So the Beast from the East has brought the UK to a standstill – sort of. My newsfeed is ablaze with a confusing array of celebration and frustration. For some, it’s permission to stop, breathe and maybe even play – for others it’s a major inconvenience; a source of angst; and a hindrance to business. Of course, for a number of people, adverse weather does bring with it risks, danger and financial problems. However, for most of us, it’s usually a blessing or an inflated inconvenience. With one quick swoosh, the Beast from the East has brought to a halt schools, work, and travel. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a shop assistant about ‘snow-days’ – “it just gives the world a chance to stop and rest from all the chaos of life.” I remember being struck by that statement at the time and thinking: “That’s exactly what the Sabbath (or Lord’s Day as I prefer to call it) is about. It’s God’s gift of rest to us in the midst of a busy world. Sunday is our snow-day – whatever the weather.
The similarities between snow-days and Sabbaths are articulated beautifully in Paul William Young’s book the Shack (Disclaimer: I know the Shack’s theology sucks – but there is some good prose in the book). Young gives us some insight to the inner working of the main character Mack’s mind – stuck at home in the midst of a snow-storm – her are his thoughts.
There is something joyful about storms that interrupt routine. Snow or freezing rain suddenly releases you from expectations, performance demands, and the tyranny of appointments and schedules. And unlike illness, it is largely a corporate rather than individual experience. One can almost hear a unified sigh rise from the nearby city and surrounding countryside where Nature has intervened to give respite to the weary humans slogging it out within her purview. All those affected this way are united by a mutual excuse, and the heart is suddenly and unexpectedly a little giddy. There will be no apologies needed for not showing up to some commitment or other. Everyone understands and shares in this singular justification, and the sudden alleviation of the pressure to produce makes the heart merry.
What is that if not a summary of what Sabbath should be? (Of course, Sabbath is much more than this, but it’s not less than this.) Here we see that the fictional character Mack, and the girl behind the counter are touching on a deep need of human life – especially for 21st century people – the need to stop, breath, and rest.
I spent 6 years living on the Isle of Skye. Skye, at one point, like any other islands, practiced the Sabbath. Most shops and businesses were closed. It was a day of rest. It was the Lord’s day. Skye, unlike Lewis and Harris, has evolved in recent years. Many businesses are open now. I remember a local elder and GP reflecting on this: “Skye doesn’t get a chance to rest now.” He’s right. Skye’s like Narnia, it’s always winter, but never a snow-day.
Most years my family and I like to holiday on Harris. We camp at Horgabost. We travel to Lewis for supplies. Does the fact that the swimming pool, and Tesco are closed on a Sunday inconvenience us? Not in the slightest. Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not advocating a padlock-the-play park, stop smiling, and sit in misery approach to the Sabbath. In a world where work and mammon masters demand so much of family life – Sunday is perhaps one of the only days that families do get to stop, and spend some quality time together – and not just biological families – it’s a day when the church family gathers to worship the Father. Maybe I’m more liberal than some when it comes to the Sabbath – but my hermeneutic is this – if our approach to the Sabbath seems more like the Sadducee’s and Pharisee’s than the Saviour’s – we’ve got it wrong. But equally – if we ignore the gift of the Sabbath – we do so to our peril.
This brings me on to secular humanism. Secularists hate the Sabbath. They interpret it as religious oppression. Yet the irony is this, Sabbath observance is more humane than a humanist campaign that would seek to steam roller over whatever is left of Highland and Island Christian heritage and culture. The secularist humanist shouts ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ as it seeks to make all cultures conform to global economic slavery. They want the tranquillity of Island life but aren’t willing to let go of the Urban ‘opportunities’. I think history will reveal the secular humanist attack on the Sabbath for what it is – a totalitarian, obliteration of the last bastion of sanity. Or as Amy Grant put it: “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”