Stealing Back Sabbath Series: Sabbath Discipline
I’m so excited share the first post in our “Stealing Back Sabbath” series!
My friend and fellow writer Kate Rademacher is launching us, and I’m certain you’ll enjoy her sabbath perspective as a recent convert to Christianity.
Read, share, spread the love.
Questions for Kate? Post them in the comments section below!
As much as I felt a profound and joyous homecoming when I was baptized in my mid-thirties, I knew that there were bound to be some disappointments with the realities of daily life in the church. I was not naive. Yet the element of Christian living that has surprised me more than any other has not been what I imagined. It has not been any kind of minor or major scandal, theological conundrum, or difficult congregational dynamic. Instead, the biggest surprise has been discovering that many Christians do not seem to observe the Sabbath.
I adopted a Sabbath practice several years before my actual conversion. At that time, my buffet approach to spirituality consisted of a patchwork quilt of miscellaneous, hand-picked rituals. Inspired by Wayne Muller’s ecumenical book, Sabbath, I had committed to setting aside twenty-four hours each week to rest. The rules I adopted were no chores, no email, no phone, no errands, no Facebook, no “to do” lists. My hunger for the Sabbath had emerged out of the exhaustion I felt at trying to juggle the relentless demands of a busy career with family and community life. I knew there had to be a better way, and I had an inkling that a discipline of rest was at the core of what was missing in my life.
But I was lonely in my practice. So after Jesus showed up unexpectedly in my life a few years later and called me to Him, I was excited to know that by joining the church, I would have companions and support for my Sabbath observance.
Yet at coffee hour each week, I was surprised to find that conversations often concluded with, “Well, I’m heading home to correct my students’ papers.” “I’m off now to go grocery shopping.” “Come on kids, we have to go to the mall to buy you new shoes.” It seems that Sundays are generally treated like any other day. Even though during church, we kneel together in prayer, reciting the Decalogue. “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy,” the priest pronounces. “Amen. Lord have mercy,” we respond in unison.
Part of me feels silly that I’ve experienced this as such a disappointment. It is not as if people were saying cheerfully at coffee hour, “Well, I’m off to sleep with my friend’s wife this afternoon!” Yet aren’t we being told that observing the Sabbath is just as much a commandment as the prohibition against adultery? It seems that there is an unspoken agreement that this commandment is less important than the others. I am sad about this. I don’t want to be on a pick-and-choose spiritual path any more. Part of the appeal of religious life is the structure it provides that forces me to bang up against the edges of what feels comfortable and grow deeper in my faith through that process. I want the constraints and gifts that come with prescribed discipline.
And so I have remained committed to my Sabbath practice. I find that the Sabbath is one of my best—and often hardest— teachers. Surprisingly, I frequently feel unsettled on the Sabbath; I think all of the anxiety I try hard to keep at bay during the week tends to catch up with me on a day when there’s nothing to do. Yet I also discover all of the benefits of a day without work. For example, my Sabbath practice changes the way I parent. I end up squatting with my daughter on our front walkway smashing quartz stones with a hammer for no good reason except that she asked me to, instead of herding her though a day full of draining errands. And the Sabbath helps me discover God in quiet, unexpected moments. When I am chomping to end my practice an hour early so that I can send a quick email, I force myself to take a walk instead. And on the walk, I see a sky overhead with purple streaked clouds and a golden sunset. I never would have looked up without the Sabbath. I never would have found God there, in that moment.
The Sabbath reminds me that God’s creation was not complete until tranquility was injected into our world. The Sabbath challenges all of my conceptions that we work, create, achieve entirely under our own volition. The Sabbath helps me confront my assumptions that there are no limits on what I can and should be doing; I am reminded that the constraints in my life are often central to God’s plan for me.
And so, in my first few years as a Christian convert, I have taken small steps toward creating a Sabbath support network. I have a Sabbath buddy from church; we meet each month to talk about how our practices are going and to share where we get stuck. My priests are big champions of the Sabbath, and I look to them for reminders that following God’s commandments is not an opt-in, opt-out arrangement. And I pray to God for help. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, I am told. “Amen. Lord have mercy.”
Kate Rademacher lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She was baptized and confirmed into the Episcopal Church in 2012.
10 thoughts on “Stealing Back Sabbath Series: Sabbath Discipline”
Lovely, Kate. Especially the part about what it means to not be on a “pick & choose” path. Thanks!
Thanks for reading and commenting, Stacye!
Great post Kate! Very convicting. Thanks for doing this series Dana!
Isn’t it, Laura? 🙂
I’m so grateful for Kate’s experience, her insight, and her willingness to share it.
Hope you all are well, Laura! Thanks for reading this series.
I really enjoyed this writing. There is a great spiritual tradition in many faiths around the Sabbath and its refreshing to hear about your experiences internally, and with other people of faith.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Steve!
Dear Dana, I am honored and grateful that you found my book “Sabbath” to be a fruitful beginning for your own Sabbath pilgrimage. I tried to explore as many aspects of Sabbath as possible, not so much to create a department-store feel for the day, but to offer as many invitations as I could imagine, so that each person might find their way in, their first step. And to soften the legalism that frightens so many people away from what is essentially a gift of Grace, Mercy and Delight from God – and not just another to-do list of spiritual assignments. Clearly your life has borne a great harvest, and much good fruit, for yourself and for those you teach. Thank you so much for your companionship on this journey together. Shalom, Wayne Muller
Thank you for commenting!
It is Kate Rademacher, the author of this guest post, who brought your book to my attention. I have not read it yet (only its synopsis), but have added it to a growing list of helpful sabbath resources. I can’t wait to dive in, and it means so much that you’ve taken the time to read and share your thoughts on this article. I know Kate will be delighted!
I agree with your stance to soften the legalism of sabbath-keeping in order to keep it invitational and welcoming, as oppose to guilt-ridden. It seems that with more and more to do each year, our cultures is in dire need of this sort of alternative time. I’m grateful for your witness to that point.
All best and deep peace,
Many thanks for reading the post and for your comments. As I mention in the blog, your book “Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives” has had a profound and transformative impact on my life. As part of my Sabbath practice each week, I typically read a short excerpt from your book. I am reminded by your writing that, “God does not want us to be exhausted,” and I have felt invited to experience the Sabbath as a day of delight, sensuality and rest rather than a day of “dreary legalism.” Just this past weekend, I enjoyed reflecting on your image that “forgetting the Sabbath is like forgetting to unwrap the most beautiful gift under the tree.” Thank you for this reminder!
As I write in my post, I’ve found that it is so important to have community to support one another in our Sabbath practices, to hold each other accountable, to share Sabbath rituals and joys and insights with each other. Thank you again for your book which has been a wonderful companion on this journey.
PS: The link to Wayne’s book:
Your struggle with your Sabbath practice and then the rewards are so evident
in your writing and in the grace with which you live your life.
love always, pam