Over the last three weeks I have suggested that a biblical understanding of the Sabbath involves much more than choosing what not to do one day a week. Instead it offers a set of values that are intrinsically counter-cultural, reverberating in individual, familial, communal, national, and global contexts, with implications for the
In some very compelling ways, a biblical Sabbath offers a picture of God’s intention for all of creation, and is a vision of God’s preferred future.
That can all feel pretty abstract, talking about economic and social values, theorizing about the nature of time and what constitutes the good life. At the end of the day, Sabbath practice is about Sabbath living. It offers a window through which to glimpse a “different order of time,” as Judith Shulevitz said. It also offers a doorway through which we can enter into that different order of time, where we can actively cultivate the Sabbath values of presence, connection, and delight in our lives.
So this week I will offer some concrete and practical suggestions for how you might make space in your lives for this kind of weekly apprenticeship. I will frame my suggestions around the three values listed above: presence, connection, delight.
The Sabbath is about time. It intends to reveal to us how warped and unhealthy our relationship to time is. Our view of time is steeped in aggressively linear and economic analogies that promote speed and efficiency. It teaches us to break time into controllable bits we can manage on a calendar.
The Sabbath wants to bring us into the present moment, which of course is the only moment that truly exists, the only moment in which we can live. The past and present do not exist outside of our memories and fears. But in our age of distraction and escapism, we rarely find ourselves truly present anywhere. The Sabbath can help!
- Cover up all of the clocks in your house each Sabbath to create a “timeless” day. Your experience of time will thus be shaped by the sun and your body’s desires (hunger, restlessness, thirst, fatigue). Notice what happens in you when the clock can’t rule your life. How do you (or your family members) respond to this adjustment? Discuss!
- Practice Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Hour-Long Cup of Tea.” Practice being truly present to, and fully delighting in a cup of tea (or coffee, hot chocolate, etc.) for an entire hour.
- Read poetry. Slowly. Repeatedly. Out loud. Attend to the words. Learn to see the world as the poet does. Some recommendations: Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, David Whyte, Ross Gay, Lynn Ungar, Ada Limón. See also the anthology Poetry of Presence.
- Put your phone/devices on airplane mode and stick them in a drawer. For the whole day. Every week.
The Sabbath is like a doorway that weekly ushers us into more immediate and generative encounters. It slows us down and teaches us more fully to inhabit our own lives—apart from distractions and our work identities (whether we have jobs or not). When we learn to be more present to our lives, we do so in particular places and with particular people.
Further, a Sabbath framework celebrates the intrinsic value and uniqueness of each element of God’s good creation — land, animal, human, and celestial. The Sabbath is an invitation to truly connect with each part of creation, in order to deepen our gratitude and wonder of the Creator.
I try to connect in four directions on my Sabbaths. Upward (with God), inward (with self), outward (with others), and downward (with the earth). They can happen altogether, or in activities designed for a specific kind of connection.
- Journal (“inward” and “upward”):
- What am I grateful for today?
- What do I sense the Spirit calling me to cease from?
- Why do I say “yes” when I want to say “no,” and visa versa?
- What core belief/story influenced my response/reaction to ____ situation?
- Go for a walk in creation (“downward” and “upward”; “outward” if with others, “inward” if alone).
- A park, a beach, a mountain hike, a lake, a forest, a field, etc.
- Notice colors, smells, sounds, sights, textures. Soak it all in and delight in the beauty you notice.
- Cook a meal with spouse/family/friends, made of ingredients raised locally and sustainably/humanely raised (preferably with food you bought directly from farmers; “outward” and “downward”).
- Practice Creative Play with family/friends (“inward” and “outward”)
- Draw something with your foot or mouth or non-dominant hand (emphasis on creativity and play, not on perfection or doing it “right” or “best”)
- Make up a game together and play it.
- Play a favorite game from your childhood—and play it as if you were still that same child!
Delight is that elusive rush of energy and presence experienced by a human being fully alive to the moment. It is often experienced when someone partakes of an activity that brings them great joy, that is often shared with people whom they love, for authentic connection multiplies delight.
Here my suggestion is three-fold:
- Write down all of the activities, places, people, experiences, or opportunities in which you delight.
- Write down the barriers you have set up in your life or heart that prevent you from experiencing delight. This could be a belief (I don’t deserve delight/happiness), a habit (self-sabotage), your relationship to time (too busy, too many commitments or responsibilities), etc.
- Design a Sabbath-day experience that makes space for you to experience something from #1 above, by resolving a barrier you listed in #2. On your next Sabbath, pick another one from each list!
The Sabbath is, above all, a gift from God to each of us and all of creation. Receive the day, in all its giftedness. And as you do, may you grow in presence, connection, and delight as you are apprenticed in the ways of God by the Sabbath.
What Sabbath practices have you found life-giving? How have you explored Sabbath living in your own context? Add your suggestions to the comments below!
A version of this post originally appeared on the blog Retreat Where You Are, maintained by the Mount Olivet Conference and Retreat Center. It is repeated here, with some modifications, with their approval.