Keep the Sabbath…I Mean It

In my freshman year English class in high school we learned a lot of poems. There is one that I still remember.

The world is too much with us: late and soon,
Getting and spending we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in nature that is ours.
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

Has anyone heard that before? I thought maybe you might have. It’s not a cheery poem. It’s kind of downer. Like all good poetry, some of the meaning is open to folks to interpret. There are some strong words in there though, so perhaps not all of the message of the poem is open to interpretation. But what is definitely not debatable is when this poem was written. It was written at the turn of the century. Does anyone know which century? It was first published in 1807. But scholars think it was written before that, likely in 1802, just after the turn of the nineteenth century. It sounds a lot like something that might have been written in the 20th century—right?—warning us of the trouble that technology and the material world hold for us, calling out to us to stay close to nature at its many gifts, urging us to reconsider how easily we give our hearts away, and to what we offer our hearts, what we rest our hearts upon.

I’m going to guess that everyone knows what this is. [Hold up smart phone] These devices are amazing. For many, they have become a portal to a world of sharing images and experiences and important stories with the world. They get us where we hope to go. They play the music that calms us or gets us ready for a work out. Some even monitor our sleeping, and track our physical activity throughout the day—they count our very steps. I use mine to order coffee from Starbucks so it’s ready for me whet I get there. I use it to board planes. I use it…at times…to meditate. They are ever vigilant, ever available, ever ready. They are the unblinking eye of technology trained tirelessly on our lives.

And the world is too much with us I fear.

Because with this constant companion of sorts, comes an endless supply of news from around the globe. And it doesn’t take a whole heck of a lot more news that whatever is coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for me to want to throw this clear across the room most days. Over the last 500 days or so, you could argue that on balance, anyone reading regularly the news or information coming across these devices, is more upset than they are calmed or soothed or pleased in any way. But it’s not the fault of smart phones.

Over the last twenty years, the growth of information available to us all day, every day, all week, every week, all year, every year has grown and grown. The news cycle that began with the morning paper and ended with the evening news is gone. Information, news, updates, now literally crawl across screens we view. Every motion, move, or saying is captured now, and spread across the globe in as much time as thumbs can send them. And if there is anyone who cares to argue that this is not increasing the anxiety, unrest, and ill-at-ease feelings so many of us have, I’m all ears.

And so the world is too much with us I suspect.

Now, we hear all kinds of prescriptions for this. And many of us try a lot of them ourselves, I’m sure. What are some of the ones we hear sometimes?

“Well, I’m not on social media.” That’s good. That’s probably a reasonable decision for a lot of us. However, one of the things social media allows is underrepresented, unheard voices to be heard. There are plusses to social media that taking it out of the equation might lose.

We hear of parents and those advising them who are starting to limit “screen time” altogether. This is a step beyond taking out some of the more troubling aspects associated with screens—a break from anything screen oriented.

These measures are commendable, and probably healthful, but they don’t address the whole problem, do they? There is more to the story than fixing some of the behaviors we have, right? But what is the rest of the story? Is the world really is too much with us? Is it too late?

Well, why don’t we ask the very person who scared us into thinking it might be. See, the famous four-line poem we read was by Wordsworth. But it isn’t the whole story. It’s not even the whole poem he wrote! It’s just the beginning, the headline. Listen to the whole thing.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Great God! I’d rather be a Pagan, suckled in a creed outworn. Sound like anyone you know?

As a creedless community ourselves, as a group that does not require or even ask a single soul to affirm, attest or, otherwise acknowledge a single article of faith, Unitarian Universalists understand a creed whose time has come…and gone. Here, Wordsworth, likely slyly, implies he wishes that he could believe differently. He wishes that he could be a Pagan and then better love, better worship, better know the nature he sees about him: the nature he loves, the nature that is in him. Even if he’s not really a Pagan, he’s clearly a little Pagan-curious, right? And he’s not alone.

Anyone looking at the state of advancing technology, and definitely people feeling a bit left out or left behind by its growth, will often call for a return to nature, a rest from the weariness of the world. And I know I say this a lot up here…but this is nothing new.

It’s easy for some in the dominant Judeo-Christian world to trot out the Commandments either to justify something someone does, or to indict, literally, someone for doing something. But the teachings of the Judeo-Christian sources that inspire us to love one another better are one of the six sources of our living tradition. And I think we can all enjoy the Fourth Commandment a little today. See, it’s something of an outlier, even as far as those who seek fully to follow the commandments are concerned. It’s a bit on the eccentric side, if you will. So it might appeal to us today.

The Ten Commandments (or if you want to impress people at parties, the Decalogue) from the Hebrew Scriptures actually appear in two different places in those scriptures. And in both places, Exodus and Deuteronomy, the Fourth Commandment is the longest and has the most explanation involved. This might be surprising because most people think of the Fourth Commandment as “Keep Holy the Sabbath.” Or “Remember the Sabbath.” But the whole text of it…is a lot more involved.

I’m going to read you what’s really in the Deuteronomy text, the rest of the story, here.

You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your oxen and donkeys and other livestock, and any foreigners living among you. All your male and female servants must rest as you do. Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt, but the LORD your God brought you out with his strong hand and powerful arm. That is why the LORD your God has commanded you to rest on the Sabbath day.[1]

Now, because I know you’re curious, the main difference between the Deuteronomy language and the Exodus language is that the reason given for rest that is commanded in Exodus is that even God rested after working to make creation. But clearly that was not sufficient to convince our ancestors rest was important. See, a lot of Deuteronomy is actually a revision of what was in Exodus, especially the rules about how someone is supposed to stay holy. But what is not different is that this is the most involved and longest text of any of the commandments. Considering its length, considering its revision, considering our own human nature, it’s almost like people might not have been taking it too seriously.

But listen to what is there. Listen to the rest of the commandment. It’s saying that taking a rest is meant to celebrate liberation from the bondage of slavery. That’s why it mentions servants, servitude, and the Hebrew people’s bondage and then liberation so many times. It talks about slavery…a lot. And it talks about putting down the work for a day as a way of honoring, of celebrating freedom.

The world is too much with us.

And like a lot of things that make sense…the Hebrew Scriptures are not the only place you find observance of this holy rest. In the earth-based religions so lauded by Wordsworth, in ancient Pagan, Neopagan, and even in the Wiccan tradition, which, it is important to remember, are also one of the six sources of our Unitarian Universalist Living Tradition, the “Wheel of the Year” is marked by eight events. These are sometimes called festivals, but many throughout the ages actually refer to these events as sabbats. One scholar of these faiths notes that the celebration of the sabbats mark the progress of every year by remembering the beginning of each of the four seasons and marking middle of each season, with equinoxes and solstices.[2]

So if we do the math, what does that mean, roughly? That’s right, a time of rest or a break after every six weeks. Some of the deepest, most ancient, and sadly, feared, faiths and traditions keep trying to bring us, our bodies, our hearts, back to harmony with the earth. Perhaps they are telling us the world is too much with us…because the earth is less and less with us.

But the good news, the news that has been trumpeted out from the mouth of God, if you hold to that truth in the Hebrew Scriptures, or the news that comes in regular, celebrations marking the orderly progress of the earth, is to pay attention to rests. And friends, we are not immune here, right in this very place.

Please do not raise your hands in response to this question, but who here has felt that feeling, getting ready in the morning to come here, that you are coming to a job, coming to work? That people might ask you to do more here? Or people might ask you if you’ve read one of a dozen e-mails you’ve received this week and just can’t get to any more? And who here as felt, “Well, if I don’t do it, no one will. And that’s not acceptable. I’ve got to do it.”

Yeah, so here’s the thing, friends. We’ve been together here for a little while. We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well. And so the time for Mr. Niceguy…is just beginning.

As we approach the summer, you know, that time when our American culture expects that we will get in all of our rest for an entire calendar year, it would be wonderful for us all to consider two things.

First, a question: What would it take to be excited all week for the chance to come here and be together?

Now, if your answer to that question is “I already am!” Great. But if something comes to mind that would need to happen before you could really feel excited to come here, then we need to know what that is. Please call me or e-mail me with what that is. I really do want to know.

Second: a challenge. Let me paraphrase two different conversations I have on a regular basis.

Conversation 1

“I am just doing so many things here. I’m on so many committees, teams, boards, councils, that I’m not sure what is meeting when. This is really starting to feel like a job.”

Conversation 2

“Well, I’ve been coming around church for a few weeks, but I just can’t figure out how to get involved. It seems like everyone’s already doing everything.”

What both of these things come down to is rest. We must let this be a place where people really want to come, where we feel that we are taking part in a way that renews our spirit and renews our heart, in a way that brings rest to the parts of our hearts that have labored long this week, in a way that brings rest to the parts of our hearts that are weary with worry over what comes flooding through our phones and across our screens every week, in a way that brings rest to the parts of our hearts that are breaking with the silent pain we know. This is the place, the sacred place where we rest our hearts. See, as wonderful as it is to examine the commandments or to understand better the richness of the earth-based faiths we need and cherish, at the end of the day, how we choose to rest our hearts is what matters. In fact, it’s the very core, the very meaning of belief.

The word belief in German is glaube, which has it’s root in meaning what we love or desire. But more poetically, it is often translated as “what we rest our hearts upon.” Or maybe Wordsworth would say, “what we give our hearts to.” Like Wordsworth, we may need to know the rest of the poem, the rest of the story still being told by our Pagan, our Wiccan members of our human family, to know that it might be the beauty, the enormity of our natural world, this interconnected web of our existence that we must rest our hearts upon. Or, like Deuteronomy, we may need to understand the rest of the commandment, the rest of the suggestion to know it is our very freedom and the celebration of that freedom that we must rest our hearts upon.

It was before bedtime so many nights I can remember, that my father would sing to me, “Slow down, you’re movin’ too fast. You got to make the mornin’ last.” As kind and as gentle and as groovy as that line is, what is in it? Commands. Slow down. You’re movin’ too fast. You’ve got to make the morning last.

So may we answer the calls of the ages, the calls of the earth, the commandments of great folk music, and may we look together at the ways we might know more, know better, and know more fully, the peace that comes with the rest of each one of the precious lives we share with one another.

And may it ever be so. Amen.

[1] Deut 5.13–15.

[2] Graham Harvey, “The Roots of Pagan Ecology,” Religion Today, vol. 9, iss. 3 (1994) p. 38.

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