I remember hearing of the narwhal for the first time in college. A roommate claimed it was her favorite animal. Another friend teased that to play the game we had to choose a real animal. My roommate stood by her choice, adamantly insisting that the narwhal is real.
The existence of the narwhal has been volleyed back and forth because of its resemblance to a unicorn, which though the national animal of Scotland is mythical. The narwhal has a nine-foot off-center spiral tusk, which is actually a tooth protruding from its head. Infrequent sightings in nature and frequent sightings in fables and films like Elf help perpetrate the belief that this mysterious creature is a myth. In fact, it lives in arctic waters and escapes its predators by swimming into spaces between ice floes where a killer whale cannot follow because it would get its fin stuck.
The tusk itself is mysterious. It’s an anomaly as teeth go and scientists are freezing in pursuit of the knowledge of what it’s for. On our last visit to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science a delightful docent staffing a cart under a giant fin whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling enticed us over to her cart by wielding a genuine narwhal tusk, and she did not disappoint. By the end of our private lesson about the narwhal I was blinking away tears at the majesty of it all. And here’s where we get into Sabbath. Did you know that a tusk grows for six days and rests for one? This Sabbath thing is woven deeply into the enamel of the way things are. The Wisdom of it beckons, Life! Measured out, pressed down, spilling over!
A consistent Sabbath practice has been years in the making for me. My first exposure to the idea of an intentional Sabbath was in graduate school and I remember grasping many a Sunday for something that felt so elusive it must be a myth. A low point found me in my kitchen after an epic row during which someone fell off of a chair angrily scraping rejected lunch scraps into the pail irreverently muttering Sabbath, my patootie (edited version). After that, things started to come together and I have unearthed three nuggets worth more than gold to me.
Prepare. Everything hangs on this point. If I do not create the space for Sabbath to come to me, she won’t do it. This means that Saturday is domestic day. In between meetings and/or visits with friends, my family and I from the biggest to the smallest get ready. We do laundry (no more than two loads); water the plants; change the shavings in the hamster cage; one of three beds gets a fresh set of sheets; take out the trash and recycling; complete one home improvement project (if any); shop for food staples; bake something yummy (maybe); wash the dishes; respond to any pressing email; gather books to read, music and a message to listen to; and bathe the children. At the end of the day we light a couple of unscented candles to welcome the Sabbath and snuggle up to read something sacred before we go to bed.
Shalom. The word means peace, the unimaginable kind that trickles wholeness and thriving into every crevice of life. It is not conjured but cultivated. This day is for leaning into shalom. To do that, I turn off the wireless on my devices and don’t open my computer. I read and meditate. I get outside. I have tea with a friend and we talk grace and glory and scrape at the underside of things. I listen, and prayer is response to it all, a breathing in and out all day long.
Repeat. Sabbath mercies are new every week. Wendell Berry writes, “Here by luck or grace she may find rest, which she has been seeking all along. Sometimes by the time’s flaws and her own, she fails. And then by luck or grace she will be given another day to try again, to go maybe yet farther before again she must stop.” Keeping Sabbath is a cycle; perfection is never the goal. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to perfect it because then I would cease to need it. And grace in the moment of need is what good news is made of.
Sister, “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May you see falling stars and hear children sing. May you find rest for your soul and touch the robe of God.” Amen.
Where have you observed Sabbath woven into the way things are?
 Matthew Sleeth, 24/6: a prescription for a healthier, happier life.