Christopher Ringwald‘s new book, A Day Apart: How Jews, Christians, and Muslims Find Faith, Freedom, and Joy on the Sabbath, opens with the following inscription:
“There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord…The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life.” Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath.
As the quote implies, Ringwald’s book is a celebration of the Sabbath, its history, theology and philosophy, a look at the three major religions and their holy day of rest. Below Ringwald answers some questions for OUP about his new book.
OUP: Why did you write this book?
Christopher D. Ringwald: Years ago a Jewish friend told me how his return to Judaism began with a barebones Sabbath he kept with a friend, and how the day of rest was Judaism’s gift to humanity. I saw how Sunday had shaped my life by being a special day of rest, prayer, culture, nature and family and friends. After learning of the Muslim holy day, Juma on Friday, I began to explore how a common belief shapes the weekly behavior of Jews, Christians and Muslims. It absorbed me for four years.
OUP: Why is the Sabbath important?
Ringwald: It is there no matter what we believe or do. All of us, religious or not, live by a weekly cycle based on the holy day. Most religions have a weekly get-together. Jews, Christians and Muslims date their holy days to Creation. Israel stops for Shabbat, as do many Jewish neighborhoods around the world. In Muslim lands, Friday is usually a quiet holiday. Sadly, in Iraq and other spots, it has become a jarringly violent time. In America, 40 percent of people attend a house of worships almost weekly. For non-religious folks, Sunday morning remains a special time for the newspapers and brunch or a game of touch football. Even by enjoying the weekend, they too keep the holy day of rest.
OUP: Why did you participate in these various days of rest?
Ringwald: The Sabbath has to be experienced to be understood. So I asked a Jewish family and a Muslim one to let me do what they do with them. Standing and bowing, shoulder to shoulder with Muslims at the mosque, helped me understand the order and solidarity of Islam. Walking slowly from the synagogue with two Jewish families to one home for a leisurely meal ushered me into another realm of time. As for Christians, my own family took some small steps that deepened the Sunday experience and, also, made it much more fun and peaceful.
OUP: Your book details a lot of conflict over the Sabbath. Why so much fighting over the holy day of rest?
Ringwald: Right after God delivered the Ten Commandments, a man was caught gathering firewood. Moses asked Yahweh what to do. “Stone him,” was the answer. Rules were strict since the Israelites believed that the Sabbath embodied God. To violate it was to profane God and risk destruction. Christians and Muslims have had variations on that. The three religions have fought over it as well. By choosing other days, early Christians and Muslims broke away from their Jewish neighbors. Internally, Christians have made Sabbatarian conflict a specialty. Some said it was for rest and recreation while others said it was for worship only and that sports could lead to damnation. In the early 1800s, the U.S. debated Sunday mail delivery which was, eventually, eliminated, as it remains.
OUP: What differences jumped out at you among Islam, Christianity and Islam?
Ringwald: Though all three connect the holy day to God’s creation of the world, they vary in what to do, how, and why. Jews honor God by ceasing as He did. Rest is the primary act of worship, and can be accomplished without attending synagogue. Christians rest in order to have time to worship, but do so on Sunday when Jesus was resurrected. Muslims gather to worship but can return to work since God is in all things. They differ in other ways, such as rules and how to keep or circumvent these, and even in demeanor.
OUP: What surprised you in your study and practice of the Sabbath?
Ringwald: That the simplest steps toward making it a day of holy rest led me to want more, and that the weekly habit, even practiced haphazardly, can change one’s life.
OUP: In today’s busy world, isn’t it impossible for most people to take a day off from work and other duties?
Ringwald: If people want to they will. The Israelites wandering the desert and scrambling for survival managed to keep Shabbat, just as Jews or Muslims do in Western countries surrounded by Christians. Many people on the edge of survival keep their holy days. In industrialized countries, we juggle careers, long work hours, raising children, caring for parents, and other needs and desires. Certainly we can schedule a day off from labor and dedicated to spirituality, family and friends, or other higher pursuits. As athletes know, rest is as important as training. Work all the time and you’ll collapse. Work five or six days, rest for one, and you’ll thrive. You may even discover the point of your life.
OUP: How can we start keeping the holy day or even just a day of rest and rejuvenation?
Ringwald: In the past, the Sabbath became a chore for many people. There is no reason for that, and people can observe it however it suits their beliefs, temperament and ability. It may be easier as a Christian, Jew or Muslim since you would have the motivation, tradition and a community to help you. As Catholics, my family attended Mass and had, at some point, decided not to work, shop, do chores or discuss money. We do have a lot of fun. Less observant or non-religious people can take simple steps such as not working or worrying and learning to enjoy the day and all creation. You may have urges to check your email or clean the house or finish that report. Resist! You’ll be surprised at how much you can let go for a day. Chances are, you’ll want to do so again next week.