Letting go or holding on: The Sabbath question

Feb. 9, 2023

By Rev. Rick King

As you and I prepare for a period of sabbatical this July through September, I’d like us to consider what things will make for a real rest for our tired bodies, minds, souls, and spirits. Sabbath and sabbatical come from the same Hebrew word, and they both are about integrating the rhythms of rest and work into our lives so that they’re in balance.

For a long time, if Christians had any experience with Sabbath-keeping, it was in the form of a bunch of rules of what you can’t do on the Lord’s Day. But Sabbath-keeping as a practice is experiencing a large-scale renewal in our collective conscious, brought on in part by pandemic shutdowns that reconnected us with solitude, reading, arts and crafts, cooking and baking, meditation, and many other activities neglected in our headlong pursuit of making a living.

So, in preparation for OUR sabbatical (because it’s not just me who’s in need of renewal, but ALL of us), I’m beginning a series of columns on sabbath, rest, renewal, and a happier and healthier life for us.

In one of my favorite books of all time, the philosophical novel, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” Robert Pirsig refers to something he calls “the old Burmese monkey trap.” It involves a coconut connected to a stake in the ground, and some grains of rice inside the coconut that can be reached through a small hole in the coconut. The hole fits a monkey’s open hand perfectly. But when the monkey grabs the rice and balls up its fist, he can’t get his hand back out.

Only if he releases the rice and softens his hand will he be able to free his hand from the trap.

It seems to me that Sabbath-keeping is at least as much about what we let go of as what we take up, and the regular practice of letting-go can help us get and stay free of our fear, compulsivity, and obsessions with certain things, people, and activities—what drains life away from us and occupies our waking hours, and even our dreams.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be focusing on Sabbath’s different aspects and some ways to practice letting go, resting in God, and being renewed.