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The Ten Commandments

When I was growing up, I got the distinct idea that to “keep holy the Sabbath” meant to go to church. Now I have come to realize that it means a great deal more than that.

I remember the situation very clearly. I was in Jerusalem for the first time. The occasion was an international meeting of professional women, but, as far as I was concerned, the more important thing was that it gave me a chance to see the Holy Land. Anything else was pure bonus.

Because it was Friday, the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath…the rabbi got up to explain Shabbat to the guests. “The Talmud,” he said, “gives us three reasons for keeping the Sabbath.”

“The first reason for Sabbath,” he went on, “is that given the fact that no one is permitted to do anything on Shabbat, no orders could be given, no work done. Therefore, the slaves and the rich would be equal for at least one day a week.”

“The second reason is that we have time to reflect on the meaning of our lives.”

“The third reason for Sabbath is that we can reflect on the goodness of our work as God did on creation on the seventh day.”

Nice, I thought. But does it really translate to our world here and now? Is it practical? Does it even make sense?

Then, just before he sat down, he did something that took Shabbat out of the Talmud and put it right in the middle of life. “See this pen,” he said twirling a fountain pen between his fingers. “I am a writer. This is my work.” He took his pen and put it in his briefcase. “On Shabbat,” he finished, “I never use a pen. Today is for God and me. Not for me.” That one I understood.

A week later I returned to the States. On Sunday morning, after Mass, the streets were teeming with cars, all the stores were open, lawn mowers roared on every street while people did what they hadn’t had time to do during the week….

Surely, the real sin to which the third commandment points is not the sin of not going to church on Sunday. It is the sin of not seriously seeking God.

—from The Ten Commandments: Laws of the Heart by Joan Chittister (Orbis)

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