Once upon a time, in a land far different to where we live today, people didn't go shopping on Sundays. None of the shops were open. They didn't go on the internet. The internet didn't exist. Instead they ate dinner or lunch around something called a dining room table and participated in the strange custom of enjoying each other's company. And this didn't involve Facebook or Twitter or text messages or Skype. Instead, they enjoyed each other's company face-to-face.
While we may laugh at these strange customs of people long ago and far different to ourselves, they actually had a reason for this Sunday behaviour. They found that reason in the bible, more specifically in the Ten Commandments. They actually took the fourth commandment, to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, seriously.
Of course we realise now how silly that was. Because who wants to obey one of God's commandments when you can shop?
But would our lives really be any worse if we got back to the fourth commandment? I suggest they would be much better. The Ten Commandments aren't there just because God felt like making a few rules up. They are for our own good. And that includes the fourth commandment, arguably the most neglected commandment of the lot.
Our lives are filled with so much 'doing'. The Sabbath gives us permission to simply 'be', to enjoy each moment as it comes instead of racing off to check the next item off the to-do list. You are more present for the people around you, rather than seeing them as a distraction or an obstacle. You are also more present to what's around you. You are free to enjoy the trees and the birds and the sun and the flowers when they're more than just scenery on the way to your next appointment. These moments of just 'being' are important for our souls.
Keeping a Sabbath day also gives us time to reconnect with the family and those that are important to us. Today more than ever, many of us spend most of our time away from other members of the household. We work in different places. We fill up our leisure time with various activities. A family needs more than just blood ties and a common roof. It needs time of connection and communication. It needs time to just 'be' in each other's presence.
Furthermore, ignoring the Sabbath is bad for the earth. One more day where we can shop is one more day where we're likely to buy things that we don't need. Is there anything that important that it can't wait until Monday before we purchase it? Is the world really going to fall apart if there's one day when we can't shop? I would love to see all shops close again on Sundays. It seems ridiculous, when we know the ecological damage our lifestyles cause, to stick to this idea of having the shops open as long and as often as possible. If we went back to no Sunday trading, not only would it enable a lot of people to spend time at home with their family instead of at work, but it would cut down 'boredom-spending'. I'm sure that most of the things that are bought on Sundays are only purchased because people want something to 'do'. They've lost the ability to simply 'be'.
It's interesting that the fourth commandment tells us not only to rest ourselves on the Sabbath, but that all of our family, all of our workers, the stranger within our gates and even the cattle are to rest. The commandment is not just for us. It's for everyone - including the animals. I would suggest that the Sabbath is also for the earth.
The earth needs a chance to just 'be' as well. And when we let the earth just 'be' and let ourselves just 'be' in the earth, we gain something that can never be gained by 'doing' things and by 'using' the earth.
The bible is full of verses that tell us that the earth shows us something of God. Just one instance of this is Romans 1:20, where Paul tells us that men have no excuse for not knowing God, for he can be seen in the things he has made. And yet I think we miss out on a lot of that. Creation may be telling us about God. But we're not hearing it because we're too busy to pay attention. Just 'being' in nature gives us the space and the opportunity to really listen to what it has to say.
We make such huge demands on the earth's resources all the time. Imagine if we used the Sabbath to actually give the earth a break. Switch off the mobile phone and the computer. Use as least electricity as possible. Don't drive and don't shop. If everybody did this for just one day a week, it would reduce our impact on the earth.
And it would actually improve our lives in the process. Without technology and the malls demanding our attention, we would be free to give our attention to what really matters - our God, our family, our earth and our souls.