Wrestling with Rest–A Feminist Inquiry into Sabbath
Rest is an elusive thing for most everyone in American culture–and I am wondering if it actually is possible especially for people who take care of others on a daily basis. Consider this post a mother’s questions to God on a morning of a day set aside to rest that starts like every other.
I wonder how much God really has ever been able to rest—especially after all the strenuous work of birthing a world. It has to be hard for the One who is tangled up with everything that is with such unique power to take a break from it all. God’s very nature is to be awake, aware, attentive, and mysteriously at work in the world’s unfolding.
But still, all the world’s religions and all the indigenous faiths that I’ve had a chance to learn about all have space for the sacred purpose of rest.
The feminist in me has been skeptical for some time about how this rest thing is supposed to work particularly for women. On the Sabbath, you still have kids that need to eat. I understand that a strict understanding of Sabbath takes some intense preparation so that food is at the ready that doesn’t involve cooking. Paid work allows for a day off. Housing location allows for walking to a house of worship. My Orthodox friend told me once that she couldn’t use scissors or a pencil on the Sabbath. Sabbath taking isn’t really about taking a little breather—in its fullest sense, it is a way of life that makes rest from your labors a priority, something you build your life around.
But back to this feminist suspicion of mine. So, even if I made it a priority to have all the food cooked. The laundry done. The scissors stowed. Even if I take a break from the work that helps to pay my bills and put aside emails and cell phone and writing projects. I still don’t get how you really settle into rest when there are living beings depending on your work for their lives to be sustainable. Feedings, bathroom assistance, refereeing between siblings, letting dogs out and in, cat out and in, administering bandaids and/or daily medications, listenting attentively to children and even to spouse, issuing reminders about things like washing hands before meals—these are all part of my work everyday. And there is no rest from these extensions of myself into the world of others—the world of nurturing, loving, protecting, and just plain relationship. And even though my children will grow up someday and my sweet companion animals will pass away and I could find myself alone, somehow singular and unencumbered—that doesn’t sound like sacred rest to me. That sounds pretty lonely and stagnant. Actually it sounds like a life I don’t really ever want to know. I pray that I will always be tangled up with the lives of others—and that I will have gotten wiser about what rest means in the midst of it all.
The feminist and the theologian in me gets that Sabbath-taking isn’t really about getting to do nothing for a while. God could not, by God’s very nature, be a do-nothing. God is—God moves, breathes, extends, inhabits, infuses, redeems. Sacred rest cannot mean the cessation of connection. That is not rest; that is hell. Even in death there is more connection than that as our bodies are recycled into dust and memories play in the ones who knew us.
So, sacred rest is still a mystery of sorts to me. I wonder about it especially today when I am on vacation—seeking rest, seeking removal from my frenetic ways. And my old dog who is sick wakes me up panting, needing me to attend to her. And my younger dog’s inner clock goes off and it’s time for a walk. And my cat, just being a cat, decides to start knocking things off of places just for the sheer amusement of it. Or my kids call out in the night. And, of course, they wake up hungry. There is nothing sacred for me in not being there for these precious ones that I love. And still, I am tired and would love to try my hand at sleeping through the night and into morning. But what calls to me in the morning is work—getting up and moving, being there for what the world brings my way this day.
This morning I woke up to the same sounds that wake me in my life back home—the sounds of someone needing me, the sounds of a day beginning. My rest this morning is not found in the cessation of work or in the absence of others. Perhaps my rest is found in listening for a minute to the sounds of the world waking up where I am. In the chorus of birds and wind, my panting dog adds her rhythmic breath to the song outside. And my ears are pricked for a few moments of just being here wondering about a teaming world and a God who invites us to rest.
Maybe rest is as simple as that—receiving a day without effort or exertion. Receiving a way of life that invites deep breathing and a change of pace at regular intervals. Receiving a God that is always creating, always extending into lives of need—and that includes lives that need rest.
Maybe that seventh day for God was about our Creator becoming a joyful participant (albeit a uniquely powerful participant). My hunch these days is sabbath has something to do with joy, with in-joy-ment–that is, joy that has a chance to settle in and find a home in me. Maybe God has seventh day moments sprinkled in my days more than I’ve had the eyes to see or hear or feel.
I pray that I can receive the kind of rest God intends for me in this day and I pray the same for you wherever and however your day begins.
My thanks to my friend, Dr. Jack Benjamin, for his beautiful beach photography. If you would like to see more of Jack’s photography go to jackbenjaminphotos.weebly.com