I will say what many feel but are afraid to express. For many, Sabbath is a 24-hour stretch of intense sorrow and loneliness. An excruciating pause in the endless click of deadlines when the noise dies down and silence and space can be heard and felt like a shrieking hurricane when you take your headphones off.
It’s a time when you realize how close so many people are who care so very little unless you’re useful or relevant, cool or entertaining, young or talented, degreed or certified, religiously compliant or politically correct. You know whether you’re in or out by a fleeting glance or a turning away. It’s a time when the chilling neglect and indifference of friends, family, and church members outweigh the warm kindness of strangers. When you’re reminded just how far short your good intentions fall and your actions even shorter, so who are you to judge? But you judge and are judged anyway, and you wear things that hide or distract from your brokenness.
It’s a time when you face your inadequacy and inability to fix or restore anything of eternal value or significance. When Christianity seems anything but mere. A time when you fight the urge to hum that tune by John Cougar Mellencamp about life going on long after the thrill of living is gone.
It’s a time when the mental din of 2,756 impassioned but largely irrelevant sermons and special musics and three times that many beautiful, truly moving prayers and hymns rattle in your head and you wonder where the hills are from which help comes, yet you lift up your eyes anyway. And you wonder why the church, in all its attempts to assert a raison d’etre, does not speak to this silent void from all its bully pulpits—or maybe even do something. When the preacher preaches and the music plays, you stand up, sit down, kneel, stand up, sit down, then rise and sing once again until it’s time for the participants to congratulate one another on a program well done, and this week’s bulletins are tossed into the plastic recycle bin. You do it week after week after week because you have reason to believe that showing up matters.
Whether it’s high church in a cathedral or jeans and flip flops by the sea, the effect is the same. The loneliness is the same. The heartache and deep search for meaning are the same. Unquenched. Dances of the walking dead. Until, in the silence—and only in the silence—you realize where life comes from. Who life comes from.
In spite of the heartache and loneliness, and sometimes even through it. In spite of the pomp and circumstance and petty disputes over food and music and worship styles and church organization and who gets recognition for doing what and who will occupy what position of honor or authority or privilege. In spite of the fact that few are willing to be called servants, and all claim to speak truth, in the silence of Sabbath you hear a voice of love and reason both quieter and louder than the rest.
The sound of that beautiful voice, hardly detectable at any other time, makes the stark stretch of desperate isolation worthwhile, and somehow you hold it together.