Sabbath and the Balance of Nature

Alright, I promised to offer some Earth Day ideas on how faith and environmental concerns intersect. So here we go…

Thinking about Sabbath

One theological concept that I think has beautiful and important ecological implications is the idea of Sabbath – an intentional day of resting from work.

Sabbath is a concept that is foreign to many twenty-first century Americans who live hectic, productive lives. But scripture tells us that rest and play can also be productive. Taking time out of our lives to slow down and reflect on the beauty of existence is not only good for us: it is commanded by God. The Psalmist  describes his longing for God as being like a deer panting for water (Psalm 42:1). When our souls thirst so deeply for God, we are reminded that we need to “be still” before God – our refuge, strength and healer (Psalm 46).

In busy and challenging times, we need to be intentional about making time to honor the goodness of God’s world. Sabbath practices offer a chance to create a holy space and place in our lives for us to recognize that God is sufficient and that creation is good.

Finding Balance in the Cycles

One of the greatest lessons we can learn by practicing Sabbath in our lives is the importance of balance.

We are doing all kinds of balancing acts: balancing our work life with our family, measuring different priorities, maintaining an abundance of different relationships and hobbies… how do we keep up? Sabbath is an ancient holy practice that offers a solution: set aside one day a week to cease working and celebrating goodness. No matter how much is left to be done, one day a week is a holy space of restoration.

Balance is not just a theological idea: it’s a natural one! In her beautiful book God in the Wilderness, Rabbi Jamie Korngold writes:

Nature is a great teacher and role model for finding balance. Natural systems are continually seeking equilibrium and rebalancing themselves. It is obvious when natural systems are out of whack…
No system can be pushed relentlessly. Neither the air we breathe, nor the water we drink, nor our bodies, nor our souls. Every system needs a rest. When we divorce ourselves from nature, we tend to forget about the cycles. We try to sustain a ceaseless, upward trajectory.

Rabbi Korngold reminds us that balance is not a static concept but a cyclical one. One way nature balances itself is by following cycles of restoration and death. What a holy idea it is that there is always another chance for newness, for re-birth! And of course, Christians understand deeply that sometimes the transformation of renewal comes only through the pain of death.

In her essay “Feminist Spirituality: Risk and Resistance, “Feminist Ivone Gebara picks up on this connection between rest and newness when she writes:

I should like to “rest” the earth I live on and the earth I am so that other things can be born. We live at a time when our life patterns, our paradigms, our theologies, and our spiritualities are tired. We are asking too much of our creativity in trying to deconstruct, re-create, redeem, and insert other traditions into ours. Would a time of pause not be an advantage, a time of personal and perhaps even collective silence? Would it not be a good idea to “rest” so that new ideas that could guide our steps, the fresh shoots that will feed our hopes, might in fact emerge?

As you reflect on what spiritual lessons we can learn from nature’s cycles of balance, think about parts of our world that may benefit from personal or individual pause of silence. In your own life, or the life of your community, a regular practice of rest may be extremely healing. Even further, it may usher in new ideas and energy you never thought possible!

Sabbath Practices

Celebrating a regular Sabbath can be a healing and restorative spiritual practice, but it doesn’t have to look like the strict model of a weekly no-work day. Be creative with your Sabbath practices, and try some different ideas to see what feeds your soul! As with all spiritual practices, it’s most important that it’s meaningful and effective for you.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Share a Meal –  Host a weekly Sabbath meal for friends, family, and neighbors. Invite folks to bring a dish to share. Perhaps some people can share bounty from their own gardens. Maybe practice having a silent meal together, making the practice of eating a meditative and reflective time.
  • Celebrate Creation –  Have a monthly Sabbath day for yourself and your family. Commit to getting into nature at least once a month for a whole morning or afternoon. Plant a tree together, or go for a nature hike. Visit a new nature area near your home each month. Bring a notebook so you can sketch, journal, or pray as you quietly soak up God’s creation.
  • Take a Nap! – Perhaps what you really need is rest. Commit to making space to sleep, rest, or relax. Recognize that God wants you to be whole and healthy and commit to making space to rest, no matter how much you have to get done.
  • Create Art –  If you are a musician or an artist (or even if you aren’t!), schedule some regular time into your week to celebrate your creativity as an act of worship. Let God delight in the talents He has given you by taking time to be artistic with no purpose other than celebration. Save this space for you and God, and be thankful for the beauty of art, poetry, music.

Share some of your favorite Sabbath practices! How do you find balance in your daily life? Where do you observe the balance of cycles in the natural world?


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Filed under Care for Creation, Spirituality, Theology and Faith

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