The Eighth Day

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Jennifer Champoux is a lecturer in art history at Northeastern University and vice president of Mormon Scholars in the Humanities.

The old and familiar patterns are disrupted. Some among us are facing serious health risks from coronavirus. Others are busy tending to the sick. Many are facing emotional or economic stress as we hunker down in our homes. Businesses are closed, schools shut down, and church meetings cancelled. The situation is grave. And yet, although our current condition seems like an ever-growing accumulation of limitations and endings, it might also be an opportunity to respond to life in new ways. Rather than a sad ending, this unprecedented time can be a hopeful beginning, a Sabbath-like time outside of time, and an unexpected break from the bustle of “regular” life offering a chance to refocus our priorities.

We tend to talk about the Sabbath as a time of rest at the end of something. Yet in the scriptures, the Sabbath is both an end and a beginning. In Genesis, God rested on the seventh and final day as an end to his work of creation (Genesis 2:1-3). But in Acts, the followers of Christ recognized the Sabbath as the first day of the week in remembrance of the day Christ was resurrected and as a symbol of new life (Acts 20:7).

If seven days make a week, then the eighth day is also the first day, or a new beginning. For that reason, among others, the number eight carries powerful symbolism and is associated with Christ.[1] We see this not just in the New Testament observance of the Sabbath on the eighth day, but also in the Old Testament direction by the Lord to Ezekiel to make burnt offerings on the eighth day (Ezekiel 43:27). Even the baptismal fonts in our temples today are shaped as octagons (as they were in antiquity), denoting their role in providing a fresh start and a new life in Christ.

With COVID-19 restrictions, we’re facing new challenges and new discoveries in the way we worship God, minister to others, tend to our families, and feel gratitude for our daily bread. In my own life these past few weeks, these limitations have seeded new patterns and opportunities.

First, hearing my husband bless the sacrament in our home helped me think about the importance of that ordinance in anchoring us to Christ and renewing our covenants. Taking the sacrament at our kitchen table, I felt my own weakness and dependence on God in a profoundly new way.

Second, although we are not meeting in church buildings, in our wards we are finding ways to minister to each other—text messages to friends, weekly emailed lessons from primary teachers, ward council meetings on Zoom, toilet paper delivered to a doorstep, a priesthood holder blessing another family’s sacrament on their back porch. In some ways, we seem to be doing a better job of loving our neighbor than ever before.

Third, I’m interacting with my children in ways I otherwise would not have. With school cancelled, we are spending time reading poetry, going on nature walks and collecting toads, studying isotopes and fractions, practicing music, looking at art. We are connecting and talking and learning in new and fruitful ways. (Don’t worry, lockdown hasn’t done away with sibling fights and whining, so at least we still have that.)

Finally, my approach to food is different now. With many grocery store shelves bare, I’m more thoughtful and grateful in my preparation of family dinners. There is something wonderful and terrible about eating this way—a bittersweet enjoyment of the food that is here now but may not be tomorrow—and it prompts a new level of humility and thanksgiving.

With nowhere to go and nothing I can plan for in this period of uncertainty, all I can do is make the most of the present. What I am left with is perhaps all that really matters anyway—how I show love for God and for others, and what I learn from the experience. It’s rare, and perhaps a privilege, to have the opportunity—even if an extreme one that we wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves—to pull the curtain aside and see things for what they are. As President Russell M. Nelson taught, “The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”  With that perspective, I’m trying to think of this time like an eighth day, or a new beginning, giving me a chance to reconsider the kind of life I want to live and the kind of person I want to be.

[1] For a review of number eight symbolism and how it is used in religious visual imagery, see Alonzo L. Gaskill, “The Seal of Melchizedek?” Religious Educator 11, no. 3 (2010), https://rsc.byu.edu/vol-11-no-3-2010/seal-melchizedek, especially footnote 41.

*Photo by JF Martin on Unsplash

Comments

  1. This was nice. Thank you.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Lovely perspective!

  3. Eric Facer says:

    Thornton Wilder, in his novel, “The Eighth Day,” treats the first day following the creation of the earth and its inhabitants as the time when man was given the responsibility of continuing the project and charting his own path, his destiny. This theme is explored in the context of a murder that destroyed the relationship between two families in a small mining town in Central Illinois.

    The book begins at the dawn of the 20th century. The town’s resident philosopher, Dr. Gillies, was asked what the next 100 years would bring. He answered with a biblical reference: “Nature never sleeps. The process of life never stands still. The creation has not come to an end. The Bible says that God created man on the sixth day and rested, but each of those days was many millions of years long. That day of rest must have been a short one. Man is not an end but a beginning. We are at the beginning of the second week. We are children of the eighth day.”

    Later in the book, the narrator muses: ” There is no creation without faith and hope. There is no faith and hope that does not express itself in creation.”

    He then goes on to describe one of the central characters in the book, John Ashley, as follows: “He was a link in a chain, a stitch in a tapestry, a planter of trees, a breaker of stones on an old road to a not yet clearly marked destination.” I love that—. . . “a breaker of stones on an old road to a not yet clearly marked destination.”

    The book won the National Book Award in 1967. And rightly so.

  4. Love this! Such beautiful insights and well written. Thank you!

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