Get Your Sabbath On

Genesis 1:26-2:4:  Down-to-Earth Resting

 Unplug the television
And make way for an old vision
Which will now be a new vision
Yes Headliner, lay the foundation
Dig your hands in the dirt
That’s right
Children play with earth

Gain knowledge of the big
But small earth around you
Dig your hands into the dirt
The dirt that made you
Get acquainted with the earth
The earth that eventually will take you
And the world that hopefully
Will appear to wake you

Children, play in the fields
Play in the grass, climb Mr. tree
Get to know each branch
Give it a name
For the branches resemble the many decisions
You will have to make in life

Eat of the earth children,grow an apple tree
Taste the apple, communicate
Watch and listen to the neglected mother of all
Short, tall children play with earth
Eat rhubarb wet from the rain
Beautiful fruits all the same
Pears, oranges and grapes from the vine
Children it is the earth’s time


One of my favorite hip hop groups of all time, Arrested Development.

The song, Children Play with Earth, is lyrically wonderful even as it is challenging. The earth is big and small; and it made us. The earth will eventually take us. It will also wake us. We should play in the fields, grass, and trees and give the branches names. We should plant in the earth so as to have food to eat of the earth. We are to watch and listen to the neglected mother of all—the earth.

We are in our third week of exploring the first creation story in Genesis. Today we read its conclusion: day 6 includes the creation of humankind, male and female, in the Creator’s image, blessed and given great responsibility to care for the earth, waters, animals, and all living things. Day 7 marks the moment when the Creator views all of creation and is pleased. Time for rest.

The last two days [or ages] of this creation story contain two very important words that we will unpack: adam and Sabbath. Now of course, in our English translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, we see the word humankind for adam, and the word rest for Sabbath. Let’s start with this word adam, a word shared by Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Bahai’s in the creation stories. In the Hebrew language, there are root words that consonants and vowels get added to in order to form variations of the root. ADM is the root word and is masculine. Words in Hebrew are like words in Spanish. They have masculine or feminine forms, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are male and female. Is a chair female? No really. So ADM is a masculine root, but our word here in Genesis 1 is also used with adamah, the feminine derivation, which means earth.[1] So we get, in a nutshell, Hebrew wordplay which leads us to adam meaning humankind from the earth.

And with that, I’m reminded of a childhood memory. I was eight years old, I think. I received my first Bible; I still have it. In that Bible, there were pictures from time to time, along with the words. I particularly remember Genesis. Right away, the word adam is important, because as I learned about this story, I saw a picture of a man. His name was Adam. I assumed [as did the people who drew these pictures and strategically placed them there] that the creation of humankind was really the creation of this man named Adam. Capital A. So as an eight-year-old, I imagined this dude appearing out of nowhere. And he already had a first name, just no last name. Just call me…Adam, he would say.

Look! I’m hanging out with my monkey-friend, bananas! Capital b.

But that’s not really true, is it? Genesis1 doesn’t give us this detail. Instead, we get a generic word that means humankind from the earth. At this point, you may be thinking, Wait, I seem to remember that God formed Adam [capital A] out of the ground, and then this lady Eve out of his rib]. Tsk, tsk. You’re skipping ahead! We’re still in Genesis 1, remember? Adam as a proper name is not in this story. Human life [both male and female], is created by Elohim [God], in Elohim’s image, and that means male and female. And they don’t have names, these humans. They are told to have kids and grow their population. So these are the first humans [plural] and there are lots more of them, eventually. And this is before we get to the proper names—before some dude named Adam and some lady named Eve. My Bible was wrong, or at least it assumed too much.

Why the specifics of this? Well, the Semitic people [a general term to describe the ancients of the Middle East] were used to playing with the earth, digging their hands in the dirt. They were people of nature—in tune with it and certainly respectful of it. Their worldview was akin to the ancients of the Americas, who also honored the natural world and believed that they were created from it and would eventually return to it. The Mayans, for example, in their creation story the Popul Vuh, specifically state that the humans were created from the mixture of corn and water, called atole. Corn of the earth + water from the sky = human beings.[2]

La Creacion, Diego Rivera, 1931

So the story establishes for us that not only are the birds, fish, animals, trees, waters, skies, and land good—not only are human beings good—but the relationship between them all is good. I’ve heard a lot in my lifetime about this concept of having dominion over the whole earth—that somehow as human beings we are given free reign to do whatever we want to the natural order. After all, aren’t we meant to rule over it? Many take this to mean that animals come last. The environment is not our problem. The oceans are for our use anyway, so we can throw our trash in them without feeling guilty. This of course is the problem when we read the Bible like a bumper sticker. The entire rest of the creation stories [and the Bible itself, for that matter] make it clear that dominion over the earth and its creatures means great responsibility on the part of human beings to care for creation so that all living things can fulfill their Creator-given purpose. Having dominion means caring for, allowing the natural order to thrive, to see creation as good, just like God did.

So why do we avoid this challenge? Why do we so often abuse the creation so graciously shared with us? I say it’s because we forget about adam with a lowercase a, we forget where we come from and where we will all eventually go. We neglect the earth, sky, and waters and all the good creations within them, because we only think about ourselves. We forget who we are. In fact, it’s almost like after the 6th day, after humans are made, we end the creation story. Done. Time to move on. I have things to do, places to go, money to make, stress, a full calendar, and no time for creation caring. And then we’re disconnected from it all. We’re not connected to where we come from. We don’t dig our hands in the dirt; we don’t play with the good earth. We’re too overscheduled and busy to care.

But there is another day in the Genesis 1 story, a seventh. The Creator looks over all that has been made and is pretty pleased with it. It’s all good. And it’s time to rest. So we’re to our second word in Hebrew, Shabbat/shavat. In English, we translate this as Sabbath. Here in Genesis 1, it is very loosely translated as rest. I say loosely, because Shabbat, in the Genesis 1 context, is probably better translated as cease or end. The Creator, Elohim, ceases to create, at least for the moment. It all looks good from the Creator’s viewpoint. It’s not like the Creator was tired or fed up with making things. It was time to end. One cycle, one age, was completed. A new one begins.

Of course, Sabbath for many Christians is a laughable subject, really. Take me, for example. Is Sunday supposedly my Sabbath? Since I can remember, Sundays have always been full, full days of classes, worship services, practices, meetings and events. Rest? Ending? Closure? HA! Not a chance! Of course, I’m no martyr here. There are many [besides ministers] who work a lot on Sundays. Or Saturdays. You see, we’ve lost the concept of Sabbath. It’s not a day to sit in a pew or fulfill some religious obligation. It’s not a time to schedule things. Sabbath is unplugging, gaining new perspective, closing and opening; Sabbath is set apart as sacred. Sabbath is a moment to hit the reset button so we remember who we are: all of us people of the earth, created in God’s image, good and blessed, connected to each other, meant to care for the earth, its creatures—meant to care for each other. Sabbath is a time for reawakening.

I believe in Sabbath. I know that when I’m done with my Sunday responsibilities, when the door closes behind me in my house, when the phones are not answered, and I have Monday in front of me—Sabbath begins. As Hebrews 4:10 states, I enter God’s rest. Sabbath is communion with our Creator, a reminder about the image we are made in. And my Sabbath connects me, not just to the earth, waters, and animals—but to my brothers and sisters around the world. My Muslim brother prays in his car five times a day when we works in the city and finds wholeness and peace; my Jewish colleague makes amazing food to share with others and lingers a long, long time at the table counting his blessings; my atheist friend hikes a trail and smiles at the beauty of trees around her. Our Sabbath connects us. We don’t need to run to sanctuaries, meetings, and events. They are not Sabbath. Instead, we feel the rhythm of life around us and in us—all created good by our Creator.

And we realize together that everyone—EVERYONE—is a good creation, deserving of food, of water, of land, and of Sabbath. And we claim the responsibility to care for the creation and to care for the people of the world. We don’t do it because we want to get something out of it; we don’t do it because we feel power; we care because we come from the earth—all of us. And we all our God-images—all of us. And we all deserve Sabbath—all of us.

And so I challenge you and myself to dig our hands in the dirt. I challenge you to recognize where you come from. I challenge you to stand up for others who are denied their good humanity and to help those who are denied their right to Sabbath in their lives. But in order to be who you were made to be, you are going to have to experience Sabbath in your own lives. Living Sabbath, being human, is about joy and thankfulness. It’s about relationship with the merciful, loving Creator. It’s about forgiving and being forgiven; it’s about justice that costs us something; it’s about love without strings; it’s about recognizing that everyone’s full humanity includes God’s creative work.

Get acquainted with the earth–

the earth that eventually will take you

and the world that hopefully will appear

to wake you.


[1] The Jewish Encyclopedia.

[2] Popul Vuh.

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Josh grew up in the Midwest before completing a B.A. in Theatre at Northwestern College [IA] and a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ [UCC], Josh has lived and worked in the Midwest, East Coast, Hawai’i, and Mexico. He is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Welcome Project PA, host of the Bucks-Mont PRIDE Festival, and he is Pastor of Love In Action UCC, an open and affirming congregation featured in a Vox Media episode of Divided States of Women with Liz Plank and in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Josh has 20+ years of nonprofit experience, including leading workshops and training in corporate, medical, and academic settings, focused on diversity & inclusion, grant writing, fund raising, and program management. Josh is a fellow of Interfaith Philadelphia, and designs and coordinates HS and University student groups for interfaith immersion service-learning weeks. Josh also co-facilitates Ally trainings for LGBTQIA+ inclusion and interfaith cooperation. He is a founding member of The Society for Faith & Justice, and a Collaborator for Nurturing Justice, and a member of the Driving PA Forward team via New Sanctuary Movement. He also performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, and has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in religious and secular settings. Josh also enjoys running, singing, traveling, learning languages, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philly.

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