Inspired by Genesis 2:1-3 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Thus, the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day, God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So, God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because, on it, God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
Last summer Fiona and I threw a tent, an air mattress, and two sleeping bags in the back of my Subaru Outback and drove to The Land to shovel mulch and sleep under the stars. There was shoveling and there were stars but there didn’t end up being much sleep involved, for me at least. For starters, our dog, Tracey, alert to all the new noises of nature, maintained a low growl in the tent until we finally moved our sleeping set-up to the back of the Subaru. On top of Tracey’s paranoid growling, I had my own internal paranoia playing out. Earlier that afternoon I had received two odd voicemails that I could only assume meant someone had made plans to murder us in our sleep. If those two things hadn’t been enough to ensure that my sleep would be slim, I also managed to leave my sleep medication at home, and, it turns out, no amount of sleepiness can compete with a brain that is waiting for a much-needed chemical cue that it’s time to turn off.
All night my attention oscillated from loud, lit cars driven by murderers to the bright, flickering stars that were slowly waking up to join a gas-ball party in the sky. For hours on end I watched and listened to the soft noises and gentle movements of the prairie fade and return among unwelcome human-made machine interludes.
In the morning, it was the sun’s groggy rise and the bird’s cheerful song that softened the abruptness accompanied by the increase of cars driving, planes flying and oil rigs pumping. Then, just as I was reaching to open the car door and free myself from my prison of sleepless paranoia, my gaze caught the arrival of three pronghorns silently grazing just a few feet from our car. A grown male, a grown female, and a young newborn out for breakfast just after dawn.
Minus my drug-free insomnia and delusional paranoia, this restless night on the prairie was a manifestation of Sabbath. Sabbath defined by theologian Norman Wirzba as an orientation to place through which we are fully present and receptive to its gifts.
In Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, author Norman Wirzba writes;
“When people think of Sabbath they tend to think in terms of exhaustion: rest is a break, the time to escape from the harried pace of life. For God, however, rest is best understood as God’s complete entrance into life and as God’s availability to and joy in the beauty and goodness that is there. Contrary to human restlessness, the constant, frantic searching and striving for a different place or a better community, God rests because there is no other place God would rather be…Sabbath is not a reprieve from life but putting to an end of the restlessness that prevents deep engagement with it.”
It is on the seventh day of the creation story in Genesis that Sabbath opens space to witness what is and listen to what will come next. Far from a symptom of surrender to exhaustion, the divine act of finishing the initial stages of an ongoing creative process, Sabbath rest arrives as the energized expression of the holy embodiment of intense joy and peace. The past six days of creative conversation and imaginative designing did not exhaust the divine creativity of the process but culminated in the final act of participation with all that had been ordered and created.
As the New Interpreter’s commentator explains to us today, “Creation thus has to do not simply with spatial order, but with temporal order as well…. (in the created order) our work is not complete without the presence of Sabbath.” We witness a Creator that not only orders all that is cooperatively created but structures a rhythm reflective of how we are to be in relationship to this Creation. This ordering of attending to creation through care incites a response of resting in peace with all that exists just as it is. This resting in what already is as perfect and complete exists as a rejection to the pull of production and the push of progress which marks our contemporary culture. In the created order in Genesis, everything can stop, and nothing will fall apart. In the context of capitalism, the presence of Sabbath is a reclaiming of our created identity and an act of resistance to the rule of industrialism.
Sabbath rest is not only individual practice but a communal response to an industrialized world that sees animate and inanimate creation as tools for production. Rest is a practice reuniting participants with the natural rhythm of the created order, reminding them that it is not their work that is transformational, but their Sabbath rest.
Known as the Nap Bishop, Tricia Hersey understands the practice of rest as the key to unlocking our imaginations and igniting liberation from systems that abuse bodies and exhaust spirits. She is an advocate of, disrupting grind culture through rest as resistance and believes that, “we are at a critical place where we have actually lost our imagination. Grind culture has taken it from us because grind culture refuses to see the divinity of any human being and if you buy into grind culture you are actually buying into the concept that you’re not a divine-human being.” The relentless push to work and be worked drowns the created order that defines our worth gifted to us by the fact that we are alive.
“Birth is our worth,” Hersey writes.
And, Sabbath rest is a reclaiming of our worthiness and a reminder of our sacred purpose. In this time of the pandemic, two realities have emerged highlighting our troubled relationship to the created order as outlined in Genesis. The first being that when we rest, the earth rests. We have witnessed the earth’s natural pull to heal herself and to permit all created beings to benefit from this healing.
The second reality witnessed in the pandemic has been our system’s inability to tolerate rest without the threat of corporate collapse and the carnage of people’s lives who make up the corporations. Facts and figures shift as the need for the economic system to produce overshadows the divine blessing to be fruitful and multiply. For the majority of Americans, the absence of a system that supports Sabbath as a practice fully integrated into the experience, has resulted in parents who risk their lives having to return to work to make money to support children who then must risk their lives to attend schools to work on their education. Regardless of the real and present risk on the individual, the system, and the machines that feed it must keep working or our world would stop spinning.
For as common a sight as the Pronghorn are on the prairie, I realized through my own close encounter that I knew very little about my prairied cohabitants. Pronghorn are the fastest land mammal in North America and second fastest in the world. They run up to sustained speeds of 60 mph. These friends also have a keen sense of smell and vision that is comparable to a human looking through 8x-power binoculars. And, while we might associate pronghorn with deer or even mountain goats, they are in a family of their own called Antilocpridae and are now the only living species in the family.
All other members of the family are extinct.
Our world has stopped spinning, regardless of the pandemic-panicked story that we choose to tell. Long before hundreds of thousands of deaths, extinctions have been pulling the stage curtains of our cinematic production down. The pandemic and the problems surrounding are a desperate call for a Sabbath solution that restructures systems where people, the planet, and the creatures that still exist on it, can rest without losing access to the resources needed to live. There are multiple narrations around the relationship with Creation which can lead us toward valleys of death or prairies of promise.
Norman Wirzba writes,
“The aim of a spiritual exercise (of Sabbath) is to develop in people the habits that will enable them to live a more ordered, measured, reflective, free, attentive, available, and responsible life…. The meaning and purpose of the world are something people must work out in their interactions with it; We can be in a place and not know where we are or how to be there. We can also come to forsake or degrade places because we do not appreciate how vital in fact they are.”
I understand The Land as an opportunity to awaken this ability to know where we are and how to be there. To rest in what is and to reject destructive drives to develop the property into what we think it ought to be. Most of us arrive afraid to stand still, too anxious to sleep but when we lounge around long enough, we find rest in where we are and what already is transforms how we choose to be…and belong, to dream, to imagine a world sustained by the divine created order, marked by the practice of Sabbath.