Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Protestant Shabbos

My friend Emily, who is Jewish, has been telling me a bit lately about how she recognises Shabbos. Starting with attendance at Friday night services at shul, she spends the 24 hours in a state of rest and disconnection from the online world. No work is done, but much reading, many family outings, and much restorative downtime is engaged in.

It occurred to me, as a low-church Protestant, that this concept of "the day apart" is something that Christians, as much as the non-religious, have really lost with the normalisation of Sunday into just another day. Sure, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches still have services on Sundays, but even people of faith don't attend as diligently as they once did, and people like us (the amorphous mass, believers-sort-of-sometimes-but-yes-it-still-matters-to-us) attend even less frequently.

Even when church is a thing on a Sunday morning, it's become entirely decoupled from the notion of a day of rest, reconnection and family. There's a large part of me that thinks this is a shame.

When I was a child (in the Dark Ages, as my kids would have it, or 30-35 years ago, to put it another way) and most shops other than convenience stores were closed on Sundays, the day *did* feel different. We went to church almost every Sunday morning. My father's veterinary surgery, open 6 days a week, was closed, although he would not turn away emergency patients. No-one played sport on Sundays, either (quite different from these days).

Our family often had guests for Sunday lunch; we tended to do a lot of reading, walking the dog, bike riding, afternoon napping, and watching of movies on TV. We didn't usually spend the day in deep spiritual contemplation, although my Dad did sometimes; but there was a decidedly different feel to the day than the regular week.

What we didn't do was work (including schoolwork, and even housework, other than cooking and dishes). It was a day off from the usual expectations, and was appreciated for that.

Of course, when I was a child in medieval times, screens were not nearly as dominant as they've now become in most of our lives. It's amazing to me sometimes to reflect that Twitter, for instance , is only 9 years old - and I myself have only been on it for 6 of those. But Twitter, and Facebook, and the Internet in general - wonderful as these things are (and they are!), they form part of the incessant background noise to our lives, the melding of work and play that means there is an element of work even in our play.

So what I've decided to do is this: I'm going to have a Protestant version of Shabbos. Yes, there will be no Friday night service to kick things off, but I'll light candles at Friday night dinner, and from when I do, there will be no work, no screens and no "everyday" for me until after Saturday evening meal. I will try to fill the day with meaningful things instead - writing poetry by hand, watching my girls play netball, cooking, walking, being with my family, reading, making personal memories.

If an element of the numinous comes into this - and I suspect it might, as it's when I am stilled that I can hear and feel the presence underlying the bones of the world - that would also be wonderful. But even if my chief benefit is hitting the reset button on a mind and heart spinning at top speed, that will be a great weekly benefit.

Minus the lighting of candles, I observed my Shabbos today. I cooked for a lot of the day - preparations for my eldest's birthday lunch tomorrow. I listened to music and a podcast while cooking. I read books, both my own, and aloud to the kids. I played games with my 6 year old. I drank tea in the sunshine. I did not turn on a device (other than my iPod for the music) until after we had eaten our Thai takeaway dinner.

It was a good day. I want to have more like it.


  1. This was an interesting post as I have started blocking out our weekends as family time. Now if people invite us to something I say I'll just have to check the calendar and family. And if it doesn't fit into out ethos of family, then it doesn't happen and I say sorry we have a family thing on. Doesn't matter if that family thing is us hanging out at home playing board games. I haven't got the family off screens yet, but I'm definitely culling my own use of them particularly on weekends. And I'm finding this frees me up to spend more 1-1 time with my kids. Thank you again for sharing.

    1. I think that's very, very wise of you. I need to treat "ethos of family" as a commitment in and of itself too, and I want to start building that into our / my Shabbos.