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Issue 02

Subversive Sabbath

Genevieve Wedgbury

Genevieve Wedgbury is just completing co-producing and presenting her second series of Women Together for Radio Maria, England.  She has an MA in European Classical Acting and a BA (Hons) in Theology. 

Photo: Jonathan Wedgbury

When was the last time you read something that changed the way you do life? (Not including the Bible of course!)

This morning I woke up and as my husband and I came to, we greeted each other with “happy Sabbath Sunday!” A day every week we look forward to immensely; a day of unashamed laziness. (Except it’s not at all; it’s allowing me the time and space to do this!) This new routine was birthed in my reading of Subversive Sabbath by A.J. Swoboda (2018), which I can’t recommend highly enough. 

It resonated with me particularly because I am so mission minded and driven. I was the kind of person (and to some extent still am) who couldn’t relax until everything was clean, ordered and tidy! This really is tail-wagging-the-dog living; it is exhausting and belies real pride. Though God has unbelievably given us a pivotal role in his plan, it is ultimately he, and not we, that “holds all things together by his word” (Hebrews 1:3). 

With this in mind I copied the author’s household practice of marking the Sabbath with the defiant act of not making the bed in the morning! It is a day of allowing things to be ― to be a little less than perfect and being okay with that and resisting the need to control. God’s provision and presence are enough. 

There are always so many things to do. And as our lives expand so do our responsibilities. Trying to do things from a place of joy is often eclipsed by the pressure to get things done. Observing the Sabbath is an opportunity to enjoy the “I Am” of God’s very nature rather than our bent to believe that who we are is inextricably bound by what we do.  

In the course of reading and digesting the book our Sabbath habits have evolved.  We started Sabbathing on Saturdays and Swoboda is keen to emphasise throughout the importance of resisting a religious and legalistic approach to Sabbath rest. In an ideal world, he asserts, all God’s people would rest on the same day each week; an incredible witness and act of worship in a non-stop world. But this is simply not realistic. However, since there was no material reason for Jon and I not to Sabbath on the Lord’s Day, coupled with our history as a nation of Sunday as a day of rest, and its intrinsic relationship to worship, I felt compelled to change our Sabbath day. It is also easier to say to people there are certain things we don’t do on Sundays because there is still a vestige of appreciation here for Sunday as a slower day.

What might we refuse on our Sabbath day? Swoboda makes a compelling argument for avoiding consumerism on the Sabbath. Sabbath is not to be an individualistic and selfish pursuit but an invitation to others to enter into rest and to enable them to do so as well. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a crippling reminder that the huge wheels of Commerce cannot be driven at any cost. The same driven mentality that keeps them turning is surely the same mindset that displaces God as the one upon whom all things rely. Sundays for us now are days primarily at home away from our mobile phones, enjoying the things we have in front of us. It is a day for delight: “Sabbath is a time for creation to play in the world of God once again ― as re-creation. Sabbath is the celebration of God’s life and his work in our lives.”  But if the thought of taking a day out fills you with dread you are not alone. So counterintuitive is our desire to do, Swoboda emphasises that we should expect to find it difficult!

Conversely, the author rightly asserts that a day of Sabbath rest may appear a very bourgeois privilege to some people, and perhaps even an insult. For some the possibility of a day of rest is a dream and a far cry from their current reality. But for those of us who have the choice Swoboda exhorts us to take it, precisely because ontologically, by our very practice of rest, we are affirming it for the whole of the created order. (The book also explores the importance of Sabbath rest for the land, of huge importance in the current ecological crisis, and for animals, equally important as we consider sustainable food sources for the future.) 

In one of my favourite quotes from the book the author writes and quotes, “The root sin of busyness is sloth ― that laziness of spirit in which the muscles of intention and discernment and boundary have atrophied. In sloth we refuse to do ‘what we are created to do as beings made in the image of God and saved by the cross of Christ’.” In another powerful quote Swoboda references sociologist Phillip Rieff: “Religious man was born to be saved … psychological man is born to be pleased.” In Sabbathing we allow ourselves to be continually saved by Christ through our posture of dependency: “Sabbath is God finishing us, fulfilling us.” And so, we are encouraged by the author to take any opportunity to practise rest even if that is only half an hour. 

I end with a beautiful quote Swoboda uses, by Donna Schaper, which expresses the true spirit of Sabbath: “Sabbath keeping is a spiritual strategy: it is a kind of judo. The world’s commands are heavy; we respond with light moves. The world says work; we play.  The world says go fast; we go slow. These light moves carry Sabbath into our days and God into our lives.” 

Happy resting!

Photo: Genevieve Wedgbury