Reflecting on her own childhood Sunday mornings spent in church, Casey Cep considers Martin Doblmeier’s documentary Sabbath:
In Sabbath, Doblmeier moves swiftly about the country, consulting with thoughtful sociologists and theologians, capturing the beauty and delight of summer camps and community gardens, talking with the clergy and parishioners at places such as Life Adventist Church of Berkeley; the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, in Manhattan; South Jackson Seventh-day Adventist Church, in Mississippi; the Islamic Center at New York University; and La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora la Reina, in Los Angeles.
Ammiel Hirsch, a Reform rabbi who appears in the film, argues that the fourth commandment was “a revolutionary concept” that “changed human history,” because it is believed to be the first time a religious or political authority, instead of requiring work, had required rest. Romans were contemptuous of the practice, maligning Jews as lazy. . . .
That sense of the Sabbath’s profound importance is part of what brought the Puritans to America. Their strict Sabbatarian beliefs put them in conflict with the English authorities, especially after King James published The Book of Sports, in 1617, in which he encouraged his subjects to follow Sunday-morning worship with dancing, games, and recreation in the afternoon. For the Puritans, such encroachments clearly undermined the fourth commandment, and when they could, they passed Sabbatarian laws to protect the Lord’s Day—in Virginia, as early as 1610, it was decreed that “no man or woman shall dare to violate or break the Sabbath by any gaming, public or private abroad, or at home.”
If we regularly took an entire day off from the work and the worry of our lives, we might think about doing it more often; moreover, we might think about how much more others need time to rest, too. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote that for Jews, whose sacred architecture isn’t only physical but temporal, “Sabbaths are our great cathedrals.” “Six days a week,” he observed, “we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.”