Monthly Archives: October 2012

Sabbath in the Suburbs: January (chapter 6)


In this chapter we’re reminded of a couple of things that I think it’s easy to forget.

1: Sabbath means “stop” in Hebrew. to literally stop.

2: sometimes we are forced to stop–our bodies just say “enough” and we have to rest, and it turns out that’s not the end of the world.

Have you ever had this experience? What was it like–to have to change plans, cancel things, and just lay around and let an illness or injury take its course? The forced-rest can be infuriating, but it can also offer some perspective.

And perspective is part of what Sabbath offers–we change our experience of time one day a week, and in so doing we find that our perspective on the rest of the week’s time is also changed. “Through Sabbath, we can learn the difference between urgent and important.” (p72) Sometimes, what’s important is to curl up with a book and a mug of tea, and let time float by unheeded. Sometimes what’s important is to sit and stare out the window or into the fire, and allow some space for the Spirit to speak, rather than constantly doing things (however fun those things might be!). Martha and Mary, both important.

The key to the Mary and Martha story, of course, is in one little word: distracted. Martha was distracted by her many tasks, which means that she was not present in that moment–she was thinking only of all the things she needed to do and of her resentment at having to do them. She was living in the to-do list, not in the presence of Jesus. So the story of MaryAnn’s husband Robert spending part of a Sabbath making a firewood rack can sound like it was work on the Sabbath, but it was so different from his usual routine AND he was so present in the moment of the experience–not thinking how irritating it was, or what materials he’d have to run out and get, or what the next thing on the list might be–that it turned out to be Sabbath-like because of its novelty and accessibility. This is NOT the same thing as doing a project you’ve been planning a long time and have to prepare a lot to do!

So often we are busy anticipating the next thing we have to do, or our minds are full of the minutia or frustration or judgment of the situation at hand, that our tasks–however holy and just and righteous they may appear–are not Sabbath. Beware the trap of doing good works and neglecting the commandments! (I’m pretty sure someone said that once before….)

How can you make some room for the “holy surprises” God might have in store?

Sabbath in the Suburbs, chapter 5 (December)


It’s never too early to be contemplating how packed December is. (is it?) One of the things we’ve discovered at church is that we often want to have special events during Advent, special short-term small groups or more worship/prayer opportunities or extra fellowship times. But the reality is that we’re all so busy that it just ends up feeling like a harried season, not like it’s extra-spiritual.

So, how can we bring the Spirit back into Advent and Christmas? (rather than the spirit of consumption and of frenzied-hurrying, which we already have plenty of!)

MaryAnn mentions two studies in this chapter: One that found that we get more pleasure from “spending a little bit of money on experiences than spending extravagant money on objects”–in other words, that we get more enjoyment out of the gift of experience than we do out of the gift of stuff, and that the pleasure we get from those experiences lasts longer than the pleasure of the things. (p55) In addition, we know that quality time spent with people we love can be so much more valuable than a trinket wrapped in pretty paper. Has this been your experience? What is an “experience” gift that keeps on giving in your memory? What about a tangible object gift?

The second study was about the Good Samaritan. This study found that the major difference between those who stop to help someone who is suffering and those who walk on by is…hurrying. Those in a hurry don’t register the need until they are past the person. It’s a distressing realization when we think that our perpetually full schedules may be causing us to miss out on loving our neighbors. Have you ever felt like you didn’t have time to help someone in distress?

What would it mean to slow down everything you do–to do errands slowly, to saunter around the grocery store, to drive the speed limit, to simply experience every moment and every person around you? Perhaps try it out for the weekend and see whether it makes a difference in how you view the world, how you love your neighbor, or in your own spiritual life. Can you find a little sense of the wonder of the Incarnate God in the world around you, if you stop hurrying for a little while?

How might you approach Advent this year–to leave space for the Spirit to move, not only for everything to get done? (Like MaryAnn and her family, one way I do this is by not decorating and not sending cards. That approach won’t work for everyone, but I bet you can find someplace where some Sabbath can creep in!)

Sabbath in the Suburbs, chapter 4 (November)


In this chapter we discover the potential joy of the “unintentional.” What if Sabbath involved simply doing whatever comes to mind, rather than planning to go-have-fun? Could a day spent in pajamas, making homemade pizza or bread-machine-bread, coloring or reading and avoiding the screens be a balance to our lives that have so much input all the time? We are so often going, so often doing, so often receiving information (the average American sees nearly 5,000 ads per day!)…no wonder things are off-kilter in both our lives and our communities. Taking some time to seek balance is an important practice. And then finding ways to bring that Sabbath-mindfulness into our everyday lives is the next step! As MaryAnn says, “holy and blessed moments don’t happen unless I am present.” (p39)

One of the most common phrases we hear (and say!) is “I don’t have time.”

“I don’t have time to take a whole day off.”

“I don’t have time to go to the fair/take a walk/exercise/cook a healthy meal/visit someone who’s sick/spend time in prayer/etc.”

“I don’t have time to go to church/sing in the choir/volunteer at the food pantry/teach Sunday School.”

“I don’t have time for rest…I’ll rest when I’m dead.”

Yeah. Newsflash: if that is REALLY true, you’ll probably be dead sooner than you should be!

Does anyone really have time? MaryAnn suggests that really, it’s time that has us. What might that mean? What happens if we think about the fact that we belong to God…the creator of time…the one who took a day off…the one who commands us to take a day off? How might that affect our understanding of time and its role in our lives?

Neither I nor MaryAnn wants to minimize the reality that there are people for whom taking Sabbath is economically or otherwise impossible, or at least very costly. That is true. It is also true that we are prone to believe that reality when in fact it is not True (with a capital T). We often have an exaggerated sense of our importance, or our anxiety, or our financial reality, or any number of other things that contribute to our feeling that we can’t just rest for a while. Perhaps some time spent in prayer would help us identify where we are TRULY indispensable and where we might find 4 or 8 or 24 hours to rest in the glory of God’s care instead of always being in charge of everything ourselves.

What do you think? How can you bring some balance into your life? Where can you find some opportunities for rest? What is holding you back?

Sabbath in the Suburbs: chapter 3, October


In this chapter we encounter our current reality: October is a busy month, with Halloween and lots of activities and possibilities and church opportunities and what’s likely to be the last of the nice weather, not to mention the craziness of election season. And all of this meets what is essentially the monotony of life as well–we’re into the routine of the school/program year, we’re just about to get tired of the same packed lunches or the same routine of the day-in-day-out.

What would happen if we started thinking of the routine not as monotony, not as a rut, but as liturgy? The work of the people, repeated ritually because it provides a framework for understanding our lives as part of God’s creation, as part of God’s community, as part of God’s kingdom plan? How can our daily liturgy be more God-focused? How can we live Sabbathly in the midst of what feels like a day-in-day-out follow-the-plan? (Some of you may not experience the joys and the boredom that come with routine, for any number of reasons–but I suspect many of us can relate to the reality of simply doing the same things we did yesterday, or last Friday, or whatever…)

There are two keys to this, at least in this chapter.

1. Delight. Do I delight in what I am doing right now? Isaiah (and other parts of the Bible too) describe keeping the Sabbath, and keeping God’s law, as a delight. What is something you find delightful? How can that feeling be a part of the Sabbath experience?

2. Boundaries. We may not love the idea of boundaries, but we all need them. To keep a Sabbath practice will require some boundaries–the when/what kind, mostly. How long will Sabbath be, and when? And what kind of things are permissible during your Sabbath time, and what are not? The key to making boundaries is to have them be flexible enough, but not too much so. We don’t want to be transgressing our boundaries all the time–that’s not healthy in any other relationship, so why would it be healthy in a spiritual practice? If the practice is going to transform us, we need to be committed to keeping it as much as possible (and maybe even a little more than we think is possible–that stretching and sacrifice can be good for us!). MaryAnn uses a metaphor our spirituality professor in seminary used–boundary as shoreline. Where water meets land is a flexible line, changing and yet not. How does that kind of image feel to you? What boundaries do you need to put on your Sabbath practice, and how can you keep them?

One of the questions that often comes up about Sabbath is similar to what Ann asked in last week’s post: what constitutes work? If I love to play a musical instrument, and I practice for an upcoming performance, is that Sabbath or work? If I love to read, and I read a book that is related to my job but also brings me intellectual pleasure, is that Sabbath or work? Etc Etc Etc. I think the key to the boundary list here is that each of us needs to decide for ourselves what those boundaries are. In the September chapter MaryAnn chooses to define “work” as “activity that changes one’s environment”–so refraining from work on the Sabbath meant giving up trying to change things. That may not be a definition that works for you, but I confess I kind of like it. Since so much of our lives are about trying to change things–to make the world better, to change people’s minds, to change our bodies, to improve ourselves, etc–it seems like one day a week when we trust GOD to change things, rather than relying on our own effort, is about right.

But as the Dana family learned in October, sometimes even just having fun can be all too much as well. Their Halloween Sabbath turned out to be exhausting, and they discovered that it’s possible to not do any work and to still feel as if the day was “consumed rather than experienced.” Have you ever felt that way?

We all know this practice is hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it and there’d be no need for books about time management or sabbath keeping or stress relief. But it is worthwhile, and commanded (for a reason), so figuring these things out are a part of our practice too. And for those who feel it might just be too late to start a Sabbath practice–it’s never too late. At the end of the chapter MaryAnn mentions that though we have lofty dreams for our kids (I would add even for the people we work with, teach, interact with, etc), the best way to plant those seeds is to live those dreams ourselves. If we want our children to have some balance in their lives, to appreciate what they have, to be generous, to have confidence and humility in equal measure, to practice faith, to live gratefully, to be compassionate, to understand the power of time away from work….we have to practice those things. And for those of you without children at home, think of this in the same way we Presbyterians are fond of thinking about evangelism–we often say that it’s about how we live, and people will notice that we live differently (or have more inner peace or joy or whatever). That only works if we actually live differently. Here’s an opportunity to try it out.

What do you think? How do you define work? What boundaries can you put around your Sabbath time? What do you hope people might notice about you when it comes to your faith-life? 

Was there anything else in this chapter that made you think, or wonder, or just take note?

online book group: Sabbath In The Suburbs, chapter 2


In chapter 2 we get into some of the nuts and bolts of Sabbath keeping–especially the When and the What.

WHEN: “Sabbath is more than a day; it’s a mindset” (p12) and “Jesus certainly wasn’t strict about the Sabbath; he violated it all the time for worthwhile things” (p13) makes it seem like really any time could be sabbath. But there’s something about setting aside a regular time–one day a week–that matters. Does it matter if it’s Tuesday or Saturday? No. What matters is that it’s on the calendar every week. Do things come up? Yes…but then “we’ll move it, not let it go.” (p12) While we’re usually wishing for more time or more days, Sabbath requires actually reducing the number of hours available to do/go/produce more. What might that mean for our jobs? Our housework? Our expectations of ourselves? Our expectations of others?

Is there a day of the week that you could set aside? What are the barriers to marking that time as separate from the rest of the week?

WHAT: what constitutes work? If we’re not going to be as strict as the Orthodox Jews (who even prohibit tearing off toilet paper on the Sabbath–they pre-tear!), but we also don’t want to get onto the slippery “well, I’ll just do this one thing!” or “no, really, I like checking my work email!” slope, how will we make a definition? Because if Sabbath time is going to be defined, have boundaries, then what we do with that time needs similar boundaries. The boundary MaryAnn’s family settles on is “any activity that changes one’s environment. So Sabbath would be a day of giving up trying to change things.” (p15) This means no housework or yardwork, no self-improvement-projects, no persuasive/provocative facebook posts, no fixing things via email. It means just letting it be. The work, and the world in need of help, will still be there tomorrow. Opinions to change, spaces to tidy, those last 5 pounds, and the leaves on the yard will still be there. For a little while, we can stop pushing and start being.

Often we go-go-go until something causes us to drop–an illness, a tragedy, a more pressing need. Could we cultivate the awareness of life’s beauty, of wonder, of love and hope and joy, of truly important things, without that massive break? “I wonder if Sabbath can be that reminder for us, every single week, under more mundane circumstances.” (p16)

Have you ever had one of those stop-and-realize moments, where you saw true priorities or recognized things of real value? Can you imagine keeping those at the forefront every week, rather than waiting to be forcibly reminded?

One of the things MaryAnn did was coin a new term–the idea of living Sabbathly. This is about acting like it’s the Sabbath–to act our way into a new way of living. Can we act as children do–as if we have all the time in the world? (could that be part of what Jesus meant when he said we need to become like a child?) Can we be mindful and live in the present, rather than always rushing ahead (or anticipating) the next thing? And, since the root of Sabbath is gratitude and focus on God’s gift–can we live Sabbathly by turning our attention to God’s gracious invitation to abundant life, rather than to our harried attempt to control and change life?

How can you, this week, try to live more Sabbathly? Just choose one area, and post it in the comments (for inspiration and for accountability). Let us know how it goes, too!