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.