Yesterday I began a twelve-week sabbatical. It is with great interest, then, that I notice one of this Sunday’s lectionary readings is Genesis 1:1—2:4.
God was certainly busy during the creation process. Heavens and earth. Light and darkness. Sky and seas. Plants and trees. Sun, moon and stars. Creatures of sea and sky. Wild animals, cattle and creeping things. People.
Then there’s this: So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that had done in creation.
I often wonder why the biblical editors, with all the oral and written traditions they had to choose from, chose certain passages to include over others. From a theological perspective, especially if we assume Genesis was compiled during the exile, the inclusion of the concept of the seventh day (Sabbath) makes sense. A Jewish people in a foreign land were reaffirming their identity, their separateness, hanging onto their cultural and religious uniqueness. A day set aside for worship and rest reminds them who they are. If that observance is designed in the very fabric of their creation story, then the meaning is even more significant.
I fully understand why we humans are told to rest. We need it to replenish our bodies, minds and spirits. But why talk of God’s resting? Was it merely instructive?
Or could it be that there is something as important in rest as there is in work? We tend to think of rest as the lack of something (labor), when maybe we should imagine it more positively.
The verse I find most interesting immediately precedes the one I quoted above: And on the seventh day God finished the work that God had done, and God rested on the seventh day from all the work that God had done.
The seventh day, the day of rest, was the day on which God finished the work of creation. You’d think it would’ve been finished on the sixth day, making it okay to take a day off. But the resting is apparently part of the creative process.
This speaks volumes to our human requirement for rest. It isn’t just because we’re tired, though we certainly do get tired. It’s also because we were designed to function in the cycle of labor and rest and creativity. It is a whole, not just a series of parts.
I imagine God sipping a cup of coffee that seventh day and reflecting, “Nice. Good colors, phases of light and dark. And those puppies—how cute are they!” Maybe a day off gave God a chance to come up with some adjustments. “Those flies seem always to be bumping into things. Maybe compound eyes will be better.”
God’s seventh day was a day of rest, and it wasn’t until that seventh day that the work of the other six was completed. Resting isn’t separate from what we do when we’re not resting; it’s part of the whole.
You may not be able to take an entire day, whether it’s on the weekend or not, to do your resting. But the cycle is still between work and not-work, wakefulness and sleep, finding the times and the places for rest, embodying the full expression of the seventh day of creation.
There’s always something more to be done, isn’t there? More meetings, more housework, more gardening, more creating. But before we get back to that, we must complete the cycle, our “seventh day” of setting those things aside so that we may return to them renewed. The seventh day is an essential element of who we are and what we do.
So give it a rest. God did.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2011