Sabbath and Earth Care
A few years ago when I was sitting around a table with ministry colleagues, brainstorming a helpful congregational tool for earth care, we came up with the idea of a book of not 100 things, not 1,000 things, but 50 things we could do to help care for God’s creation. We got excited about “50 ways” because it has resonances of the Sabbath and Jubilee passages in Leviticus, which we felt to be a helpful frame for understanding our call to care for the earth.
The faith practice of Sabbath-keeping shapes us to stand apart from consumer tendencies to change the material world for our own economic gain, to trust God, and to delight in the Earth. When we keep Sabbath, we are living outside modern trappings of worth and accomplishment and productivity. In Sabbath, we side-step human anxieties about what makes us worthwhile. We are not worthy because of what we produce or how we manipulate our environment.
The practice of Sabbath-keeping isn’t particularly easy; “we live in the most anti-Sabbath society in the history of the world,” a place where “stores boast, rather than repent, that they are open twenty-four hours” (Larry Rasmussen, Earth Community Earth Ethics (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 224). It takes an intentional spiritual discipline to sidestep the anti-rest culture in which we live and the messages it sends us about our identity.
Sabbath-keeping reframes who we are and what we’re worth as it reframes what we are to do (and refrain from doing). Dorothy C. Bass explains Sabbath-keeping as follows:
What should not be done is "work"…. whatever requires changing the natural, material world. All week long, human beings wrestle with the natural world, tilling and hammering and carrying and burning. On the Sabbath, however, Jews let it be. They celebrate the world as it is and live in it in peace and gratitude. humans are created too, after all, and in gratefully receiving the gift of the world, they learn to remember that it is not, finally, human effort that grows the grain and forges the steel” ( Dorothy C. Bass, “Keeping Sabbath” in Dorothy C. Bass, ed Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People 2nd ed., (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2010), 80).
In the practice of Sabbath we can be honest and humble about whom we are—humans who need God, individuals who need community, and people who need rest and re-Creation. In celebrating Sabbath, we remember our dependence on God by avoiding “activities that summon worry” and embracing those that give pleasure to us, to our community, and to the world (Bass, 86-87).
Instead of meeting societal expectations for individual success and competitive advantage over others, in Sabbath-keeping we re-affirm who God made us to be: members of one body, part of a community. Norman Wirzba, author of Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight, writes,
There is an inexorable logic at work in the Sabbath that will not allow us to separate ourselves from the rest of Creation and the Creation from God. For as soon as we make our separation, we condemn ourselves to loneliness and Creation to violence. The health of our bodies is necessarily and beneficially tied to the health of the bodies of Creation ( Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight (The Christian Practice of Everyday Life series (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006), 145).
Our constant activity to change the world, to fill up our schedules, and to measure ourselves by units of productivity is bad for our bodies and our spirits. It also happens to be harmful to the body of the Earth. Sabbath is good for us and good for God’s Creation. As we live in Lent and prepare for Earth Day, let us remember and embrace a Sabbath-keeping faith practice that evokes rest, trust, and delight.
At The Thoughtful Christian we feel that Earth Day should be longer than twenty-four hours. Through April 24, we're celebrating Earth Day with downloadable group studies and retreats, and books at great discounts.
Each week we will be featuring Rebecca Barnes-Davies's book 50 Ways to Help Save the Earth: How You and Your Church Can Make a Difference. It will be 50% off and each week we'll provide an excerpt so you'll be able to read one of the "50 ways."
We will also have a new theme each week. Click on "Week One" below to see this week's featured resources.