Sabbath Rest and Ecological Spirituality

Sunday, like the Jewish Sabbath, is meant to be a day which heals our relationships with God, with ourselves, with others and with the world.
Laudato si’  (LS) no. 237

In the final chapter of Laudato si’, Pope Francis discusses developing our ecological awareness. We need more than information. Our daily behavior must change. Most important, we need to develop an ecological spirituality that includes gratitude to God for the gift of the world. Finally, we need to spend time in Sabbath.

Summary of Chapter 6: Ecological education and spirituality

We lack awareness of our origins, mutual belonging, and shared future. As a result, we face “great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge ….” LS no. 202.

We can rise above mindless consumerism

we can choose a new lifestyle

The market promotes needless buying and spending. But the freedom to consume is not freedom. We lose our identity, and this causes anxiety. LS no. 203. The resulting instability and uncertainty leads to selfishness. In fact, obsessive consumerism “can only lead to violence and mutual destruction.” LS no. 204.

We are capable of “choosing again what is good, and making a fresh start ….” LS no. 205. To this end, we need to re-examine our lifestyle. LS no. 206. A “common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning. “LS no. 207, quoting The Earth Charter. Indeed, if we overcome individualism, we can develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society.” LS no. 208.

Awareness requires education

The awareness to overcome individualism “must be translated into new habits.” This presents an educational challenge. LS no. 209. Environmental education is more than science and consciousness-raising. It also enables us to “leap towards the transcendent ….” It leads to an ecological ethic in which we “grow in solidarity, responsibility and compassionate care.” LS no. 210.

Information is not enough. More than passing on knowledge, environmental education needs to instill good habits. Use less heat. Wear warmer clothes. Avoid using plastics and paper. Reduce water consumption. Separate refuse. Eat what you cook. Care for other living beings. Ride public transport or carpool. Plant trees. Turn off unnecessary lights. LS no. 211. In truth, these efforts “call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread.” LS no. 212.

Environmental education first happens in the family. LS no. 213. It is also the responsibility of other institutions, including the Church. LS no. 214. Part of environmental education is to appreciate beauty. LS no. 215.

Ecological spirituality calls us to conversion

A commitment to protecting the world “cannot be sustained by doctrine alone, without a spirituality capable of inspiring us ….” LS no. 216. Indeed, “the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion.” LS no. 217. Everything is connected. Thus, ecological conversion is one where our encounter with Jesus is seen in our relationship with the world around us. LS no. 218. But this is more than mere individual self-improvement. Lasting change results from a community conversion. LS no. 219.

Ecological conversion includes gratitude for the world, God’s loving gift. Furthermore, it also involves a loving awareness of our relationships with other creatures. LS no. 220. The meaning of ecological conversion is enriched by our faith. This is because our faith makes us aware that each creature reflects God. Through it we know that Christ embraced this material world. We recognize that God created the world. LS no. 221.

Ecological spirituality liberates us from an obsession with consumption. LS no. 222. “[I]t is a way of living life to the full.” LS no. 223. The breakdown of personal and social virtues causes imbalances, including environmental imbalances. LS no. 224. Inner peace “is reflected in a balanced lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder ….” LS no. 225. This is an attitude of the heart. LS no. 226. One expression is when we thank God before and after meals. LS no. 227.

A lifestyle of communion leads to care for the earth

God is our common Father, and we are brothers and sisters. LS no. 228. Therefore, “we need one another, … we have a shared responsibility for others and the world.” LS no. 229. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux inspires us to “simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness.” LS no. 230. That’s why love overflows with small gestures. When love seeks to build a better world it is civic and political. It “moves us to devise larger strategies to halt environmental degradation and to encourage a ‘culture of care’ which permeates all of society.” LS no. 231. What’s more, love also exists in those organizations working to defend the environment. LS no. 232.

Sabbath rest is part of our sacramental life

God fills the universe completely, and can be discovered in all things. LS no. 233. This is not because the things of this world are divine. Rather, it is because God is intimately connected to all things. LS no. 234. The Sacraments use nature to mediate the supernatural. LS no. 235. For example, in the Eucharist, the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, “[t]he Lord … chose to reach our incarnate depths through a fragment of matter.” LS no. 236.

For Christians, Sunday, like the Jewish Sabbath, is a day to “heal[ ] our relationships with God, with ourselves, with others and with the world.” It is certainly not a day of inactivity. It is a day of rest, which “opens our eyes to the larger picture and gives us renewed sensitivity to the rights of others.” LS no. 237. I will focus more on Sabbath rest below.

Trinitarian faith celebrates the relationships among creatures

God created the world, the three persons of the Trinity acting together, each performing the common work through his own personal property. LS no. 238. As a matter of fact, Saint Bonaventure teaches us that each creature bears a Trinitarian structure. LS no. 239. The divine persons share with one another the essence of God. The world is not God, but is created according to the divine model. Therefore, it is a web of relationships. LS no. 240. Everything is connected.

All the world points to God

Mary cared for Jesus, and now cares “for this wounded world.” LS no. 241. Her husband Joseph was hardworking and strong. His generosity and tenderness inspire us to protect this world. LS no. 242.

At the end, each creature will have something give liberated humanity. LS no. 243. Until then “[i]n union with all creatures, we journey through this land seeking God.” LS no. 244. God, who united himself with this world, “offers us the light and the strength needed to continue on our way. LS no. 245. Let us pray. LS no. 246.

Focus on Sabbath rest

Pope Francis notes that many people think that contemplative rest is unproductive and unnecessary. On the contrary, he says, contemplative rest gives work its meaning. Contemplative rest is, in fact, another way of working. It expresses receptivity and gratitude. Contemplative rest “protects human activity from becoming empty activism ….” It allows us to see the big picture. Through it we are more sensitive to the rights of others . “And so the day of rest … motivates us to greater concern for nature and the poor.” LS no. 237.

Menuha: Sabbath rest

In the Bible, of course, the day of rest is introduced at the end of the first creation narrative:

On the seventh day God had completed the work he had been doing. He rested on the seventh day after all the work he had been doing. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on that day he rested after all his work of creating.

Gn. 2: 2-3. The late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote about this passage. He noted that heaven and earth were created in six days, but God did not finish his work until the seventh day. “Obviously, the ancient rabbis concluded, there was an act of creation on the seventh day.” Menuha – usually transalated as “rest” – was created on the seventh day. Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1951) p. 22.

But menuha means “much more than withdrawal from labor and exertion. It “is not a negative concept but something real and intrinsically positive.” So what did God create on the seventh day? Heschel says he created “[t]ranquility, serenity, peace and repose.” Id. at 22-23. If God’s work included the creation of menuha, then certainly human work includes a day of rest. This is a day of tranquility, serenity, peace and repose.

Sabbath rest is part of an ecological spirituality

Pope Francis says that Sunday, the Christian day of rest, is like the Jewish Sabbath. It is “a day which heals our relationships with God, with ourselves, with others and with the world.” LS no. 237. We hear echoes of Heschel’s description of the Sabbath as “peace between man and man, man and nature, peace within man ….” Heschel, p. 29.

The point is that an ecological spirituality must include contemplative rest. Without contemplative rest, human beings are incomplete. For six days, we till and keep the earth, but on the seventh day we rest. The day of rest gives meaning to all the other days. Thus, an integral ecology is made possible by the day of rest.