Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
In honor of our upcoming sabbatical year, this week we hear from John Valters Paintner about the scriptural roots of Sabbath and Jubilee:
The biblical Jubilee is a big, if rarely discussed topic. So, we’re going to back up a bit and get a good running start at it from a point that is far more familiar with all of us.
One of the Ten Commandments is to “keep holy the Sabbath” (Exodus 20:8-11 & Deuteronomy 5:12-15). There is controversy, or at least vigorous debate, over the most basic of details. Catholics and Protestants don’t agree as to which number of the Decalogue it is. There is also the debate over which day of the week it should be practiced.
But at its core, the Sabbath is meant to be a day of freedom. It is freedom both from and for something. It is freedom from work, the labour of our earthly existence. And it is freedom for time to focus on our spiritual existence. It is not, as Pharaoh accused Moses and the Israelites, a day to be lazy and do nothing. It is a day to reconnect with the spiritual side of life.
The trouble comes in trying to figure out the correct balance. Despite our spiritual natures, we are still physical beings and there are certain tasks that still need to be performed. And so the debate rages on throughout the centuries on denominational and personal levels as to what should or shouldn’t be prohibited on the holy day.
Even Jesus ran afoul of proper Sabbath observance.
That gives me comfort, as it is a Commandment I’ve always wrestled with as an adult. When I worked in parish ministry, Sabbath was a very busy day . . . even if it was religious by nature. And then when I was a religion teacher, the weekend was my downtime and the last thing I wanted to focus on what work . . . again, even if it was religious by nature. At first, I was too busy with spiritual matters to rest. And then I was too busy resting to go about anything of spiritual matter. My Sabbath work/reflect ratio has never been what I’d consider correct, at least for me.
My personal dissatisfaction around this issue hasn’t gotten much better now. As a self-employed business owner, I find myself quoting a certain fictional Dowager Countess (if for very different reasons), “What is a . . . weekend?”
So yes, keeping holy the Sabbath isn’t easy. But before we can discuss the once (maybe twice) in a lifetime Jubilee year, we need to come to terms with the weekly Sabbath. Don’t panic; you don’t need to have perfect Sabbath observance to “graduate” onto the next level. Like all of life and spiritual practice, we’re all a work-in-progress.
We’re not big on hard and fast rules at the Abbey of the Arts; we’re very intentionally not dogmatic in that way. We’re much more in favour of offering guidelines to help you create a spiritual rhythm that is right for you. (Not that we’re preaching moral relativisms. We trust you to make the correct decisions for yourself, as we gently push your boundaries.)
So with that in mind, let’s start simple. Just pick a day of the week. Any day will do. Fewer and fewer of us are working 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday schedules and so the weekend may not be ideal for you to take a day of holy rest. There’s no need to set yourself up for failure before you begin. Next, maybe it’s not a full day to start. Maybe you divide up the day into half or even quarter days throughout the week. Start small and get some momentum going.
I won’t get into the debate over what is considered “work.” It’s very arbitrary and can seem, at first, to be a bit silly. In some religious communities a lot of work goes into not working. Some of that may seem like a cheat or a dodge, but that’s only at first glance. At the heart of the debate over minute definitions of work is the bigger question of who is really in charge.
And that brings us to the Sabbatical and Jubilee Year. It’s difficult enough to arrange one’s life for six days a week so as to be able to take the seventh day off. But to scale that up to take off an entire year . . . that’s something that takes a while to even get one’s head around.
When Leviticus, chapter twenty-five, speaks of the Sabbatical and Jubilee Year, much emphasis is placed on not worrying about how one will survive. We are told that God will provide enough in the previous year’s harvest to cover not just the Sabbatical or Jubilee Year, but the one after while the new harvest ripens. And that’s a radical concept that is difficult for most of us to accept: life will continue without our personal involvement and oversight.
There are a lot of other really remarkable instructions in this section of the Book of Leviticus about economic freedom for those previously oppressed by the system and quite a bit about land redistribution, but that is for a larger societal discussion. Our concern today is the personal.
Christine and I have done a lot of planning in preparation of our Sabbatical. It wasn’t easy to decide to stop offering programs for a year. But we felt the time was right to rebalance ourselves. We’ve found ourselves so busy with our work at the Abbey of the Arts that we haven’t taken enough time to contemplate on the work.
It will be a time of freedom for us. It will be a time free from leading programs. And it will be a time free for contemplating our future, both personally and professionally.
–John Valters Paintner
If this newsletter is meaningful to you and you’d like to support its daily and weekly maintenance during our upcoming sabbatical year, along with the website and other programs offered for free we’d love for you to consider supporting us from a small one-time donation to a monthly offering for the year, there are lots of options at this link. If a financial donation isn’t possible at this time, we treasure your blessings and prayers for this time of rest and dreaming into the future.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo © Christine Valters Paintner