Keeping the Sabbath

It’s not as easy as it sounds — keeping the Sabbath, primarily since I don’t know what it means anymore.

Growing up, it meant going to Mass, eating breakfast together as a family, and then taking it easy for the rest of the day. Sometimes, we visited Gramma — we only had one. Sometimes we visited Aunt Marie, though not Mom’s other siblings, which didn’t seem odd then, but does now. But, whatever we did, Sunday had a lazy, set apart quality about it.

I remember thinking we needed it. Saturday was nonstop housework — 16 loads of laundry washed in a wringer washer and hung on lines to dry, bread and cookies for the week baked, the three-bedroom house cleaned, laundry ironed or folded and put away, and then supper and baths. I remember wondering why we didn’t do some of it on Sunday, but ours was not a house where the order of things was questioned.

We did what we were told, or else — which meant the razor strap across bare bottoms. If you’ve never felt leather strike your bare flesh, I can assure you it’s a major deterrent to questioning parental authority.

I suppose we talked about the Ten Commandments in catechism class. We must have because I know them, and know I didn’t make an effort to learn them as an adult. However, if we talked about what they meant in terms of life, that piece of information went in one ear and out the other. I didn’t make the connection between the third commandment and the rhythm of our home life.

In adult life, I often found myself using Sunday to catch up on housework. I simply didn’t have the energy to do if in the evening after working all day, and Saturday was the day I chose either to pamper myself or to engage in social activities with friends — when I wasn’t working. Too, I liked doing housework in a leisurely manner, and felt prepared for another work week after getting things in order on Sunday.

Because it worked for me, I assumed God understood. After all, he saw fit to give me a life which required me to work, which meant the housework couldn’t be done during the week. Had I married — and remained married to — a man whose income made it unnecessary for me to work, I might not have felt comfortable making that excuse. However, that was not the case.

This past week, when I found myself thinking about doing laundry on Sunday because I’d managed to fill my days without the benefit of a job, an unexpected thought popped into my head. Why don’t you try keeping the Sabbath?

Technically, Sunday isn’t the true Sabbath. Saturday is, and those who practice Judaism begin their Sabbath at sunset on Friday. However, for Christians, Sunday has become the Lord’s day and the day of rest because Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday. So, in our religious tradition, we keep the Sabbath on Sunday.

But, Jesus taught us not to be legalistic about this by healing on the Sabbath. So I found myself faced with a bit of a quandary. How do I keep the Sabbath now, in the 21st Century?

When the unexpected question popped into my head, about the only thing I knew was I probably shouldn’t do laundry. Initially, I thought about doing laundry on Saturday and going to Rapid City on Sunday to pick up a few things. Then, I realized I would be supporting a system that forces others to work on Sunday, if I did that, so I scratched that plan, too.

The more I thought about keeping the Sabbath, though, the more important it seemed. While I spend part of each day engaged in some activity related to job hunting — which thus far has primarily consisted of figuring out how to use websites — I also am spending part of each day in prayer. In that respect, I am using this period of unemployment as a spiritual retreat. I have time for the first time in years to do more than go to God and say, “Give me, give me, give me,” and I don’t intend to waste it. Keeping the Sabbath seemed to be part of that.

The problem was, as I said, I didn’t really know what that meant — and still don’t, though it’s Sunday evening. For this week, I settled on a simple plan. I attended Mass and then allowed the rest of the day to unfold.

I taught a class after Mass and came home for a simple breakfast. Then, I went back to the church for Eucharistic adoration and ended up staying an extra hour when the individual who signed up didn’t show up. At home again, I went to and located a book on keeping the Sabbath I hope to get in coming weeks. I followed that with a nap and a conversation with my sister-in-law.

Now, I draw the day to a close with a little writing — which doesn’t feel like work — and then I’ll fix supper. This evening, I’ll probably read, write in my journal or watch a movie.

Have I kept the Sabbath? Well, I didn’t do laundry. Beyond that, I am not sure. I have tried. Hopefully, over time, I will get better at it.


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