While I was shaving this morning, Gershwin's 'Summertime' came on on Radio 3, in the classic recording by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. It's claimed that 'Summertime' is the most recorded song in the world. The music is, of course, amazing, but the lyrics hint at darker truths. Set in 1920's South Carolina, this earthy, painful, sometimes violent story turns the second line of 'Summertime' on its head. 'The livin' is easy'? Don't you believe it.
As you read this, I will have begun my annual leave. I am hoping for sleep, for rejuvenation, for time to read and relax, and perhaps a glass or two of the blushful Hippocrene. I know that I am one of the lucky ones. Not everyone will be able to get a break, even though they deserve and need it. So as my time off approaches I feel a mixture of gratitude and guilt.
Not being guilty about time off took a long time for me to learn. My beloved training incumbent instilled into me the importance of proper, regular time off, and I have tried to learn from him, and pass it on. But technology has developed a great deal since my curacy, and can prove the enemy of rest - it takes an iron discipline not to sin by checking texts, messages, and emails on a day off.
Sin? SIN? Yes. Why? Because when we do not take our rest, we blaspheme. We imagine ourselves better than our Creator. And in terms of our own lives, we fail to respect the gift, and the Giver.
I speak of the Sabbath. In Hebrew, shabbat means to stop. Exodus 16.23 is when the word first appears in Scripture, with the commandment to observe a holy sabbath. But before this comes the creation story, with its report that God 'rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done' (Genesis 2.2). Then comes the giving of the Law to Moses, with the divine command to rest on the sabbath day: indeed, the sabbath day is blessed and consecrated by the Lord (Exodus 20.9-11).
I am not a Sabbatarian, nor a fundamentalist - how could I be? Our shop and tower are open on Sundays, as most other days of the week. But I am well aware that, woven into our scriptures, and our tradition, is a divine rhythm which we have lost, and need to relearn. I believe that we do this by making sure that each one of us, in our own lives, makes real time for real sabbath. Holy time. Holy-day.
I cannot recommend highly enough a wonderful book written by our neighbour at St Edward's, The Reverend Dr Mark Scarlata: Sabbath Rest - the Beauty of God's rhythm for a Digital Age (SCM 2019). It is full of good things, but I love this in particular:
'The Sabbath is God's gift of rest and wholeness for his people. But like any gift, we can choose to refuse it or just ignore it. Can you live the Christian life without keeping the Sabbath? Yes and no. It would be like asking a professional orchestra to play a symphony on old, rickety instruments with tattered strings, rusted pieces, and worn-out bows. They would certainly be able to play the piece and they might even make it sound fairly good. But if they received the gift of new instruments they could play a music so beautiful that the world would want to listen. The Church is that orchestra, and each of us is offered the gift of Sabbath rest, a new instrument, so that we might play the music of the kingdom here on earth - a music of love, forgiveness, justice, reconciliation, and healing'.
Rest well. And give thanks for the gift - to the Giver.