There is one day of the year that I always look forward to more than any other: opening day of baseball season. Every year at the end of the World Series in October, I go into extreme mourning, putting on my sackcloth and covering my head in ashes.
Then I wait in sadness all through the long winter, looking for signs of green grass and sunny days to come. Until finally, with anticipation that rivals any child’s on Christmas Eve, baseball returns, and all is right with the world.
A few weekends ago, I celebrated the return of baseball by going to Durham to watch Duke play their opening series against Army. The Durham Bulls Athletic Park was exactly as I had left it last August. The pops of the gloves, the pings of the bats, and the crunch of the cleats sounded just as they always do. It calmed my soul in the way that only baseball can.
Duke won the game with a just-shy-of-miraculous comeback in the bottom of the ninth inning, and it was a wonderful afternoon. The game lasted quite a long time, surpassing the four-hour mark. Somehow, though, I had no idea.
The beauty of baseball
Baseball is a beautiful game because it invites me out of the busyness of my life. It doesn’t operate on a clock. It takes as long as it takes, and it’s over when it’s over. It resists the world of deadlines and time crunches.
In baseball, it is literally impossible to race against the clock like I do in my daily life. There is still excitement, anticipation, worry, joy, and heartbreak, but baseball continues to lose popularity because fans won’t make time for its world of timelessness.
They watch their watches more than they watch the game, focusing more on what they “should” be doing instead of on the dance and rhythm of the greatest show on dirt.
Returning to the world of baseball was exceptionally life-giving for me. Since Christmas, it has felt like I have been working nonstop, always trying to beat some deadline and running from place to place without taking time to catch a breath.
I am used to this feeling. I am only 26, but I spent most of the past decade of my life addicted to overloaded schedules, collecting as many course credits and internships as possible. I was convinced that doing more work than anyone else was the key to success. Thankfully, this baseball outing woke me from the lull of my old cycles.
Finding time for sabbath
In my last year of divinity school, I finally decided to listen to the wiser people around me and hold Saturday sabbaths. I did no work between Friday sundown and Saturday sundown. I kept my overloaded class schedule, but I found that I was still able to get everything done and keep my grades up.
I spent more time fostering the important relationships in my life and felt so much more fulfilled and connected to the community around me. I was more than pleasantly surprised by the new life that I found in such a simple practice.
Although it might seem like just another rule to follow, sabbath is a gift from God. In the Deuteronomy version of the Ten Commandments, we learn that sabbath isn’t a gift just for us. It is a gift for everyone and everything to have time set aside for rest and worshipping God. Everything — land, animals, and humans — needs rest. In that rest, life is restored.
Exodus contains a rather scary line that anyone who profanes the sabbath will be put to death and anyone who works on the sabbath will be cut off from the people. To our 21st century eyes, that might seem overly harsh and outdated. We think to ourselves that the Israelites didn’t have nearly as much going on as we do — after all they were just wondering around the desert.
They didn’t have weekend sports, computers in their pockets, crazy work schedules, or anything that keeps us so busy today. While this may be true, it is also true that if we do not keep sabbath, we will die. By no means will anyone be put to death for missing a Sunday at church. But if we do not set aside time for worship and rest, we will surely die.
Stop, rest, and breathe
If we don’t stop to breathe, we suffocate. If we work ourselves to death, we fail to experience the fullness of life. As we work tirelessly, we become isolated and cut off from the community. This isn’t because anybody is banned, but simply because we fail to participate in communal life.
Both personal and communal sabbaths are important. It is important to step out of the world of deadlines to be with family and friends. It is also important to step out of our busy schedules for worship. We live together by resting and worshipping together. We die individually by ignoring sabbath. We must remember that sabbath is always a gift, and it always preserves life.
Step outside of the busy world for just a little bit. Perhaps we can learn something from baseball’s existence outside of time and find ways to stop, rest, and breathe. In doing so, we will also find renewed life together in God’s gift of sabbath.