Intern’s Item

Dear HUP Beloveds,


Moving from the worship theme of Liberation to Sabbath, it seems appropriate to ask: can halakha liberate us from the prisons of modernity? From the desert of our busyness?

Halakha, or Jewish Law, dictates 39 types of work, or melakha, are not performed on the Sabbath. These rules are mostly attributed to the Orthodox sect of Judaism, although the Conservative sect also espouses to uphold them. While these restrictions, particularly those regarding electricity and driving, prove largely prohibitive within modern contexts, Jewish scholars such as Abraham Heschel have worked to re-characterize the Sabbath as a truly unique and spiritually necessary holy commitment. In The Lord’s Day Alliance, Jane Carol Redmont writes of Heschel’s seminal work:

“(through Heschel’s The Sabbath) We studied the Jewish meaning and context of Shabbat and made note of the practices associated with it: a regular weekly rhythm of rest, time for reconnecting with the sacred, festive meals with loved ones, the nurturing of community life, study of holy wisdom and sacred texts, attention to beauty and sensuality, honoring intimacy.” (from “Sunday Outings: Observations on Sunday Practices, On Sabbath and Overscheduling of Churches)

Even more recently, New York Times OpEd by world class neurologist Oliver Sacks (may he rest in peace) regarding the sacredness of Shabbat have given those in Judeo-Christian contemplative contexts pause to think. Efforts like Take Back Your Time, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), and National Unplug Day tell us that there is a growing unrest with the pace of modernity. How interesting to tie this to the unrest of the wilderness and ancient contexts, and to begin to understand that the need for Sabbath may very well be part of the human condition.

Jane Carol Redmont continues to shine a spotlight on the church’s responsibility in over-scheduling its congregations. Promoting a healthy, sustainable Sabbath practice is a promising point from which to jump off in leading one’s congregation towards simplification. Finding ways to communicate to our communities about the need for ceasing, and then finding effective ways to invite them into the experience are both key components of the effort.

In Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting, Marva Dawn sums up the desert of our busy lives: “Deep in our beings there is a longing for completion, and all sorts of prostitutes in our culture compete to satisfy that yearning.”  The Jewish Sabbath was originally designed to help its people avoid such prostitutes. Humans needed liberation then, in the ancient wilderness, and we certainly need it now. In deepening and simplifying, we begin to come closer to possibility of embracing the “precious metal” of the eternal moment, as Heschel puts it (The Sabbath).

Our Judeo-Christian story foundation helps us remember that, yes, we are still in the wilderness. It has modern conveniences, but is still quite fierce in its own right. And, perhaps more than ever, we need liberation. We need to keep Sabbath, may this practice guide us on our way.

Yours In Faith,