As both a woman of faith and one who takes conscious steps to adopt earth-friendly practices in my life, I have recently found myself increasingly fascinated by the extent to which the story of Creation itself embodies ecological principles. Compelled by Creation, I decided to engage in an open-ended reflection on the day-by-day Genesis story.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.Genesis 2:2-3
Isn’t it interesting most of us spend the typical work week plotting its end?
Monday, is… Monday. And by Wednesday, “hump day,” we feel a vague sense that we’re making headway, although, balanced on a tightrope with equal amounts of time lying behind and ahead of us. Somehow we’re not quite yet relieved. Then comes Thursday — by some reports considered the new Friday. By this penultimate day, we start feeling rather giddy inside, only to erupt in full glee when the TGIF megaphones begin to blast in the streets on Friday!
What is it about the built-in opportunity to take a break that keeps us dreaming from Monday on, peppering our working days, and even the kids’ school days, with promise of getting through the week?
God’s Gift of Rest: the Sabbath
Whether we access Genesis in the Torah or in a Christian Bible, if we’re paying close attention, we can’t help but notice, textually, Day Seven of the Creation story marks the beginning of a new chapter. While this brief pause in the tale may appear purely structural, the transition in Genesis to a new space draws us into a different mental and emotional aura as we take in the two short verses where God gives us the great blessing of the Sabbath.
What exactly is the Sabbath—known as Shabbat in Hebrew and Shabbos in Yiddish—and why does God grant us this weekly gift?
While the opening verses of Genesis Two don’t specifically name it, they do offer a simple description of the Sabbath as a sacred temporal space during which God, having completed his Creation, halted His creative activity to take a well-deserved rest. We first see a name attached to this holy day in Exodus 16 in the manna episode. When Moses receives the Ten Commandments at the top of Mt. Sinai, the practice of observing Shabbat is solidified in the Fourth Commandment, and discussed in more detail in Deuteronomy 5.
For those of us living in today’s fast-paced world that rewards multitasking and productivity, the notion of being ordered to rest—even if we are dutifully following God’s example—may seem like quite a challenge. Believe me, as a woman who tends to have too many irons in the fire at every given moment, I can personally attest to the determination it often takes to consciously shut out excess demands on my time during Shabbat. No doubt about it, I have angered uncomprehending colleagues by refusing to engage in work correspondence as well as frustrated well-meaning friends by not responding to flurries of messages proposing grandiose Saturday plans. Given the displeasure I’ve caused—even to my own children at times—one wonders, why do I observe the Sabbath?
In his illuminating book The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath, Joe Lieberman explains that Shabbat is “one of the deepest, purest pleasures” of his life, going on to deem it “a day of peace, rest…,” a day for relishing all pleasures of the senses: everything delightsome that we can hear, touch, smell, see, and taste. The notion of our Lord designating a time for us to take a break from our mundane activities is the key to what anchors me to the tradition of carving out this time, literally cordoned off by the sun and stars, to open our senses to the splendors of Creation. As we hit the pause button on the soundtrack of our frantic lives, we are better able to notice the enticing aroma of a home-cooked meal in the oven, revel in music that we make together, delight in each other’s company as we foster true, uninterrupted connections, take a hike in a local park or simply sit quietly under a tree and listen in awe to nature’s music: a bird chirping in our midst.
Caring for His Creation: Preserving Our Planet
During the blessed Sabbath, we humans, following the example of our Maker, turn inwards to give thanks for His rich spate of accomplishments as they stand in the here and now. But what are the most significant jewels we can absorb from our Sabbath observance?
Ultimately, in giving us Sabbath and instructing us humans—beings of His Creation—to replenish our bodies and souls during this time, God sets the stage for calling us to Creation Care. As we marvel in the fruits of His making during this designated downtime, we can approach the working week with a renewed sense of focus and vigor to carry out not only our daily work, but His as well.
Throughout this seven-part reflection on the Creation story in Genesis, we have had the opportunity to consider the glorious day-by-day gifts that God gave us at the beginning of time—a varied array of wonders manifesting themselves in the immense, perfectly-orchestrated set of systems that He, in His infinite wisdom, set into motion on our planet. We have also seen some unfortunate examples of how we humans have chipped away at His handiwork, resulting in an erosion of our Earth’s biodiversity. Maintaining biodiversity is necessary for the stability of our planet; so let us join our hearts and hands together in dedicating our energy towards repairing the glory of Creation!