Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I'm looking back over my somewhat less than a decade in my Friends meeting, and in particular at a thread of complaint. It's a mixture of burn-out, a feeling of ingratitude, of presumption, and of being asked too much. And all of these complaints have come from people who are or were engaged in the absolutely necessary work of supporting the meeting and the meetinghouse.

It's as if what is needed is more regular vacations. Or a Sabbath.

Early Friends, from what I can find via Google Books searches, were surprisingly quiet on the subject of Sabbath. George Fox in his Journal, talks about berating the people of Derby for peacocking themselves on the Sabbath, and elsewhere he goes into what to me is an incomprehensible discussion of Sabbath among the Jews as a kind of circumcision—which I assume is metaphorical rather than referring to foreskins. And in later theology there is discussion of "spiritual Sabbath," which I think means holding the Sabbath in one's heart rather than on a specific day. This would certainly be my guess for a general Friends take on the idea of Sabbath, consistent with Quaker testimony on "outward forms."

So what can I say?

I can say that one of the great things about meeting for worship is that it is like an opening from the duties and diligence we all need to exercise just to keep afloat in this world. No taxes, no demands from family, just time specifically devoted to the important stuff. To worship.

My own understanding of Sabbath has been warped by Protestant, especially 19th-century, visions of "no fun allowed" Sundays. In particular I'm channeling the Ingalls' sober Sundays in the Little House on the Prairie books. I wasn't raised in a Sabbath-keeping tradition, and I still don't particularly observe weekly 24-hour time periods as sacred. So I'm with the Quaker gestalt on that.

But I do see the need to rest. It's been interesting just how many of the queries our Meeting has been getting in our newsletters and announcement sheets have been about "taking time" and not working so hard. And when some sort of Jubilee was proposed a couple years ago, a laying down of the Meetings' structures so we could pick up again after an examination of what really matters... well, that spoke to me too.

But then we needed to rebuild the meetinghouse, and there's always things to do. Needful things like taking care of seepage and ventilation and paint and the heating bill. Taking care of the kids, which you don't get to just let lie fallow even for a day, at least not when they're little.

If Sabbath isn't a 24-hour God-commanded time-off (I like the Jewish version in which you pray, sure, but also relax, eat, play, have sex...), then what should it be? Is it just a vacation? I think vacations (sabbaticals) can have the desired effect, but maybe Sabbath is any of the exhale-sit-down-and-stop chunks of time we all need. And maybe one of the practices we need to develop, as individuals and as a meeting, is to treat this time, in ourselves and others, as a little more sacred, not just a catch-your-breath-and-then-get-back-to-work, but the counterbalance to work.

Or maybe it's the thing the work is the counterbalance of. In the Adam and Eve story, part of the terms of the expulsion from Eden is that humans will now, in fact, have to work for their food and everything else they want. So Sabbath is like a few moments of earned (or unearned... that's the good thing about scheduling it) Eden.


RantWoman said...

I love your description of worship.

I am not really in a position to say more than you have written about the concept of Sabbath among early Friends, but when my Meeting was feeling as yours does, someone suggested a "Sabbath Year."

There is something with the RantWoman take on why Discernment rather than Sabbath, but RantWoman is having no success finding it.

but here is what came out of the discussion, a Year of Discernment.

RantWoman said...

Here is the RantWoman perspective on why what started out as a proposal for a "sabbath Year" ended up as a "Year of Discernment."

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

For the early Friends the Sabbath was not a day of the week, but a condition of peace given by God.

As to the popular equation of the first day of the week with the Sabbath, Barclay wrote in his Apology, Prop. XI §iii, that “we are not against set times of worship...: only these times being appointed for outward conveniency we may not therefore think with the Papists that these *days* are holy, and lead people into a superstitious observation of them, being persuaded that all days are alike holy in the sight of God.”

natcase said...

Marshall: Thanks. I find this is similar (as Barclay himself notes) to Calvin's take on Sabbath.

I have been remiss in skimping the early Friends writings. I need to read Barclay in toto, I think.

Lynx636 said...

I have thought a great deal about the issue of hard work as salvation. I think it is a meme that has moved from Puritan to secular culture. Americans, at least those of my Germanic heritage, tend to view work and "busyness" as extremely positive, even necessary for personal honor and self-esteem. In my last "real" job, at a large and well-respected educational institution, people were ever in crisis, racing from one vital job to another. There was no time to rest! We were fighting the good fight!! Burnout and stress-related health problems were rampant. I myself suffered enormous anxiety and depression, as well as a nice bout with Bell's Palsy and a crazy time when my appendix burst at work. I found myself unable to give enough to that job to make things work out, and this was of consuming personal importance to me; I was lost and ashamed without the validation of my work. One day, I joked darkly to my boss that I felt like standing on the street corner holding a sign that said, "Will Work for Self-Esteem". I have come to believe that I am a workaholic, and the harm in that is no joke. It is sometimes called "The Urgency Addiction". Stephen Covey comments on the unreal expectations of our day in his 1997 book, “First Things First”. Covey writes, “People expect us to be busy, overworked. It’s become a status symbol in our society – if we’re busy, we’re important; if we’re not busy, we’re embarrassed to admit it. Busyness is where we get our security, It’s validating, popular and pleasing, It’s also a good excuse for not dealing with the first things in our lives.” . The Buddhist practioner Geleck Rinpoche says that he observes a certain special laziness in Westerners. Asian laziness, he quips, is merely lying around, doing no work. And a lazy person does not make any effort toward spiritual improvement. But Westerners often live in what Gelek calls "busy laziness". See his essay at . He writes, "Many of us complain, 'I have no time.' I like to call that a good, fancy, stylish excuse. Everybody likes to say, 'I’m too busy,' because everybody would like to seem important. It is a great excuse that offers several benefits: you can avoid what you don’t want to do; it gives you a showbiz idea of being important; and all the important people do it, so you can include yourself with them." His point is that too much work is as bad as too little. We are often so darn BUSY with our lives and projects that we ALSO never find the time to devote to spiritual practice. See also the book by Wayne Muller, "Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in our Busy Lives".

natcase said...

Lynx636 asked me to post an additional line to her comment, as blogger was giving her fits:

For a Christian perspective, see this sermon on Luke's story of the sisters Martha and Mary, on the website of the First Baptist Church of Villonia, Arkansas. (Isn't the Internet grand?) : D

Thanks Lynx...

This topic just keeps deepening for me, touching on all sorts of things that pop up (or fester) in my life.