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Sabbath rest

From the January 2017 issue of The Christian Science Journal

“Take away the spiritual signification of Scripture, and that compilation can do no more for mortals than can moonbeams to melt a river of ice” (Science and Health, p. 241). These words of Mary Baker Eddy reinforce a theme that pervades her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures—that the Scriptures need to be understood spiritually. I found this especially helpful recently when I was searching for a deeper understanding of what it means to obey the Fourth Commandment, which begins: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work.” And it continues: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8–11).

The word sabbath comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to rest.” There are several ways of thinking about the concept of rest. There’s the very common concept of being refreshed by sleeping or being inactive. But there’s also the sense of being quiet, still, at peace, and turning to God. The Psalms capture something of this spirit of stillness when they say: “The Lord is my shepherd; … He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul” (23:1–3) and “Be still, and know that I am God” (46:10). 

Jesus understood, probably better than anyone, why this was so vital and how to do it most effectively. There were times when he simply sent the crowds away and retreated to a quiet place for deep stillness and prayer. He once said to his disciples, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). On another occasion “he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). Certainly Jesus took time to rest, but he seems to have thought of it as something more than closing his eyes in sleep. Spiritual stillness is more than just not moving the body. It involves finding a quiet place (usually both literally and figuratively) and settling oneself in order to listen attentively to, and feel the presence of, God, Spirit. It involves entertaining spiritual ideas, and expressing reverence for God—for His goodness and power. This is restful; it is rejuvenating, but it isn’t passive.

It’s instructive that the commandment itself refers us to Genesis. “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day.” It doesn’t make sense to think of God as having worn Himself out creating a world and everything in it, and collapsing from exhaustion on the seventh day. From a Christianly scientific perspective, it does make sense to think of God as always restful while revealing His creation that has always been complete. And God constantly reflects, or consciously embraces and cherishes, His creation. For example, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.… Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them” (Genesis 1:31; 2:1). The mention of God resting on the seventh day points to the restfulness, reverence, and spiritual stillness that are necessary to the completeness of our demonstration of spiritual being—that we pause, regularly, to acknowledge and appreciate all that God is and has made.

In her Key to the Scriptures Mrs. Eddy sheds light on what is meant in Genesis regarding God resting on the seventh day. She writes: “God rests in action. Imparting has not impoverished, can never impoverish, the divine Mind. No exhaustion follows the action of this Mind, according to the apprehension of divine Science. The highest and sweetest rest, even from a human standpoint, is in holy work” (pp. 519–520). And she brings out a sense of the rest and refreshment Christ Jesus found in prayer when she writes, “Jesus prayed; he withdrew from the material senses to refresh his heart with brighter, with spiritual views” (Science and Health,
p. 32). 

Apparently Jesus was doing this all the time. The Bible record indicates that he participated in coming together with others for worship and teaching in synagogues. It is useful and important to have a day set aside for worship and spiritual refreshment. But Jesus didn’t confine his prayer life to one day a week. When he felt impelled to have prayer time, he took it. He regularly spent long hours communing with God, drinking in a spiritual view of life, and he took that view and held to it wherever he went and with whomever he met. In that sense you could say that every day was the Sabbath to Jesus. It appears that the holiness and sacredness of life were constantly before his thought.

As he did with other of Moses’ commandments, Jesus taught a deeper meaning, and a more healing application of the Fourth Commandment than had been seen before. His sense of reverence for the temple, that its purpose was to worship and glorify God, not subserve the policies and plans of men, was so acute that he felt compelled to rebuke the merchants and moneychangers who had set up shop within the temple walls (see Mark 11:15–17). To the Pharisees, the temple was a physical location, and the act of sacrifice involved material objects at least as much as motives. 

Mrs. Eddy’s writings show that to Jesus, the temple was a spiritual idea in consciousness, and he understood the importance of keeping consciousness pure, consecrated to beholding spiritual reality. Science and Health reinforces this when it speaks of “the temple of the Holy Ghost,—the patient’s spiritual power to resuscitate himself” (p. 365). 

As we obey the spirit of this commandment, and cherish moments, hours, and days of Sabbath rest, we are, in a very practical way, cultivating and defending our own expression of spiritual power to resuscitate ourselves and others. One definition of resuscitate is to make something active and vigorous again. Mindless motion and unthinking repetition tend to dull inspiration and drain spiritual vigor. But setting aside one day a week, as well as moments or hours throughout the week, to be still, to investigate a divine idea more deeply, and to reflect upon the spiritual thought behind a thing—as well as the God-inspired motive for a human activity—brings renewed life and vitality to whatever we need to do.

Early in my study of Christian Science I experienced what a few minutes of spiritual stillness and rest can do. I was at work as a Christian Science nurse in a Christian Science nursing facility. It was a busy evening, and I had much to do to care for the patients there. I also had a severe headache, and I was beginning to wonder if I could carry on. I was reluctant to leave work early, as it would have been difficult for the others on my shift to take on additional work. 

So I found a quiet corner and took a few minutes to be still and pray. I had been doing my best to pray on my feet, but it really helped to just be very quiet, to reach out in earnest prayer, and to listen to what God, divine Mind had to say to me. And what came to me in those minutes of stillness and humble listening was a clearer sense than I had ever had before of what it meant that God was All. If pain was real, then God, Spirit, couldn’t really be infinite, all. And if Spirit really was all, then pain could not exist within that allness. It was one or the other. They couldn’t both be true. As I pondered this fact I was soon filled with a renewed reverence for the power and infinitude of God. Within minutes I was back at work, and the next time I thought about it I realized that the pain was gone. I was healed.

Healing is a natural outcome of Sabbath rest, but Jesus stirred up the ire of the Pharisees when he repeatedly healed the sick on the Sabbath day. According to their more literal sense of the commandment, he was breaking the rules about not working on the Sabbath. Jesus certainly had respect for the sanctity of the Sabbath day, but to Jesus, healing wasn’t work in the traditional sense, and it was of God. It was what followed when one was doing the work of spiritualizing thought, and coming to rest in the conclusion that God is all and matter is unreal. And this illustrates yet another way of thinking about what it means to rest: to come to rest, to lean upon or be based upon something. Mrs. Eddy explained this beautifully when she related the story of Joshua and his army bringing down the walls of Jericho. Each day, for seven days, they marched around the walled city. She says, “… the six days are to find out the nothingness of matter; the seventh is the day of rest, when it is found that evil is naught and good is all” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 279; see also Joshua 6:1–20). We can’t really skip the “six days” of finding out the nothingness of matter if we hope to experience this kind of rest—the sense of coming to rest in an understanding of spiritual reality. 

Mrs. Eddy writes when speaking of Jesus, “If you would follow in his footsteps, you must not try to gather the harvest while the corn is in the blade, nor yet when it is in the ear; a wise spiritual discernment must be used in your application of his words and inference from his acts, to guide your own state of combat with error. There remaineth, it is true, a Sabbath rest for the people of God; but we must first have done our work, and entered into our rest, as the Scriptures give example” (Miscellaneous Writings, pp. 215–216). Finding out the nothingness of matter and the allness of good isn’t so much a question of time as of beginning and ending rightly. The first day of creation in Genesis 1 begins with God, and each succeeding day stays with what God alone is doing. “In the beginning God …. And God said, Let there be ….” (Genesis 1:1, 3). 

If we expect to come to a factual, healing conclusion, we can’t begin with matter and its ubiquitous problems. We begin with God, His allness, all-presence, all-power, all-action, which is actually the “starting-point of divine Science” (Science and Health, p. 275). It’s God’s job to be the creator, the revealer of the completeness of His creation. Our job is to “let”—to let the light of Christ, the pure ideas Mind is imparting, fill our thought, and to yield to the fact of God’s allness and the subsequent nothingness of matter.

Mrs. Eddy writes, “The effect of this Science is to stir the human mind to a change of base, on which it may yield to the harmony of the divine Mind” (Science and Health, p. 162). The stirring isn’t something we initiate. It is the effect of the ideas of divine Science at work in consciousness. But this stirring is actually immensely helpful, and knowing this, we can readily yield to it. That yielding is an aspect of rest. It allows our understanding to come to rest upon a spiritual, scientific basis—the completeness and harmony of the divine Mind.

Clear, spiritual reasoning moves thought. It doesn’t spin its wheels or wander in circles. It begins with God and moves human thought to a conclusion, from uncertainty to certainty, from ignorance to understanding, from a material to a spiritual sense of things. “If God is All, and God is good, it follows that all must be good; and no other power, law, or intelligence can exist. On this proof rest premise and conclusion in Science, and the facts that disprove the evidence of the senses” (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 101). 

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: … the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” This beautiful, tender, wise commandment holds many deeply beneficial lessons for us. Each day brings opportunities to explore its stillness, to exercise awe and reverence for the incredible good that is God and His spiritual universe, and to let our understanding of this goodness bring us to scientific conclusions in which we come out from the dream of life in matter and rest in the allness of Spirit.

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