When keeping Sabbath, simply rest


By Cecile S. Holmes
From Interpreter Online

Bishop Linda Lee
Bishop Linda Lee

Bishop Linda Lee sets aside one day a week as Sabbath, devoting that time to prayer, reading, writing and reflection. She does the same each morning, cherishing silence and solitude with God.

"I believe the Sabbath is so important because of the depth of relationship," says Lee, who leads the Wisconsin Area. "I believe it allows anyone who practices on a regular basis a way of having an ongoing and ever deepening and widening and magnificent relationship with God."

Setting aside Sabbath time, she says, empowers the practitioner to be in the world for God with disenfranchised people who need to know God is with them.

A biblical mandate since Old Testament times, the concept of Sabbath – a time of resting with God – and the keeping of it have a long history in Jewish and Christian tradition. "You can see that they have both named the keeping of the Sabbath as a significant practice," says Lauren Winner, assistant professor of Christian spirituality at Duke University's Divinity School and author of Mudhouse Sabbath.

Stepping away

In America, Sabbath was important in colonial times, but most laws associated with its observance waned in the late 20th century. Legally enforcing them would make little sense in today's pluralistic United States.

But there is much to be said for stepping out of the regular hustle and bustle of life, Winner says.

Seekers of Sabbath time set their clocks differently, with some turning them off altogether. Many seek the time daily in 30- to 60-minute intervals of rest and reflection. But most say that really isn't enough, particularly for people who see their daily lives and work as ministry.

Those Sabbath keepers also recognize Sunday no longer is Sabbath in the way it once was for Christians who nowadays find themselves attending soccer games, grading papers and making and freezing a week's worth of dinners on Sundays. But, they say, finding several hours to an entire day each week for Sabbath is essential.

The Rev.Dan Gildner finds keeping Sabbath returns him to life's rhythms, patterns natural in the farming community where he preaches and pastors at Lewisburg (Ohio) United Methodist Church.

"For me, Sabbath begins Thursday night, after the kids are in bed – I have a young family – and lasts until Friday evening after dinner," he says.

Gildner takes this time seriously.

Relate, delight, reflect, rest

"I turn off any electronics that might distract me. I try to spend time with relationships that give me life. I try to nap. I stop anything that reminds me that I am what Iproduce.The second part is to rest, just as God did in our creation.

"The other two are delighting and reflecting. Delighting is where you give yourself permission to enjoy the things that God has given you. On my Sabbath, I like to read. Some people I know like to work in the garden. That doesn't give me life. The last one is reflection."

Gildner has set aside Sabbath time for seven years. Lee has been doing it for more than 20 years. Sue Engle, a United Methodist laywoman, moved into a Sabbath rhythm, after spending two years in The Upper Room's Academy for Spiritual Formation, which included a week of training every quarter.

"Sabbath rest was very much a part of it," Engle says.

"I was used to external markers that told you how were doing. I had a lot of clients as an accountant. That was how I knew how I was doing," she continues.

Now, as program director for Benton (Ky.) United Methodist Church and a ministry resources consultant for the Paducah district of the Memphis Conference, Engle finds, "Everything is so different. I felt a sense of frustration because I didn't have those familiar markers."

She has learned that "our identity as children of God is absolutely based in God's nature, not what we do. Sabbath rest gets you the opportunity to come back to that place."

The church's more penitential seasons, such as Advent and Lent, point particularly to believers' needs for Sabbath, for time away from the workaday world. For Lee, Advent is a time to reflect on the Incarnation.

Let go to engage more

And, Lent is "a season of letting go so that God can use me more fully when Lent is over," she says. "Early on, I gave up certain foods, such as foods that were not good for me. As time went on, I discovered that there were other things that I needed to give up, such as anger or fear. I began to look more at the spiritual places that I needed to let go of something, than the physical places; (I began) being able to focus more on what God is calling me to do in ministry."

Cecile S. Holmes, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications, is a veteran religion writer and the author of Four Women, Three Faiths. Her web site is www.cecileholmes.com.

Tips for starting Sabbath time

In our overwrought, overworked, socially networked society, we need Sabbath, but many wonder how to find time for it.

Experts recommend:

  • Start small. Choose a specific time to begin, perhaps during Lent.
  • Set aside four hours the first week.
  • Add one hour each week. (By the end of the sixth week of Lent, you'll spend a whole day in Sabbath.)
  • Consider observing Sabbath with a close friend, prayer partner, your family, a neighbor or a small group in your spiritual community. If you don't have a ready made ally, ask someone to become your teammate.
  • Incorporate stopping, resting, delighting and reflecting. For more detailed suggestions, the Rev. Dan Gildner recommends Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero.
  • Make Sabbath time part of your daily – and annual – routine. Begin and end the day with a few minutes of prayer and reflection. Invest a few days annually in a retreat.
  • Don't forget to nap. It reminds us that we're human. It helps the body recalibrate.