Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work–you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. Exodus 20:8-11 (NRSV)
Friday morning, I went out to the Posh Neighboring Town Nature Preserve with #1 Son and the dogs. I’ve only been there once before. You have to keep your eyes peeled, because there is just a little sign, not particularly high up, that reads “FNP,” indicating a dirt driveway off Route 88 that takes you to the little parking area. A large sign there shows three different loop trails, all joined by cross-trails. When I went there with Pure Luck, he explained to me how to read the “blazes” (paint marks) on the trees that keep you on track. I learned the code for two splashes of paint on the same tree: if one is above and to the right, the trail bends to the right, and the opposite for the left; if two blazes are one right over the other, you have reached a crossroads.
We followed the orange trail, past several crossroads with the blue connector trails. We reached the point of the loop and went to the right. I noticed that the dogs always stopped where there was a choice in the path we could take. Pure Luck tells me they are good at keeping track of the trail, and that would seem to be the case. When they reach a crossroads, they will stop and look at him, waiting to follow his lead. They enjoyed the romp through the woods, and it was a pleasure to see them running after one another, over little footbridges and up and down hills. We walked down to a creek, then curved back with the trail.
We had almost returned to the beginning of the loop when #1 Son and I turned right and Molly turned left. We were talking and not paying attention to the blazes, and we were following an old road toward some houses. Molly was on the trail, and she turned back to say “woo-woo” and let us know we were mixed up.
Dogs are creatures of habit. Molly has been to the Nature Preserve dozens of times and knows the way back to the parking lot. She knows how to get there, apparently much better than I. She has had practice.
When #1 Son was a baby, I went with his dad to visit my in-laws who at that time lived in White Plains, New York. One of the nearby parkways was closed to motor vehicle traffic on a Sunday, so that bike riders could enjoy it. I was 25, and I hadn’t been on a bike for five or six years. My mother-in-law offered me hers, thinking I would enjoy getting out and leaving the baby. I crashed before I started, which is to say I just couldn’t get the wheels under me. Now, it may have been that the bike was a little too big for me. In fact, I think it was. But the real problem was that I was out of practice. I was out of the habit of riding a bike.
Most of our world is out of the habit of keeping some kind of Sabbath. They haven’t done it for a long time and their skills are rusty, just like my bike-riding. Or they haven’t grown up with it, and they have only a little bit of an idea what it might mean, just like my trail-following.
Keeping the Sabbath means naming some part of our time as different from the rest of what we do in and with our lives. It means tuning out of certain things and turning away from others. The Hebrew Bible lesson makes it clear that even God needed a rest, a chance to recuperate and to reflect and to rejoice. We also need a chance to repent, to turn from the things that we regret or turn toward the things we respect. We need to keep in the habit of keeping Sabbath, or we won’t know how to do it, and we will lose the relationship we need with God and the respite God’s peace and strength provide.
I don’t want to say that going to church guarantees that you are keeping the Sabbath or to say that attending church is the only way to do it. But we need to make time to think about where we are and why we are here, to be present to God in this time and place, laying down the burdens of our lives in the world and taking up the work of meeting God. We need to invite our awareness to rest on God, and to make time and space for the holy. Wherever we are and whenever it is, then we are keeping Sabbath.