Keeping the Sabbath

Welcome to this section of The Abbey, entitled “Keeping the Sabbath”. The resources provided here will help you gain renewed appreciation for Sabbath time – and especially what it can mean for us in our current cultural context. You will find ideas for how to create a Sabbath time that replenishes. We sincerely hope these resources will give you renewed commitment to Sabbath-keeping as a positive practice of faith.

The material represented here is designed to help you generate ideas for keeping a Sabbath. Think of these ideas as a framework, not a “cage”. Ideally, keeping the Sabbath is a practice that helps us thrive as human beings, not a practice of do’s and don’ts!

We have adopted Marva J. Dawn’s categories of Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, and Feasting (“Keeping the Sabbath Wholly”) as a way to present food for thought as you think about your own approach to Sabbath-keeping.

Ceasing

The idea of ceasing from work on the Sabbath is as old as the creation story in Genesis, when God rested on the seventh day. The word “Sabbath” comes originally from the Hebrew verb shabbat”, which means primarily “to cease or desist.” To cease working on the Sabbath means to quit laboring at anything that we think of as “work”. It means to give ourselves a break from the relentless need to produce something, to get something done. It may also mean a day when we refrain from buying more things and trust that we have enough.

Cease from what specifically? Here are some ideas. We can cease from:

  • Work (and the emails associated with it)
  • The need to produce or accomplish anything
  • Whatever creates tension and anxiety
  • Possessiveness and the need to acquire more “stuff”
  • The humdrum and the meaningless.

Food for thought:

  • How can the Sabbath habit of noticing how God is our security give you the freedom to stop trying to build it yourself?
  • Make a list of the activities in which you / your family normally engage on a Sunday. In addition to church activities, include things like grocery shopping, cleaning, yard work, athletic activities in which your children are involved. Be sure to list media activities such as viewing sports events or other programming, social media, and Internet surfing. Now circle any activities that you can identify as anxiety-inducing.
  • What kinds of activities are more of an “obligation” than a joy? Is it possible to do them on another day in the week?
  • How can a Sabbath practice of ceasing from some typical Sunday activities better enable you to experience God’s provision during the rest of your week?
  • Identify one activity over which you have control that you might eliminate—for example, doing your grocery shopping on Sunday or spending time on social media.

Resting

How can we rest when it feels like there is just so much to do? And often it seems like there is so much to cram into the weekend before heading back into work on Monday morning! And yet, a day set aside where we give ourselves rest from all of the problems, projects, etc. that occupy the rest of the week gives us time to replenish and to gain new perspectives. Marva Dawn notes that “the progression from ceasing to resting underscores the movement from idolatry to faith…we learn that God has done all the work of redemption for us and continues to work through us. We learn, by faith, to rest in [God’s] grace.”

How might we rest?

  • Physical rest – sleeping later, taking a nap
  • Emotional rest – taking the opportunity – through worship, study, reading, etc. – to gain new perspectives
  • Intellectual rest – taking a break from so much thinking(!)

Food for thought:

  • How does it feel to take a nap on Sunday afternoon? Does it produce feelings of guilt or feelings of gratitude for time to rest?
  • What have you noticed about activities that give you a sense of restful peace, for instance, listening to music, taking a walk, watching the birds? Can you bring more of these activities into your Sabbath?
  • What parts of worship give you emotional rest, allowing you to deepen your closeness to God? How can you be more aware of these when you experience them, luxuriate in them, fully appreciate them?

Embracing

What can we embrace on the Sabbath? We begin by embracing time itself: time set aside that is devoted to God’s holy purposes for our lives. We can embrace activities that help us thrive, that give meaning to our lives. We can decide what to give our attention to.

Some things we may embrace on the Sabbath include:

  • Being intentional about what we do on the Sabbath – choosing what gives us joy
  • Christian community, giving priority to worship and other ways we may spend time with folks in our faith community
  • The spaciousness of time, recognizing that there is no need to hurry to do anything
  • Giving to others – writing notes, calling loved ones
  • Our gifts – what we can uniquely offer to the world

Food for thought:

  • What can I do on the Sabbath that is an authentic expression of who I am, living fully and faithfully?
  • What would I like to be more present to on Sundays? (e.g in worship, with family or friends, with myself?)
  • When I offer “the peace of Christ” during worship, how can I more fully embrace the offer I extend? What does it really mean to wish the peace, the shalom, of Sabbath to another?
  • What are some ideas for ways I can give on the Sabbath, rather than receive?

Feasting

Sabbath can be a feast day! It can be fun and festive. As Marva Dawn notes, “To keep the Sabbath invites us to have festival fun, to play, to enjoy our guests and our activities, to relish the opportunity for worship, to celebrate the eternal presence of God himself. We feast in every aspect of our being—physical, intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual—and we feast with music, beauty, food, and affection. Our bodies, minds, souls, and spirits celebrate together with others that God is in our midst.”

Ways we can feast on the Sabbath might include:

  • Feasting on the Word of God, reading scripture in worship or at home
  • Feasting on beauty, whatever that might mean for us: an art museum, nature, music
  • Feasting with food
  • Feasting in relationships
  • Feasting on silence

Food for thought:

  • Might I carve out a few moments of purely silent time and luxuriate in it?
  • Is there a special food that I love that would make my Sabbath more special?
  • Is eating out with friends a way that I can feast on the Sabbath?
  • What are all the ways I can feed my body, my mind, my soul and my spirit to create a sense of celebration?

Keeping the Sabbath

Ideas for Practice

Beginning Sabbath Time

Prepare my home environment for the Sabbath, for example…

  • Put work documents away in a drawer or closet (i.e. out of sight/out of mind)
  • Take care of home chores like laundry, cleaning, etc. before Sabbath begins
  • Have enough food prepared to last the next 24 hours

Light a candle

Say a prayer

Declare my intention to keep the Sabbath

Welcome the Sabbath

Blessed art Thou, O LORD our God, King of the Universe, who hast sanctified us by Thy commandments and commanded us to kindle the Sabbath lights. May the Sabbath-light which illumines our dwelling cause peace and happiness to shine in our home. Bless us, O God, on this holy Sabbath, and cause Thy divine glory to shine upon us. Enlighten our darkness and guide us and all mankind, Thy children, towards truth and eternal light. Amen.

Blessed art Thou, O LORD our God, King of the Universe, that you have commanded us to observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Amen

I pray for the activities of my Sabbath day—that I may be restful and cease from all work, worry, anxiety, productivity, and striving to create my own future. I pray also that my Sabbath will be a time of embracing people, of feasting and laughter, of beauty and delight. Amen

Ending Sabbath Time

Light a candle

Say a prayer

Eat or drink something sweet (e.g., sweet wine) to symbolize the sweetness of Sabbath time

Write a reflection on my experience of the Sabbath

Give thanks for the blessing of the Sabbath, thanking God for all the gifts of the day—the worship, relationships, fun activities, special foods, and other special things that I have enjoyed during the day.

Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, that you have commanded us to observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

Ceasing – What can cause me anxiety, or what feeds my tendency to focus on tasks/get something done/accomplish something?

Put weekday work away (physically)

Take a break from email

Take a break from media (news, social media, etc.)

Take a break from buying anything

Decide not to think about anything that is worrying or anxiety-producing; resolve to let it sit until Monday

Create a “parking lot” for work-related thoughts that arise – including anything on a to-do, must-do or should-do list

Resting – What will help me rest more completely in God’s grace, or what will help me tap into my most authentic self?

Write in a gratitude journal – record what I am thankful for from the past week

Listen to music

Get outside and enjoy nature

Do something that inspires my creativity

Go to a museum or a concert

Meditate on a scripture passage

Sing or play hymns

Read Poetry

Read an inspirational book

Embracing – What can I do on the Sabbath to be more present to God and to others; to live more fully and more faithfully; to be my most authentic self?

Make worship services a time to be present to the liturgy, to others, to music, etc.

Find ways to be in community with other Christians

Connect with a family member or friend – not for any specific purpose, but just to be together

Volunteer to use my gifts in a way that serves others

Initiate some kind of Sabbath giving: Write cards or notes; Bake something as a gift; Do a craft that I can give to another

Feasting – What will help me observe the Sabbath in a way that embraces the eternal presence of God?

Be mindful of feasting on Scripture when it is read in worship; let the words “fall” upon me

Be intentional about “entering the worship experience” (rather than just “go to church”)

Participate fully in the Prayers of the People during worship

Take delight in receiving communion

Enjoy a favorite food on Sabbath days

Use a special mug or bowl that delights me

Eat out with friends or family – and make it a party

Do something just for fun

Scripture References

Genesis 2:1-3

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

Exodus 20: 8-11

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day and consecrated it.

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

Isaiah 55:1-2

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

Matthew 6:25-34

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’

Matthew 11:28-30

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

Mark 2:23-27

One sabbath he was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.’ Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath…’

Mark 8:34-37

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

Luke 12: 22-23; 29-31

He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing…. And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Luke 13:10-17:

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

For Further Reading

The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel. This book is considered to be one of the classic texts of contemporary spiritual literature – for its passionate meditation on the joy of keeping the Sabbath holy, and, as well, for its appreciation for the power of ritual in helping to give our lives meaning and fullness.

Keeping the Sabbath Wholly by Marva J. Dawn. This book provides a practical framework for approaching the Sabbath through the concepts of Ceasing, Resting, Embracing and Feasting. The author encourages us to find meaningful ways to set a day apart each week (and not necessarily on Sundays) and to honor that day by ceasing from work and activities that create anxiety in us, giving ourselves time to rest, opting for activities that help us thrive, and enjoying meals and other ways of feasting.

Sabbath as Resistance by Walter Brueggemann. In this book, the author explores how keeping the Sabbath is an act of resistance to the pressures that we experience in modern society, especially the things that produce anxiety in us, and offers ideas for how we can counteract those pressures. His exploration is grounded in biblical tradition, even as it is also firmly planted in modern day culture.

Personal Reflection – Finding Wholeness in the Sabbath

If I think about Sundays in Ft. Worth when I was growing up, our Sabbath looked like this: Sunday School and church in the morning, then home for a Sunday dinner that my mother would have prepared ahead of time so that we could just sit down and eat. After lunch, there was a rest time, then we drove over to my grandparents’ house where the entire extended family gathered for the afternoon. Towards the end of the day, we had a light supper at home, then went to evening services at the church. We did no shopping (well, we couldn’t – the stores were closed); we might put gas in the car, but otherwise, we bought nothing. My parents wouldn’t have used terminology like “honoring the Sabbath” but they did practice it nonetheless.

In my adult years, Sabbath-keeping consisted mainly of going to church on Sundays (and often, not even that!). However, I developed a real interest in the Sabbath in 2012 when I lived in Israel. There, Shabbat begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. Everything stops – nothing is open, few cars are on the road, people walk to their local synagogue. Much of Friday is spent preparing for Shabbat since once it begins, people don’t do anything that involves “work”: certainly no email, but also no cooking, no cleaning, no writing, not even flipping a light switch. In high-rise buildings the elevators become Shabbat elevators, stopping on every floor so that no one has to “work” to push an elevator button. But no one sees this as an imposition; no one complains about not being able to check email, or to go into work for a few hours, or to go shopping.

In fact, the Sabbath is anticipated with longing and eagerness. Friday evening Shabbat services are filled with an almost palpable joy. After lighting Shabbat candles at home, people walk to their local synagogue and there engage in a joyous liturgy. At one point in the service, the entire congregation turns to the back of the sanctuary and visibly welcomes the Sabbath, like a bride coming down the altar. On Saturday, no one feels guilty for taking a nap, for reading quietly for a couple of hours, or for sitting at the dinner table and not worrying about doing the dishes. (Note: my growing up years in Ft. Worth, Sundays were pretty much like this!)

After I returned from Israel, I started to wonder: how can I create Sabbath for myself? Over the years, I have periodically created different ways to observe the Sabbath. I’ve found several books that have guided me along the way: Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “The Sabbath” gave me grounding in Sabbath-keeping from a Jewish perspective. Walter Brueggemann’s “Sabbath as Resistance” confirmed Sabbath-keeping as an alternative to our prevailing culture. And Marva Dawn’s “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting”, provided me with practical considerations, especially given that observing a day of rest in our culture is decidedly counter-cultural, and so it requires intention and practice.

I’m of the mind that observing a holy Sabbath is something I want to choose to do – to do it with intention, and with care and (most of all) with joy. In Genesis we read: “And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:2-3)

As Walter Brueggemann puts it: “God declared a work stoppage!” So, I’ve decided that one day a week, I need to just stop and let God bless the day. I need to cease trying to be productive or trying to accomplish something. I need to set aside the to-do list.

Also, I need to rest. I give myself permission to take a nap on Sunday afternoons. I give myself permission to go for a walk that is not an “exercise” walk. I sit on my back porch and listen to the birds. Marva Dawn writes: “The movement from ceasing to resting is the movement from idolatry to faith.” My aim is to make my Sabbath a day that nourishes and strengthens my faith.

In all this, I’m mindful that the task is to be intentional, but not rigid. As Jesus reminded his followers: “the Sabbath is made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath.” Not to be burdened by rules, but rather to imagine what my life looks like when I’m most fully alive. Surely it is good for us to spend one day week being fully alive. What can I do on the Sabbath that is an authentic expression of who I am, living fully and faithfully?

I hope I will always seek ways to keep the Sabbath holy AND wholly: to rest, to feast on music and scripture and sermon, to call a friend, to take a walk, and to let the Sabbath carry me deeply into the heart and purposes of God.

Shabbat Shalom.

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