Lesson 2: Genesis 1:1-2:3
Have you ever thought of a day beginning with the night and sleep? Even for night owls like me, we equate a day with daylight. Yet in Genesis, the first day starts with evening.
“God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1:5)
In the Jewish tradition of keeping Sabbath, the Sabbath begins in the evening with a lovely celebration including candlelight, prayers and a meal with family and friends, and then sleep. Since God provides watchful care, we can give ourselves to sleep and wake to productivity in the daylight.
The creation of the Sabbath is unique among ancient stories. In other creation tales, the world is born out of conflict and violence among the gods or out of the body of a primordial creature. In Genesis, God creates effortlessly with the spoken word. Also unique, God punctuates the ordering of creation with the pronouncement, “and God saw that it was good.” The crown of creation is the Sabbath for rest and enjoyment of God’s creation. Keeping a day of worship, rest and enjoyment restores balance so we can see what is good, delightful, amazing and glorious.
The Sabbath is the pentacle of God’s creation. On the seventh day of creation, God enjoys bright sunlight, the silvery moon, birds, animals, plants and then human beings. In keeping Sabbath, we imitate God. We stop to enjoy the wonders of all God has made as God did. We remember we are not slaves to productivity and that all people and animals needs a day of respite from work.
Sabbath worship and rest is part of the rhythm God created. In it, we can gain perspective, increase our intimacy and harmony with God, God’s creation and each other. Our need for Sabbath makes sense but it isn’t easy. Intimacy with God, like any relationship, means paying attention and putting in quality time. A Catholic friend was taught that an hour a day and a day a week should be devoted to God – to prayer, Bible reading and enjoyment of God – and she practiced it. I was astonished. I was never instructed on how to pray or grow in love with God.
I was brought up with a strong Protestant work ethic. Our family life was structured around the maxims, “Many hands make light work,” and “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” If sitting on the porch in the summer, one could be stringing beans or shucking corn. If standing in the yard, one could be dead-heading flowers or raking leaves. I used to hide to read books. I learned the lesson well and am prone to work until I am way past being hungry.
Taking the Sabbath seriously is to set aside a specific amount of time – 15, 30, 60 minutes or a full day – to stop, rest and enjoy God. Even when the timer on the dryer goes off and the clothes will get wrinkled if we don’t hang them up. Even when we need to call that friend who is ill. Even when there is a television show we really have to see. Our minds are constantly filled with our “to do” lists. Sit down to pray and our brains are like squirrels scurrying and jumping from one thing to another.
Just stop. Do you find this hard to do? I notice family members, people in doctors’ waiting rooms and in check-out lines glued to their phones reading texts, emails, Twitter or playing games. I do it too. To truly keep Sabbath we would have to pry our phone from our hands, turn off the television and quit tending to the news cycle. We must stop the hamster wheel of continuous mental activity to breathe and pay attention to God in God’s world.
There is a lovely botanical garden in Richmond, Virginia. It is wonderful to visit at any time of year, but the festival of lights in December and early January is spectacular. A canopy of colors forms a lighted tunnel. Enormous flowers, a giant peacock, a swan on the pond, animals or mythical creatures grace the landscape with their magical lights. A friend and his family went to the festival, and they weren’t there long before he exclaimed, “Stop taking pictures and enjoy the experience. Put your phones away!” Chagrined, the family members did that and instead of looking through their phone cameras, they started taking in the delightful scenes and chatting to each other about what they liked. For my friend, who always made the connection with ordinary activity and God’s goodness, this became a Sabbath moment of enjoyment.
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