The following reflections are taken from Listening for God: A Minister’s Journey Through Silence and Doubt, by Dr. Renita J. Weems. One of the nation’s leading African-American female preachers and theologians, Weems shares her early memories of Sabbath through the lens of the “colored” community. Special thanks to Cynthia V. Vaughan for sharing these excerpts with Blessed Earth.
“Once upon a time Sunday was a special day, a holy day, a day different from the other six days of the week. This was back before malls were ubiquitous and when shopkeepers after six days of receipts thought nothing of locking up Saturday in late afternoon and not opening their shop doors again until Monday morning. This was a time when colored people like those I grew up with still believed that it was enough to spend six days a week trying to eke out a living, worrying about whether you were ahead or behind, fretting over the future, despairing over whether life would ever get better for coloreds. Six days of worrying were enough. The Sabbath was the Lord’s Day, a momentary cease-fire in our on-going struggle to survive and an opportunity to surrender ourselves to the rest only God offered. Come Sunday, we set aside our worries about the mundane and renewed our love affair with eternity.”
“Our working-class hearts were ultimately fixed on one thing alone. Sunday held out to us the promise that we might enter our tiny rough-hewn sanctuary and find sanctity and blessing from a week of loss and indignities. Remembering the Sabbath where I grew up involved delighting oneself for a full twenty-four hours, ultimately in good company, with fine clothes and choice meals. The Sabbath allowed us to mend our tattered lives and restore dignity to our souls. We rested by removing ourselves from the mundane sphere of secular toil and giving ourselves over fully to the divine dimensions, where in God’s presence one found ‘rest’ (paradoxically) not in stillness and in repose but in more labor–a different kind of labor, however. We sang, waved, cried, shouted, and when we felt led to do so, danced as a way of restoring dignity to our bodies as well. We used our bodies to help celebrate God’s gift of the Sabbath. For the Sabbath meant more than withdrawal from labor and activity. It meant to consciously enter into a realm of tranquility and praise.”
“It was as though time stood still on Sunday. It was a day of magic. Time was different; life was different; the very air we breathed was, it seemed, different on Sunday. We ate together as a family. We went for drives in the country as a family. Husbands and wives called a halt to their bickering on Sunday and spoke in hushed tones in front of children. Even the drunks in the neighborhood quit drinking on Sunday, and the prostitutes were grateful for a day to sleep in.”
“Knowing that the Sabbath was just around the corner made demands upon us and disciplined us in certain directions. The Sabbath demanded that we do better, even if we weren’t intrinsically any better human beings on Sunday than we were on Saturday. It reminded us what we could be. It gave us something to aim for — peace, tranquility, love, Paradise, eternity, a vision of heaven on earth.”
“The Lord’s Day allows us to bring our souls, our emotions, our senses, our vision, and even our bodies back to God so that God might remember our tattered, broken selves and put our priorities back in order. The Sabbath makes sure we have the time to do what’s really important and be with those we really care about.”
“I miss the Sabbath of my childhood. I miss believing in the holiness of time. I miss believing there was a day when time stood still. Once upon a time Sunday was a special day, a holy day, a day different from the other six days of the week. . . This is the Sabbath I miss.”
Photo credits: American Baptist College website and Amazon.com.