take up a different story

The bell calls in the town
Where forebears cleared the shaded land
And brought high daylight down
To shine on field and trodden road.
I hear, but understand
Contrarily, and walk into the woods.
I leave labor and load,
Take up a different story.
I keep an inventory
Of wonders and of uncommercial goods. 
(“Sabbaths – 1979, IV” by Wendell Berry)

Growing up, my parents believed heartily in Jesus, honest work, and Sabbath. At some point, Saturday morning chores migrated to Friday-after-school-before-you-even-think-of-going-out chores, but Sunday was forever set apart as a day of worship, family, and rest. The only work allowed revolved around serving and cleaning up our mid-day meal. Homework was permissible, but not until well after dinner was savored and put away.

None of us were particularly athletic. My siblings and I dabbled in swim team, baseball, and softball, but soccer was out of the question, because those Sabbath-breaking coaches scheduled games during church, which I can’t remember missing once in the eighteen years I lived at home.

After Sunday school, worship, and a leisurely coffee hour that we seemed to close down most weeks, our family headed home to ready the afternoon meal. We kept on our church clothes and often hosted friends, family, or the sorts of newcomers for which my mom was forever on the lookout. Old ladies and young seminarians were among her favorites to invite to Sunday dinner.

Our family ate together in the kitchen every night, but Sundays were a fancier affair: fine china and silver set in the dining room; pot roast, meat loaf, or London broil; baked potatoes; salad; Crescent rolls (if you were lucky); and often pie. This meal was not rushed, and one did not fool around or dare giggle. Maybe, maybe you could get away with goofing off over Tuesday’s tuna macaroni (if Dad were out of town), but not in the dining room and certainly not on the Lord’s day. Sit up straight, and show some respect.

After the dishes were done, (You wash; I’ll put the food away and dry), there might be football or naps. Reading the paper was a perfectly acceptable (read: quiet) Sabbath activity. You could play in the yard, lace up your skates, or maybe bike around the block, but do not ask to call a friend. This day is for God, rest, and family.

Do not dream of asking to go to the mall. It doesn’t matter that you have a ride. It’s a sin they even see need to open their doors. Those workers ought to be able to rest from their labors, too, and they surely won’t work today on our behalf.

I don’t recall a great deal of Sabbath wonder growing up (excepting that time our guest revealed that his favorite t.v. show was Theverboten Simpsons, and our eyes grew wide, incredulous), but the discipline and ritual left a deep impression. Sundays truly were a day set apart to “take up a different story,” the kind we’re trying to write with our own young family now.

Sabbath keeping is contrary to so many popular myths, the greatest, perhaps, that we are the sum of all we produce or own. Rest embraces God’s grace and provision over performance or consumerist striving. “To insist on Sabbath is to give testimony to the subversive knowledge that God’s bias is in favor of freedom.” Sabbath reconnects us with Life beyond the exacting grind or madding crowd, honoring the One for Whom and with Whom we labor all those other days.

So we rest and we play. We worship and sing. We read and make art, sharing meals and appreciating beauty. We recall the Exodus and we dance, keeping inventory of wonders and of uncommercial goods.

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