In the Book of Mark (3:1-6), Jesus is criticized in the synagogue for healing a man's withered (arthritic?) hand on the sabbath - it's used as a means of trapping him into admitting that he's breaking sacred laws and is therefore worthy of punishment. Jesus pushes back with a question - "is it lawful to do harm or to do good on the sabbath...?". He makes the point - and I agree - that healing and helping others is not a labor we should (ever) be resting from - it's acting with compassion, loving our neighbors and doing to others as we would have them do unto us - doing the work God has asked us to do. There are things that task us, that do require effort on our parts, that I think are completely appropriate to and even help us get closer to the idea of sabbath. Perhaps it would be best described as following the intent rather than the letter of the law. I feel like people (both as mentioned in the Bible and who speak out in modern day) who cite/d sabbath as a rigid rule - "thou shalt not do any work of any kind on this day" - were and are missing the point; it's meant as a guideline that reminds us to set aside a day when we don't focus on laboring in the world, but on our connection with God; a day of recharging and reconnecting. Being loving and compassionate, helping or healing others, connects us to God and is therefore living into the meaning of sabbath, not taking us away from it.
I attended an LDS (Mormon) church for a time in my late 20s, and while I ended up having more differences than not with the organization and its members' beliefs, I found much good in their practices. Families were emphasized as was helping each other out - having very little at the time and living in a new city, I found that folks I didn't even know well and the church itself were welcoming and eager to lend a hand or give of their time, money, clothing, furniture or food to me and others when needed. One of the things taken very seriously - at least in the ward where I worshiped - was the expectation to not do anything on Sunday that could be called (secular) work; parishioners spent upwards of 3 hours in church, and when you left, the charge was to (1) not shop, eat out or otherwise patronize any stores or other businesses, and (2) keep on your church clothes all day and "not do anything on a Sunday that you couldn't do in your Sunday best". I agree/d with the former (not that I always managed it, but it was a good goal), but not the latter - because there are things that I feel bring one close to God and nature (such as sitting on a beach, going for a hike, swimming or playing with your kids), that really require something other than dresses and suits.
Which brings me to today, New Year's Day, which is for many a holiday and to me, a great opportunity to practice sabbath. The first thing that came to mind for me on this was that some stores, restaurants and such are open for business today; and the best way I can support it as a day of rest is to not patronize any of these places - to have a day of not shopping, eating out or otherwise supporting businesses staying open. It may seem a small thing, but I feel like it can be hugely beneficial both to me (as a forced day of being present and self-sustaining) and for those who have to work (in giving them an easier/slower day at work and hopefully showing their employers that this is a day that people should be given off). So what shall I do with my day off? Well after pondering the idea of sabbath and getting some of my thoughts organized into a blog post, I plan to spend time with my husband, go for a walk, do some scriptural reading ("homework" for me, but of an enjoyable and spiritually-connected sort), and knit (always relaxing and good). I may even clean house a little, if I'm feeling like it (cleanliness being perhaps close to Godliness & all that). Whatever I do and don't do today, it will be consciously and conscientiously in the spirit of creating sabbath.
I invite you to do the same... whatever it is that you find relaxing, rejuvenating, spiritually uplifting or grounding; whatever brings love, laughter, joy or grace into your life. Today is a great day to spend time with, nurture and pamper yourself and others... not because you have an obligation to, but for the healing, grounding and connection it brings all around. I invite you to join me in a sabbath.