Sabbath Guidelines and Rules – Ann Spangler, Blogs

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Ann Spangler

My first encounter with the Sabbath was no foretaste of heaven. I remember visiting my grandparents on a Sunday. To pass the time before dinner, my brother, sister and I decided to sell door-to-door magazine subscriptions to raise money for our school. We didn't know that my grandparents lived in the middle of a neighborhood full of people who took Sunday seriously. After knocking on a few doors, we encountered a woman who appeared to be scandalized by our behavior. She scolded us loudly and said, "I can't believe you're selling magazines on a Sunday!" Then she angrily closed the door on our faces. We thought we would do something good by collecting donations for our school. Now we felt like villains and cheaters, although we didn't know why.

Years later, when I started working in Christian publishing, I listened to a conversation in which colleagues took turns describing their own childhood Sundays. Most of them had grown up in churches that strictly regulated how Sundays should and shouldn't be. As children, they were sometimes confused as to why they were allowed to do one thing and not another. Many of them concluded that the key variable was "sweat". If an activity made you sweat, it was forbidden. Remarkably, none of them said anything about experiencing awe and peace, as Susannah Heschel had characterized her family's observance of the Sabbath.

The Jewish people are of course no stranger to the problem of legalism. In their serious desire to keep God's commandments, they have developed a technique that "fences the law." For example, instead of fasting to Yom Kippur for only 24 hours, they fast for 25 hours, ensuring that they comply with the regulations. The problem with building fences, however, is that life itself can feel fenced in by countless rules and regulations.

In his book The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan points out that "legalism has long been the dog that followed the Sabbath day, keeping it gaunt and haunted". But that's no longer true for most of us, he said. Now the Sabbath's great killer is busyness. Buchanan complains of his own schedule and says:

I can not imagine a single advantage that I have ever achieved in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missing things, tens of thousands, are behind all the noise. 1

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