Elder Perry: The Act of Sabbath

Elder Perry, in the first talk of the SM session (after Pres. Monson’s welcome), observed: there is ‘no better way for us to begin or continue to be an example of the believers than in our observance of the Sabbath day’.  Elder Perry then counselled, based on D&C 59:9-10, that there are three things the Lord expects from me on this day: ‘first, to keep ourselves unspotted from the world; second, to go to the house of prayer and offer up our sacraments; and third, to rest from our labors’.  Using E. Perry’s homiletic and, in my view, intentional mis-reading of this passage[1], I want to offer my own meditation on his invitation to ‘avoid… worldly distractions of businesses and recreational facilities on the Sabbath day’ [2].

This sermon was homiletic not merely because it was pastoral but also because of this mis-reading; a mis-reading that helped me to focus upon an important part of my liturgical praxis.  Elder Perry suggested that D&C 59:9-10 exhorts us to ‘keep thyself unspotted from the world’ on the Sabbath day.  Rather, being unspotted is the causal response to going to ‘the house of prayer’ and offering up ‘thy sacraments upon my holy day’.  I do not think it was wrong of Elder Perry to use this type of reading: firstly it is a common hermeneutic in the LDS tradition and secondly his thoughts have assisted further consideration.  I see the Sabbath a little differently because of his talk.

Walter Brueggemann offers three perspectives on the meaning of the ‘act of Sabbath’ that can be useful applied to Elder Perry’s sermon [3].  The Sabbath is certainly a day of rest, but this ‘rest’ is a divine act, it is a sacrament (cf. Ex 20:11).  By following the creative periods; it invites reflection upon the creative or life-giving efforts of our lives.  Among some Jewish groups, the night of the Sabbath was considered to be an especial time for marital relations in order to commemorate and rejoice in the creation and the joining of man and woman [4].  Second, the Sabbath is ‘an act of remembering the liberation that permitted new life’ (cf. Deut 5:15).  The ‘act of Sabbath’ ritually holds together the process of creation and deliverance; two themes that become type-scenes in our scriptures.  The sacrament of the Lord’s supper commemorates the spiritual deliverance that the Lord offers to this people and the rest he provides for them in this new life. This is all very familiar to Latter-day Saints, though I believe there is more that can be done with these ideas.

Drawing upon Amos, Brueggemann argues that ‘the Sabbath is a day when commercial activity stops, when the routines of the exploited are brought to a halt’ (cf. Amos 8:4-6).  Through this paradigm the sacrament of the Lord’s supper memorialises the day when all shall have bread and water to drink.  It anticipates the end of economic inequality.  What then of Elder Perry’s counsel to avoid entertainment and ‘toys’ [5]?  Can I watch the television without reflecting upon those who have not the time or the luxury to watch the ‘X-factor’ or ‘Britain’s Got Talent’?  Can I sit upon my comfortable couch in my centrally heated flat waiting for lunch to settle before eating dessert without being afflicted with my wealth in a world full of starving people?  These activities are not inherently unworthy of the Sabbath rather they are signs of my relative wealth; and they therefore symbolise my collusion in economic exploitation (cf. Jim F.).  God does not want me to cover my sins with comfort, or to distract my contrition with fun, on this Holy day.

That the Sabbath was made for mankind is true; but I am not convinced that this means it is a time for selfishness.  It is true that some activities may be prohibited on the Sabbath; but I do not accept the effort to rigidly proscribe what is acceptable.  The Sabbath should be a day of conflicting emotions; and it seems somehow appropriate that, in the midst of my wealth, I also long for a day when poverty will end.  At the very least, God wants me to remember that the act of Sabbath ritually recalls creation, deliverance and equality.

Notes:

  1. Mis-reading, in this context, does not imply a lack of intellect on Elder Perry’s part nor that he was deceptive.  Rather, mis-reading is the consequence of reading texts into our time and place.  Mis-reading highlights the relationships between texts and the influence of a text on an author/speaker (cf. Bloom’s ‘Map of Misreading’).
  2. I am not claiming that this approach to the Sabbath is required nor do I believe that this is what Elder Perry would believe.   As such this will be written in the first-person, except when I am quoting.
  3. Walter Brueggemann, Finally comes the poet, Minneapolis: Fortress press, pp. 90-99.  I used a different section of this book 6 months ago in a previous post based upon a GC talk.
  4. Louis Jacobs, The body in Jewish worship in Religion and the Body, p. 80.
  5. This has been removed from the official transcript.

Comments

  1. Great thoughts — thanks. I’d like to hear more about your reading of D&C 59:9-10. I am prompting you to flesh this out in a comment simply because you refer to Elder Perry’s “mis-reading” of that selection. Although a fair number of our readers and commenters will understand the academic usage of the term “mis-reading” in this context and that it is in no way a criticism of Elder Perry but a term of art used in analysis, I suspect that a perhaps even larger number of Latter-day Saints who happen upon this thread will see the term “mis-reading” and, unaware of the term’s technical usage in academic context, assume that you are in some way calling Elder Perry out or criticizing him or his message.

  2. Thanks, John. I will also add another footnote. I sincerely hope that I do not appear to be criticizing Elder Perry; the opposite is true. I appreciate what he has helped me to see more clearly.

    Mis-reading is the consequence of creatively engaging and applying texts to our circumstances and times. Nephi reading and quoting Isaiah is a good example. Certainly the intended meaning of Isaiah was not related to Nephi, or his time and place; but this did not stop Nephi from creatively mis-reading Isaiah with an inspiring result. In my view, the act of likening the scriptures to ourselves almost always involves this type of misreading.

    Elder Perry has focused upon one reading of this passage with a particular intention; to inspire change in the listener. I do not believe this was the intended meaning of D&C 59:9-10 and therefore, IMO, he has ‘mis-read’ that passage. That he has ‘knowingly’ engaged in a form of misreading should indicate that I do not believe this implies a lack of intellect and certainly prohibits E. Perry from being labelled as disingenuous.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    A term I like to use for this kind of creative mis-reading is pesher, literally “commentary,” but a special type of “likening unto us” commentary, as reflected in the pesharim among the DSS.

  4. Great explanation of mis-reading, Aaron. Thank you.

    It would be interesting to see what you believe was the intended meaning of that passage of scripture and then the comparison to Elder Perry’s interpretation for purposes of his talk (which you note is a commonly held interpretation among many Latter-day Saints) will be more enlightening.

  5. Thanks for that Kevin. That might have been a better phrase to use.

    My reading of D&C 59:9-10 is different from Elder Perry’s in one key respect. Elder Perry seems to see that scripture, and those related to it, as outlining a tripartite praxis for the Sabbath: you should keep yourself unspotted from the world (by not engaging in recreation and business activities), go to the house of prayer (go to Church and receive the sacrament) and then to rest from our labours (again, the message to avoid business).

    In contrast, I read v. 9 as the statement of primary focus, which the subsequent verses elaborate and reiterate. v. 9 suggests that if we go to the house of prayer to offer up our sacraments then we will be able to keep ourselves unspotted from the world. The text seems to establish a causal relationship (one which certainly requires elaboration). v. 10-12, which Elder Perry includes in his tripartite list, reiterate and expand on this command. In short, in v.10 resting from our labours is part of going to the house of Lord, v. 11 reminds us that our worship should not be restricted to one day (despite there being a specific day set-apart for worship) and v. 12 reiterates the importance making this a holy day. Further reference could be made to doing ‘no other thing’ in v. 13, the joy of Sabbath in v. 14 and further blessings for keeping this day holy in v. 16-19.

    There is a great deal of complexity in these verses, complexity I think Elder Perry is surely aware of. It is not so much that I disagree with his reading but rather that my (initial) approach to this scripture was different from the one he presented at GC.

  6. Aaron, thanks for the analysis of this talk. I’m looking at this talk with a different perspective now. The Sabbath as a sacrament of equality is a compelling concept.

  7. Romney 2012 Supporter says:

    Some Mormons think you need to wear a white shirt and tie all day long on Sunday.

  8. Romney 2012 Supporter says:

    My aunt told me she say President Spencer W. Kimball on a commercial flight… on a Sunday.

  9. This was great, Aaron R. I missed the talk because of work, and am grateful for an opportunity to read the talk and also delve a little bit deeper here.

  10. Just a note: Elder Perry spoke Saturday morning, the first talk after President Monson’s welcome. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have heard the talk myself…

  11. I see it as somewhat cyclical. By keeping ourselves unspotted on Sunday it inspires us to keep ourselves unspotted on other days. We can recognize the difference in a day without whatever adn see what changes we can make in our daily life that can maintain that feeling.

    That’s slightly different from the causal reading..that I also see…that keeping the sabath day develops a sort of armor that makes more impervious to worldliness.

    misreading is an interesting word. I was recently speaking with a Muslim who believes the whole Koran should be read in this likening to self way (ie destroy the wickedness in yourself).

  12. Tea, your right. I will edit that now.

  13. I was wondering about that!!! I attended the priesthood session and could not for the life of me remember that talk. I truly thought I must have completely zoned it out.

    But we missed the first hour of the Saturday morning session so that explains it!

  14. Wow? “Homiletic” and “liturgical praxis”? And I thought people would think I was pretentious (oh, I am) with my “organic shampoo” and “indigent people” on the other thread. :P

    I enjoy the often-nicer weekends we get here in the Northwest, I use Sunday as a day to watch sports, spend time with my boyfriend, and spend the evening in. I think it would be interesting to look at how Anglo-Saxon culture changed its view of Saturday and Sunday with the reduction of the working week from 7 to 6 to 5 days.

    And I only grasped the general sense of what you were saying, my eyes started to glaze over with all the footnotes and syntactic complexity: not really “blog-mode, Friday night” type reading. ha

  15. #14: I do like your comment. I think we moderns need to move away from a Bible Sabbath idea, and create one that works in our 24/7_Weekend world. I feel that can be done without giving up worship and rest on Sundays.

  16. Miss Otis Regrets says:

    regarding endnote #5: I often cringe when taking note of the differences between the actual talk delivered vs the official transcript. Why remove elements of the talks which were delivered in the moment? and I can’t quite understand why it bothers me so much. does one lose some of the speakers’ original intention (politically correct or not)?

    on another note, I am enlightened at the term and concept of mis-reading. fantastic insight.

  17. #16 – If you interested in mis-reading, you should listen to the series of presentations on Nephi and Isaiah delivered at the Mormon Theology Seminar. They are great and our very own smb gives some wonderful concluding thoughts.

    I don’t mind the edits. Most often I think they are the result of the speaker using a word that was different from the one intended. The speaker therefore preferred the version they had prepared and the printed version reflects that. In some cases it reflects a more serious change, but I choose to see this as positive as well. I’m grateful that I have leaders who are willing to receive correction, though I am sure there are there are other ways to look at this.

  18. Larry A. says:

    Isn’t one we consider (and sustain) to be a prophet allowed to do a little “mis-reading” of the scriptures if their rephraising is don to teach us or emphasize a gospel principle? After all, wasn’t the Malachi that Moroni quoted to Joseph was a little different than the verses found in the Old Testament?
    Anyway, thanks for including the other thoughts on the sabbath.
    I think “intricate” is a good descriptor for the sabbath; the more we do to make it a holy day for us the more we deepen our understanding. It is for me a type of a “fast”, which makes the intertwining of fasting and sabbath keeping (Isaiah 58) really something to enjoy.

  19. Excellent thoughts, Aaron. Thanks.

  20. Aaron R. says:

    Larry A., I don’t know if you read the post carefully, but I actually argue that mis-reading is an appropriate form of reading. I am glad, however, that you enjoyed the rest of the post.

    Thanks, Ray.

  21. I don’t think we need to find rigid proscription of acceptable Sabbath activities to announce to all people, but we would be wise to accept Jesus’ efforts to rigidly proscribes for us: worldly distractions of businesses and recreational facilities on the Sabbath day. Elder Perry said that it is Jesus that proscribes those things.

    You’re correct about two of the three prongs in D&C 59:9 being causally linked and therefore not completely separate. But those 2 can still be accurately separated in Elder Perry’s manner because 59:9 nowhere says that fulfilling Elder Perry’s #2 (sacrament) is the only thing necessary to achieve Elder Perry’s #1 (unspottedness from the world). Even according to D&C 59:9 there still might be other things besides #2 that are needed to achieve #1.

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