Permission to Nap

Rev. Beth Hoffman Faeth
July 23, 2023

Scripture: Isaiah 58:9b–14

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 God will guide you continually
and satisfy your needs in parched places
and make your bones strong,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water
whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

13 If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests or pursuing your own affairs;
14 then you shall take delight in God,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of God has spoken.

Let us pray:

Holy One, infuse us with your wisdom that you might find delight in us. May our hearts be opened to receive your message of hope and of grace. Amen.

It is hard for me to believe that one year ago I was about ten days in to my 12 week sabbatical. As I was dreaming my plans for the three months away from Plymouth I knew that the first thing I really needed to do was to leave… not just Plymouth, but the state. I had to get out of town. I wasn’t sure how well I would do at distancing myself from you all and from my commitments here, and so I determined to remove myself from any temptation I might have to, well, work. As an attempt to really savor the time I decided to take the train out east to visit two very dear friends at their Connecticut home – a place and people who have become my favorite respite to retreat over the years. The train experience was less than stellar (and perhaps will provide fodder for another sermon) but the week spent with my dear friends was a lovely combination of deep connection, exploring the countryside, taking in a Broadway show, and even a few stolen moments of attempted rest. It was what I needed to truly step away from my duties as a minister and it was absolutely the most relaxing week of my sabbatical. At the end of the week I took a bus to Boston to visit my oldest daughter and traded in the train for a plane to return home, only to 36 hours later venture with my beloved via a road trip to visit his family in Tennessee. The pace now set, the remainder of the twelve weeks was a blur of necessary tasks and accomplishments: sorting and packing my long time home to ready it for sale, moving one daughter across the country and settling the other in her first college dorm room, a most memorable trip to Iona, Scotland; the whirlwind process of selling a home while trying to find another. My sabbatical became a long list of to-dos and what I realized as I returned to Plymouth in October is that I was a complete failure when it came to rest. I explained to many that without that time away I would not have been able to do what I needed to do to complete critical familial responsibilities. But there was little sabbath in my sabbatical. When I had the time and space to actually relax and rest, I was instead overcome with restlessness.

In Exodus chapter 20 we are presented the ten commandments, the fourth one stating: “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy! For six days you will labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath for God. Do no work on that day, neither you nor your daughter nor your son, nor your workers – women or men – nor your animals, nor the foreigner who lives among you. For in the six days God made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that they hold, but rested on the seventh day; this is why God has blessed the Sabbath day and made it sacred.” In this text the motivation for keeping the sabbath is the story of creation found in Genesis 1. Just as God rested from work, so God’s creatures should emulate the Creator. In the book of Deuteronomy which also includes the ten commandments in chapter 5 we read this as included in the commandment regarding Sabbath: “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.” Here the reason for Sabbath is the memory of slavery. The word for labor is the same root in Hebrew as slave. Thus labor and rest is patterned after slavery and release.

Recalling the origins of the Sabbath commandment is important as we seek to understand today’s scripture reading. In this final section of the large book of Isaiah, the Israelites have returned from their Babylonian exile to the dysfunctional Persian ruled territory of Judah. In preceding chapters, God has spoken a word of hope and comfort to the beleaguered travelers, promising them they will once again be a great nation and know home. Yet things have not gone smoothly and present living is bleak. Society remains in a shattered state and the people, God’s chosen ones, have forgotten to whom they belong as well as how to care for one another. Chapters 55-66 are often called Third Isaiah and we hear the voice of an anonymous prophet steeped in the tradition of Isaiah from the earlier parts of the biblical book, who as one scholar writes “offers a series of sharp rebukes to proponents of cultural, ethnic, and economic exclusion and (then) generates an alternative vision of the beloved community.” (Brennan Breed,

In our verses today the prophet echoes DeWayne’s message from last week – that worship and social justice must be connected. That each must inform and serve the other in continuous cycle. The words we speak on Sunday must be lived out on Monday – and all the other days of the week. When we understand that feeding our neighbor and housing the homeless and loving without condition deepens our worship and connection to the Divine then we will know peace in our spirits and grace within community. The prophet promises that gifts and blessing will abound, the imagery being that of a fully watered garden and ever flowing stream. How delightful. And in our service to the other, seeking to live in full equity and harmony with our neighbor, the entire community will know renovation and the people will be repairers and restorers:

“Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.”

“The prophet here describes the measurable, provable cause-and-effect relationship that exists between communal liberation and communal healing. So long as some members of the community are oppressed, everyone is living in an unhealthy and soul-harming environment –even the elite.” (Ibid)

So then, how does Sabbath fit in to this framework? The prophet is clear:

If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests or pursuing your own affairs;
14 then you shall take delight in God.

The Hebrew word for Sabbath is shabbat, which as a verb means simply to stop. Stop. That is a personal directive. Stop. The world will continue to turn without you. The call of sabbath is to remember the fundamental core of our faith: there is a God and we are not it. We are responsible but not indispensable. We are not even terribly significant, in human terms. God is God and I am not. This is a mantra I have used for many years – especially when my need to control outcomes gets in the way of healthy process. In addition we must embrace that even if it seems counter cultural, the world does not depend on our busy-ness. So we need to learn how to stop, how to take a holy rest. This is how we honor God. This is how we honor the other. This is how we become more present and aware of the needs of our neighbor. Yet our sabbath cannot be rooted in selfishness. Yes, rest is essential in our holy work. Yes, taking a nap is a beautiful way to sabbath, to restore, to renew. What is not acceptable in our sabbath is to make another work for us, for if the command to Sabbath is born out of an enslaved community emancipated, then we have no right to demand something of another on our chosen Sabbath day. This is not honoring of God and it only fuels our colonial civilization. We must observe Sabbath at no one else’s expense. The trampling of Sabbath begins when we practice this holy rite to serve our own interest.

This may be one of the biggest reasons why most of us fail at Sabbath – because it means to be quiet and very possibly, to be alone. To eat out, go shopping or play golf is to make another work, contrary to the commandment. So even though 1/3 of American adults identify as being sleep deprived we struggle to rest, to stop, to Sabbath.

While the need for restoration and reparation is dire, the ability we have to actually stop is countercultural. Tricia Hersey, author of Rest Is Resistance, has created a manifesto and a ministry that centers our inability to rest as the result of our extreme societal dysfunction. She writes, “Rest is a form of resistance because it disrupts and pushes back against capitalism and white supremacy. Both these toxic systems refuse to see the inherent divinity in human beings and have used bodies as a tool for production, evil, and destruction for centuries.” (Rest Is Resistance, pg. 7) Realizing as an exhausted graduate student that our worth is constantly being connected to how much we get done and that sleep deprivation is a public health issue as well as a spiritual one, Hersey also acknowledged that there is no model for rest, for sabbath in our culture. Her calling is to beckon people to both individual and collective rest and to see this as an uprising within dominant culture. Founder of “The Nap Ministry”, Hersey curates sacred spaces for the community to rest via Collective Napping Experiences. Like the prophet of this morning’s scripture, Hersey believe that treating ourselves and each other with care is not a luxury, instead it is a necessity if we as community are going to survive and thrive. She writes, “Rest makes us more human. It brings us back to our human-ness. To be connected to who and what we truly are is at the heart of our rest movement.” (pg. 27) “Rest is a portal. Silence is a pillow. Sabbath our lifeline. Pausing our compass. Go get your healing. Be disruptive. Push back. Slow down. Take a nap.” (pg 32).

How might we center rest as a means for healing and liberation? Our own and our neighbor’s?

Plymouth Church has begun resting this beautiful, overworked building on Mondays. Our tenants carry on business as usual but our church staff works remotely, seeking creative ways to accomplish their duties off site. It’s been fun to hear of people’s experiences when we come together for staff meetings on Tuesday morning. This proposal was meant to reduce strain on our operating budget – it is amazing how one day without all the lights on and the reduction of water and utilities as well as other burdens on our building can make a difference. Quickly we realized that this building sabbath had positive consequences on our carbon and environmental footprint. Dorothy Bass in a chapter on Keeping Sabbath in her book, “Practicing Our Faith” writes:

“Overworked Americans need rest, and they need to be reminded that they do not cause the grain to grow and that their greatest fulfillment does not come through the acquisition of material things. Moreover, the planet needs a rest from human plucking and burning and buying and selling. Perhaps, as Sabbath keepers, we will come to live and know these truths more fully, and thus to bring their wisdom to the common solution of humanity’s problems.”

Since my return to you last October, feeling such gratitude and humility in knowing that a 12 week sabbatical is a distinct privilege, I have grown even more in my awareness of being a Sabbath failure, and therefore I have become more in tune with a need – both physical and spiritual – to rest as well as appreciate that all decisions do not need to be instant, that all projects do not need an immediate deadline. That perhaps the way to know Sabbath is to appreciate a slowness that is also countercultural, but allows for gifts to be fully realized within a process towards completion. And to value that our work, in whatever form, is not truly complete without a period of rest. After all, we have a God who not only commands Sabbath but models it, for on the seventh day of creation God rested. Let us recall that 1/7 of God’s process was rest, a Sabbath. How could this newly realized way of thinking – that work is not finished until it is enjoyed in rest – help us to recreate a fresh understanding of Sabbath?

I realize that this is a message about the why to Sabbath, not on how to Sabbath. If you are seeking the how then please, let’s continue the conversation. What could happen if as a congregation we covenanted to be practice-ers of Sabbath? Scripture says God would find delight in us, and we might discover transformation in our own lives and within this beloved community. What a beautiful risk to take… and it all might begin with a nap.


9 a.m. service

11 a.m. service