Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sabbath

A friend told me recently that in France everything is closed on Sundays, and I thought the opposite of what I'm sure she expected me to think: good for them! One day a week when everyone is forced to slow down, quiet down...spend more time with family, perhaps - spend more time in nature, I hope.

What could we all gain, I wonder, if we spent one day of the week in quiet, restful contemplation? In the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, one demon teaches another that the devil's goal is to fill the world with noise. Our world is choking with the pollution of meaningless, distracting sound - from our TVs, our smartphones, our computers, our shopping centers. Donald Miller, another Christian author, says that Satan wishes to distract us with pointless passions. We all have more than a few of those, I suspect.

We all struggle to escape the very alluring but soul-numbing noise. If we don't shut it down, there is no room for prayer or meaningful conversation with our fellow human beings, no calm in which to discern the movement of God's Spirit or His still small voice. No chance of keeping a Sabbath well.

I struggle to keep the Sabbath well. Oh, I believe in it; I was raised to keep it. But how do you keep it truly well?

There are a few things I have learned over the years. One is that I cannot go shopping on Sunday, especially for petty, unnecessary purchases. I always felt disquieted any time I gave in to the temptation to do so. I can't remember to keep the Sabbath holy or to talk to my Father if I am picking over clearance blouses or peering into the abyss of flat screen TVs. The noise of a mall, the pointless selfish traffic, is completely inconducive to holiness.

And our family must go to Mass. We used to skip Mass just because we didn't feel like going. Shocking to some, I know. I tried to remember on those days to read the Bible with the kids, pray with them, discuss scripture, but often I failed. My dad did it successfully with his kids for years. I felt as if Christ was in the room when our family read and prayed together, and He was ( ). And I know many families across the centuries have held home church, during the Nazi occupation, for instance. But my husband and I are not my dad, and our right to go to God's sanctuary is not threatened. We need to go to Mass, as my husband says. If we don't, the day feels strange and wasted.

I also try, try, not to do any work on Sundays. My efforts are very imperfect, however. I scramble on Saturdays to complete the chores, so the house will hold up alright the next day. And Sabbath does not start at sundown as it should. I stayed up until long past 11pm last night doing housework. Simple meals are made, but however bad the house gets on Sunday, I don't busy myself with efforts to tame it. We go to Mass, take naps, play board games (something I insist upon for family bonding that always seems to breed more arguments than camaraderie), and, unfortunately, watch far too much TV.

Ugh, the TV.

I have at least put my foot down and no longer let the kids watch it while Mama and Papa get ready right before we leave for Mass. I have also limited the shows they can watch, but, then, I always do that. Do I wish sometimes that the TV could go on Sunday, the remote missing, that box of din silent as the grave all day long? Yes, but I am afraid to make the attempt...and, sadly, I like my Masterpiece Mystery in the evening. But, oh the noise, noise, noise of it, as the Grinch might say. I am very glad there are decent periods when it is dark and ignored.

In the Little House on the Prairie books, that I am reading to my daughter currently, Laura Ingalls Wilder describes the Sabbath as starting sundown Saturday, a day when no play was allowed and only essential tasks were done. You sat quietly with the Bible or your catechism and studied in God's classroom of stillness. Kids hated it, of course. You got in trouble for laughing or running or sledding down a fresh hill of snow.

When I was a kid, even, there was a period when my dad would not tolerate radio or television on Sunday. It was family day, and electronics played little part in it unless you listened to gospel music. Of course, we could still run out into the woods or down the creek to play, and I always felt God in nature. I still do, so a hike or a bike ride or a walk with family never feels like breaking the Sabbath to me. It feels like a better way to enjoy it.

Neither scenario seems right for God's day, though: not the standard of old - the long silent sitting in one's best clothes, trying not to fidget, not really relaxing or speaking to your loved ones - nor the present, wasted days of catch-up projects or noisy solitude from the near constant belching of ingenious entertainment devices. There must be a compromise, and I'm trying to find it. I appreciate what Sabbath has to offer...to my family, to everyone.

But I recall that St. Paul said for freedom Christ set us free; the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath. 

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