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Weeds: Sunday – one of God’s best ideas

When I was a kid on the farm, we had cows, pigs, and chickens. The animals didn’t take days off. Neither did my dad and mom, Sylvester and Alyce. A wedding dance or graduation party was the nearest thing to a vacation we had. But there were Sundays.

That meant church, but also a dialing back of work. Chores went on, but field work was to be avoided if possible. If it was summer with its long, relaxed evenings, my parents would load my brother Dean and me into the back seat of the car after late milking. We drove around to look at the crops. That would end with a trip to town and a root beer at Leo Hengel’s Drive-In or a cone at Reuben Schneider’s Dairy Queen.

The World That I Grew Up In is a distant land, living in the shadows of my memory. Some things remain. One of those is Sunday as a day set apart. Other days of the week have given attributes: Monday, back to work; Wednesday, church night; Friday, beginning of the weekend. But Sunday still stands out.

It is the Sabbath or church day. As a Catholic, it is Mass day. But Sunday has other roles: family day, visiting day, a day of rest, even perchance a nap day.

This goes back a long way, a really long way. From the Book of Genesis, “On the seventh day God had completed the work he had been doing. He rested after all the work he had done. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on that day he rested after all his work of creating.” God deserved a break. I might be tired after a long week of farm work. That’s nothing compared to creating Earth and the firmament.

Then God instructed in the Ten Commandments, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” Genesis goes on to say you shall not do any work, or your son, your daughter, your male servant, your female servant, your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.

Not a lot of us have livestock. Less of us have servants. But God’s admonition remains. It’s clear that the call to rest and worship is important.

Ancient people carved out time in ways that could be measured. The Babylonians quartered the 28-day lunar cycle into weeks. The word “shabbath” is a Hebrew word for rest, and there it is at the beginning of our Judeo-Christian tradition.

I have seen Sunday called the beginning of the week even though I more think of it as the end. The poet Henry Longfellow wrote, “Sunday is the golden clasp that binds together the volume of the week.” It seems right to begin or end my week in church. The rest of the week revolves around it. It is one hour where the busyness is set aside, I am stilled, there is time to reflect. I might or might not pray well, but at least I will shut up. There’s value in that.

Church attendance has declined. Sunday is still a day off work for most. It does not include attending services for as many. I guess I will never know what that feels like. Sunday and church can’t be separated in my 62-year old head.

I mentioned that my dad tried to schedule field work away from Sundays. He would never cut hay on a Thursday that was likely be baled on Sunday. As the farm drifted from livestock to crops in my time, that has changed. Now, I look at a good weather day for planting and jump on the tractor as soon as I’m home from Mass.

I don’t talk to God about this as much as I used to. Too often rain has stopped things for two weeks at a time, and I feel compelled to be out there. Would God provide enough days me to finish, since he provides for the birds of the air who don’t sow or reap? I don’t know; maybe this is a sign of weak faith in me.

It wasn’t just farmers back then who took a respite. Stores weren’t open on Sundays for most of our nation’s history. A couple weeks ago, in the Journal’s page of 50-year ago news, some stores in New Ulm made an organized effort to challenge the ordinance that prevented them from being open Sundays. The article mentioned that some suburban stores had begun staying open Sundays about a decade before. I assume that was referencing the Southdale Mall that opened in 1958. It reported that the downtown Minneapolis stores had not followed suit.

I was too young to be paying attention then. But reading that it struck me that is a significant societal shift.

Last year Minnesota allowed off-sale liquor stores to be open on Sundays. I like liquor as much as the next guy, but I didn’t think we needed that. The small prohibition was a slight nod to our traditional roots. It was a tiny reminder that there is something different about a Sunday, that our lives are more than a steady stream of consumption.

One thing Sunday has become is a sports day. For five months, pro football and Sundays have become linked. I hope it is not the case that football has replaced religion. But one has declined in practitioners as the other has risen; it is hard to not see such an implication.

In the summer, Sundays give us amateur baseball, a source of joy for ball players and fans across Minnesota and certainly Brown County from Searles to Springfield. It is interesting to go back to the early 1900’s when pasture ball and town ball games were played on Saturdays. With the coarse language, betting, and smoking that attended the games, it was considered an improper activity for the Lord’s Day.

Whether you are a churchgoer or not, I think we can all be glad for Sundays. Even if you are a marginal believer, it sets time apart from the patterns of the rest of the week. Sunday allows an opening for the sacred in our lives. Maybe we don’t always take advantage, but it gives a space for our minds to lift to the beyond, whatever that may be. Thank God for Sundays.

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