Back when time had hands and a face and watches were wound daily, my grandfather fixed clocks and watches at an old wooden workbench at the back of his jewelry store. When I was about ten, he gave me a shoebox of old watch and clock parts – springs and gears as well as hands and faces – making me wonder if I could put time back together again in a way that would tick. Of course I couldn’t. It was the first of many lessons I would have reminding me that time belongs to a larger wholeness even though we often pretend it is made of parts. No matter how hard I have tried, as an adult or as a child, to parse time, to measure it or contain it, time has always escaped my grasp and, in its own way, beckoned me back into the mysteries of eternity.
Keeping Sabbath or Shabbat is a practice that honors time’s place in these mysteries, its long reach and its wholeness present in every momentary glimpse we get of it. By stepping out of our efforts to measure time and to use it toward productive ends, we are invited to step into time’s deeper reservoirs and to receive the gifts it has to offer. As we do, we experience time’s ability to befriend the soul and nurture it with the wholeness and mystery the soul needs to thrive.
Among my favorite keepsakes from my grandfather are several old pocket watches, none of them still working. One has no hands. Its face is open, its time wholly uncounted, its numbers a circular suggestion reminding me that time doesn’t just march forward in lockstep; it curves and returns, folds back on itself the way the seasons do and tides and the cycles of the moon. When I think of Sabbath practices, this silent pocket watch comes to mind like an open page that lets time rest without being counted. It’s an invitation into a story not yet written but containing past, present and future all as one.
It’s no coincidence that my favorite way of practicing Sabbath is by turning off or turning away from my time-counting devices. Taking technology Sabbaths. Because, when I turn off my smart phone for a full day or more, I experience time differently. I’m more likely to come face to face with it in the real world – in sunrise and sunset, in the people I encounter, in the ground beneath my feet. This is what I call “soul time,” an expansiveness that is playful, imaginative, and curious, the kind of time that feeds the soul.
When was the last time you stepped off the grid of 24/7 timekeeping, and what did you experience when you did? Did you step off long enough to recover your own rhythm and to feed your soul? Imagine you have been given (or you have taken!) a day of spaciousness like that – no commitments or responsibilities, no work, no phone, no texts or email or social media. What will you do with it? What might begin to stir in your heart? How might your soul respond?