A Sabbath Cleaning

Recently I’ve become more and more aware of how much my environment affects my ability to rest and feel at peace. I thrive when I have steady rhythms of life, sufficient quiet time each day, meaningful relationships, colorful surroundings, lots of sunlight. And a clean kitchen.

First thing in the morning, after I shower and get dressed, I start heating water for coffee and then clean the kitchen (Derek shakes his head and says that’s why we’re different; he needs about an hour to wake up before he does anything remotely productive and cleaning the kitchen is the last thing he’d think to do early in the morning). Depending on the state of the kitchen when I walk downstairs, my coffee may be cold before I finally sit down to drink it. But I know that if I don’t clean first, I’ll be distracted by the dirty dishes and crumbs on the table and won’t be able to rest and focus during my quiet time.

This poses a significant challenge for me living in community because I can’t control other people’s standards of cleanliness (don’t think I haven’t tried…) and rarely do I live with a group of people that cleans as often and as meticulously as I would like. I long to make our home a place of sanctuary and rest, a haven of peace and welcome – ideals that erode in the midst of clutter and chaos. Little things like dirty dishes in the sink and socks in the hall lodge in my daily routine like pebbles in a shoe, an irritation that escalates the longer I walk with it. Often I retreat up to my room because I know that at least it will be clean and orderly there (did I mention that I clean my room every day before I clean the kitchen? Well, I do).

So today I came home from church feeling particularly disgruntled and disoriented (we arrived home from our trip last week in the midst of four or five major transition, enough to make me feel like I am wallowing in a mire of change). I surveyed the dirty breakfast dishes in the sink, the mound of clean dishes balanced precariously in the drainer, the hardened food splattered across the stove top, and all sorts of crumbs and crud on the table, counters, and floor, and I tied on an apron and set to work. I cleaned the whole kitchen and then cooked dinner for tonight and tomorrow (pumpkin soup and homemade yeast bread for tonight, rice salad with eggplant and tomatoes for tomorrow).

And you know what? I feel more rested and peaceful than I have in days.

Now I’m sitting in the evening sunlight, writing and watching the soup simmer as the baking bread fills the kitchen with a warm, yeasty aroma. And, if I’m really honest, I’m also watching the kitchen so it stays clean, at least for a little while.

A Sabbath Psalm

Several weeks ago, Kristin Montgomery spoke at the Boiler Room about Psalm 92 and Sabbath. She went through some of the history of Sabbath, including the year of Jubilee, and then how Jesus approached the Sabbath. She came to the conclusion that living the spirit of the Sabbath is not just about structuring your life to include a day of rest, but that it’s found in the person of Jesus on the cross, in His work of healing and bringing us into family, that Sabbath rest is ultimately found in Jesus. It was one of the most profound teachings I’ve heard in a long time and really hit home in my heart. It’s online now so I highly recommend listening to it here.

A Return to Sabbath

I’m still working my way through Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning. In the most recent chapter I read, he talked about the spirit of the Pharisees and how that attacks our identity as Abba’s child. He had a lot of good things to say, but what struck me the most in the chapter was actually his description of the traditional Jewish Sabbath celebration.

Manning wrote that the Sabbath was meant, first and foremost, to be “a memorial of creation” (p.78), a remembrance of God creating the world and seeing that what He made was good. Isaiah referred to it as “a day of delight” where “fasting and mourning were forbidden. Special festive white clothes were to be worn and joyous music was to permeate the Sabbath observance” (p.79). It was a day to rejoice in what God has made and also a day to remember that we owe our lives to the Creator. “The Sabbath was a solemn recognition that God had sovereign rights, a public act of appropriation wherein the believing community acknowledged that they owed their life and being to Another. As the memorial day of creation, the Sabbath meant a worship of adoration and thanksgiving for all God’s goodness, for all the Jews were and had” (p. 78). For Christians, this Sabbath remembrance also foreshadowed our celebration of the resurrection each Sunday where we remember our re-creation in Christ through His death and resurrection. In all this, “worship remained the essential element of the Sabbath celebration” (p. 78).

Manning also points out that as we remember our Creator, we re-focus our perspective on our lives. He writes: “A rest from preoccupation with money, pleasure, and all creature comforts meant getting a proper perspective in relation to the Creator. On the Sabbath, Jews reflected and put the events of the past week in a larger context of saying to God: ‘You are the true Ruler, I am but Your steward.’ The Sabbath was a day of rigorous honesty and careful contemplation, a day of taking stock, examining the direction of life, and rooting oneself anew in God. The Jew on the Sabbath learned to pray: ‘Our hearts are restless all week, until today they rest again in Thee.’” (p. 78). The Sabbath was also a memorial of the covenant between God and His people, a day for the people to renew their dedication to His service and rejoice anew in the promises of God: “‘If you obey my voice and hold fast to my covenant you of all the nations shall be my very own for al the earth is mine. I will count you a kingdom of priests, a consecrated nation’ (Exodus 19:5-6).” (p. 78).

But what was most interesting to me was how Manning tied Sabbath observance to the health and stability of a family. He even goes so far as to say that “the Sabbath is considered the chief foundation of the remarkably stable home life and close family spirit that has characterized orthodox Jews through the centuries. All the members of the family were to be present along with invited guests, especially the poor, strangers, or travelers.” (p.79). He goes on to describe the Sabbath celebration: “The Sabbath celebration started at sundown Friday with the mother of the family ceremonially lighting the candles. Then the father, after saying grace over a cup of wine, laid his hand on the head of each of his children and solemnly blessed them with a personal prayer.” He said this practice of blessing the family every Sabbath helped make the home “a miniature sanctuary in which the parents were he priests and the family table was the altar.” (p. 79).

He went on to use this observance of the Sabbath as an example of how a religious spirit makes “primary matters secondary and secondary matters primary” (p. 80), in this case by the Pharisees emphasizing the need to refrain from work on the Sabbath rather than focusing on the heart of what the celebration was supposed to be. But I was really captivated by his picture of the heart of what Sabbath was meant to be.

I’m captivated by this picture of a family coming together – and opening their doors and hearts to others to join in – to joyfully celebrate the goodness of God, His goodness in His creation, in His enduring covenant with His people, and in His new creation of us through Jesus, and to reflect on and refocus their lives in light of that. I want to practice Sabbath like this in my life, not just observing a day of rest, but learning to rest in the goodness and faithfulness of God, weekly celebrating that truth, and learning to re-orient my life according to it.