Time and the Sabbath

There are times when I struggle with how some Christians appropriate various spiritual disciplines. The one I struggle with the most is Sabbath.

Sabbath, it seems, can mean just about anything. And more often than not, when I hear people talk about Sabbath they are saying something like this: "I'm too busy. I need to take some time to relax, unwind, and recuperate." No doubt God "rested" after six days of "work." But it seems that many Christians are using the notion of Sabbath to provide spiritual cover for a period of self-focus. It's horribly judgmental of me to say this, but much of what passes for "Sabbath" in Christian circles seems to be case of self-indulgence. A means, for example, to get a little peace and quiet away from the family, to justify time set aside for the self.

So I've never really been interested in practicing Sabbath. I've just never been impressed with how I saw Sabbath practiced by the Christians around me. If I'm tired I take a nap. If I need to relax I engage in recreation. If I need some time alone I ask for time alone. But I don't need to slap the word Sabbath on any of this.

But my views of Sabbath are changing. I've been particularly affected by Abraham Heschel's book The Sabbath, particularly its Prologue--Architecture of Time--and Chapter 1--A Palace in Time.

Heschel argues that the Bible (more precisely, the Hebrew Bible) is more concerned with time than with space:

The Bible is more concerned with time than with space. It sees the world in the dimension of time. It pays more attention to generations, to events, than to countries, to things; it is more concerned with history than with geography. To understand the teaching of the Bible, one must accept its premise that time has a meaning for life which is at least equal to that of space; that time has a significance and sovereignty of its own...

Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time. Unlike the space-minded man to whom time is unvaried, iterative, homogeneous, to whom all hours are alike, qualitiless, empty shells, the Bible senses the diversified character of time. There are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious.

Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of the year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals...

Jewish ritual may be characterized as the art of significant forms in time, as architecture of time...the main themes of faith lie the the realm of time...

One of the most distinguished words in the Bible is the word qadosh, holy; a word which more than any other is representative of the mystery and majesty of the divine. Now what was the first holy object in the history of the world? Was it a mountain? Was it an altar?...How extremely significant is the fact that it is applied to time: "And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy."

This is a radical departure from accustomed religious thinking. The mythical mind would expect that, after heaven and earth have been established, God would create a holy place--a holy mountain or a holy spring--whereupon a sanctuary is to be established. Yet it seems as if to the Bible it is holiness in time, the Sabbath, which comes first...

The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things in space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.

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