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“Those endless Sabbaths”

2010 November 7
by Gordon Reid

We sang “O quanta qualia” today, being in the Octave of All Saints. I love this hymn, except for the spine-chilling phrase “Those endless Sabbaths the blessed ones see”.

For any Scot who has endured a Highland or Island Sabbath, that sends chills up the spine. I well remember, as a child, going to the park and finding the swings chained to the posts lest anyone use them on the Sabbath.  And this was in the happily named town of Dollar, where my grandparents lived,  which is hardly deep in the Highlands. And the further north and west you go, even today, the more you will find a) Sunday wrongly called the Sabbath, and b) every activity that may bring pleasure strictly forbidden.

In my youth, a law was passed in Scotland, which was meant to mitigate the rigours of the Sabbath  for travellers. All pubs were closed, of course, and hotels were forbidden to serve drinks to anyone except residents and what were described in the act as “bona fide travellers”. This was interpreted (by thirsty lawyers, I expect) to mean that you had to have travelled more than three miles before you could have a drink – and you had to sign a register to prove it.

Well, of course, “the law of unintended consequences” swung into action, and I remember my father and his pals on a Sunday driving three or four miles from Galashiels to a hotel in Clovenfords, and then having to drive the same distance home, rather the worse for wear. And no doubt they passed guys from Clovenfords driving the three or four miles in the other direction to have a drink in Galashiels.

And all to keep the endless Sabbath less tedious!

One Response leave one →
  1. Paul Emmons permalink
    November 9, 2010

    When I was a little Wisconsinner, my mother would sometimes mention the “Pennsylvania blue laws.” Apparently they were notoriously more comprehensive, or long-lasting, here than in most other States.

    While I love as much as anyone my Sundays, and the modern freedoms thereof to go and do almost wherever and whatever one likes, these freedoms do require quite a few other people to work while we play. In general over time, Sunday has become ever more indistinguishable from the other days of the week. Will this trend be a good thing in the long run for labor (or rather for taking a weekly respite from it)? I’m not optimistic. Labor doesn’t win many disputes these days. I just hope that we won’t wake up exhausted in another generation and wish that the church had retained a little more influence when it comes to specifying a day of rest.

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