Some of us remember the days when stores weren’t open on Sunday and buying things wasn’t an option. Sunday felt different for everyone, even those who didn’t regard it as a day of sabbath rest.
A great sabbath practice today would be to forgo consumerism, says evangelical environmentalist Matthew Sleeth. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” means “Don’t be a run-on sentence. Don’t go 24/7.”
In Between God & Green, Katharine Wilkinson summarizes Sleeth’s ideas: “The way we live has destructive consequences for ourselves and for our planet. Embracing a day of rest, of idleness, would benefit the entirety of creation—both human and non-human. For Christians, Sabbath could be a day to tread lightly on the planet.”
This is such a good idea that I’d like to expand on it. How about a seven-week sabbath from shopping at the beginning of every new year? Not a complete ban on shopping—but a break from buying nonessentials. We’d buy groceries and toilet paper, for example, but not new clothes. The seven weeks (not quite a seventh of a year) would be about the same length as the frenzied Christmas shopping season.
This could be a modern-day version of the sabbath year specified in Leviticus 25. It’s not just the people who are supposed to rest, but remarkably the sabbath extends to the animals and to the land.
Choosing not to buy things we don’t need could be our way of letting the land rest. We may wonder how this instruction applies to us if we don’t own a field, but we’re all connected to the land: The things we use are either grown on top of the land or taken from underground. We’re using the land whether we own it or not.
The idea of sabbath goes even further. There’s an instruction to have a really big jubilee year after seven cycles of sabbath years. In that 50th year, land goes back to the original owner. It’s like pressing the reset button.
What’s the point of jubilee? It’s a reminder of who owns the land. God says, “For the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants” (Leviticus 25:23).
Treading lightly on the planet is not easy today, but we can look for inspiration to those spending a year in Brethren Volunteer Service. In this issue, see how BVS orientation is also a reset button. In a sense it’s re-orientation to a different set of values. For all of us, sabbath can be a regular recalibration to the ways of God.
Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.