it-yourself home renovation. And it has almost killed me. I’ve watched a lot of YouTube videos on load-bearing walls, plumbing, and electrical outlets, and mostly fumbled through everything trying to literally avoid killing myself.

Rabbi A.J. Heschel  writes beautifully in his book Sabbath about building a cathedral of time (rather than space) to celebrate the sacred seventh day of our week. The way he articulates it is inspirational, in much the same way I imagined what my house would look like after all these projects – perfect in its completion, complete in its perfection. His profound simplicity belies the difficulty of practice, much like having YouTube access belied the skill and training needed to solder copper pipes.

Honestly, I just want to live in a house that no longer has tools lying around, sawdust in the air, or the fumes from fresh paint. I mean, I walk around this place and my eye is drawn to every single imperfection. I can point out every slip up with the paintbrush, every flaw in the drywall, every uneven surface in the whole home. All I want to do is get to the metaphorical end of the week with this project so that I can rest and enjoy the completed project. It stresses me out.

I’m struck by how tempting that line of thought is. “Finish your work before you relax,” I can still hear my mother yelling from the kitchen as I procrastinated on geometry homework 20 years ago. But what if our Sabbath practice is spent as an explicit denial of this mindset? We can take a moment and not think about the enormity of the tasks in front of us – solving world hunger, fixing the problems in our communities, or repairing the cracked plaster around the door. We can be reminded that God is God and we are not, much like I am reminded every day that I am not really a master carpenter.

I think the good rabbi would have had plenty of opportunities to point out the crap in his world that still needed God’s perfection. He barely escaped the Holocaust and lived through the front lines of the Civil Rights movement after taking refuge in the United States. The turbulent epoch he lived through is a microcosm of time – no era gets to practice Sabbath for the whole week.

When we participate in sabbath, we imagine life in the New Jerusalem. We get one out of seven days to practice spending eternity with our creator and with the beloved community in a way that not-just-symbolically says “It is finished.” When all things are made right and made new, we won’t have to live for the to-do list of another week. We won’t rely on exploitative systems that demand our constant input, and we won’t subject one another to those same systems.

Searching for sabbath cannot mean we simply minimize it to the rest after a project is completed. I see it as a specific reminder that we are still waiting for The Project to be completed. It isn’t about finishing our checklists for the week, and I certainly hope it isn’t about a day off work to be filled with grouting the new tile in the bathroom; it’s about the one big thing. The ONE BIG THING. When we recapture the imagination to celebrate sabbath, we get to practice our sanity, our world together, and our creator.

In the meantime, want to come over and help me hang drywall?

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