Sabbath as noun

“The Sabbath, I said, is not only an idea. It is also something you keep. With other people.”
– Judith Shulevitz

This is an excellent post by Lavonne Neff, one of my new favorite reads. Like her, I commend Abraham Heschel’s book on the Sabbath to anyone, and hearing her rank this new offering as second to his in the must-read category certainly gets my attention.Unlike her, I have never been a part of a faith community that takes the Sabbath seriously. I have been with people who don’t even mention the idea apart from some Sunday School lessons given to children, as well as with people for whom the Sabbath has evolved to a verb, as in “I am sabbathing today”, with the emphasis on the “I”.

The understanding of the Sabbath as an individual pursuit in contrast with a communal celebration has bothered me. Shulevitz’s book appears to address this, and I am eagerly placing my Amazon order now.


  1. On an impulse just checked out Scott M’s–unconvincing–attempts to enlighten Glen Beck’s audience and ended up here.

    Who knew.

    Your post and links are a lot to consider. I’m not sure most people are going to read through all of it, but it’s always important to try.

    I loved the idea of community and wine as a kind of sabbath. Never thought of it that way.

    I was raised in southern European culture where small children are introduced to wine as soon as possible and taught how to do it responsibly. All part of taking a needed break, but all of it in the context of other people.

    My son smokes pot in our house and among his friends from time to time for the same reasons. I have no problem with that. I don’t like the taste or smell of pot personally, but I don’t see how it’s any different from drinking wine.

    I live in Denver. We’re now–according to many news reports–the medical marijuana capital of the U.S. Or, in other words, people here are leading the way in creating a new kind of sabbath–if only from physical pain–that’s a lot less destructive than alcohol or more serious pain killing drugs. Many prescribed meds are far more toxic.

    My son and I would be thrown out of any evangelical church I know of because we’re open to pot.

    In an ideal world just focusing on Jesus and breathing more deeply from time to time and taking one day off a week to celebrate with friends and family would do the trick.

    We don’t live in an ideal world.

    I’ve always been more interested in practical outcomes that do good for people in their actual environment as opposed to moralistic religious ideologies. I once thought the latter would lead somewhat regularly to the former, but I’ve learned differently over the years through experience.

    I’ve often thought that if Jesus and the disciples had smoked a little pot at the last supper instead of drinking wine we’d have an entirely different cultural history. DEA agents would be putting Napa Valley wine drinkers in federal prison by day and smoking some sabbath sativa by night to relax a bit and get a good sleep.

    I guess it comes down to making a call–like Jesus did–about who is keeping the real spirit of the sabbath.

  2. Erika, have you read Marva Dawn’s “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly”? It came highly recommended and I have it on my bookshelf, but have yet to read it.

    Shulevitz gave a great interview on NPR’s Fresh Air and I’m intrigued to read her book as well.

    I first started observing the Sabbath regularly in college — taking a break from studies, mostly — and have kept it as a discipline since. But for most of the time, I have understood it individualistically, much in the same way you mentioned in your post. My language reflected this with, “I’m taking a Sabbath,” or, “On my Sabbath.” Really the Sabbath I have kept and continue to keep looks more like a day off rather than what I think a biblical person would recognize as an actual observance of the Sabbath.

    In a class during seminary we had an assignment to keep the Sabbath one weekend — ironic I know, but really helpful. Part of the instructions included that we should make it communal and include worship. I think communal worship is also missed in my individualistic notion of Sabbath. I was surprised by how many of my classmates said they couldn’t observe the Sabbath. They could not take a day to rest. It was really heartbreaking, actually, to see people refuse a gift of grace from God. On a funnier note, we did read an article in which the author brings up the topic of Sabbath and her friends said and even joked that they couldn’t possibly set aside a day to rest and worship. The author wondered, do we say this about any of the other Ten Commandments? Do we say, “There is no possible way I cannot stop killing my neighbors or stealing their stuff?”

    Of course, how ministers observe the Sabbath is also an issue and one I have not fully resolved.

  3. Tyler, thanks for sharing your own experience with understanding the Sabbath. I have heard of Marva Dawn’s book but do not own it. I will try to check it out!

  4. Tom,
    You bring up a great point of what Jesus does with/says about the Sabbath, and what the right spirit is of the observance. Honestly, I have mostly only questions at this point…

  5. Questions and honest observation are always a good place to start.

    I obviously have limited respect at this point for people that make their living via religion. I’ve felt that way for a long time. I guess I’m a late bloomer, at least in that respect.

    That’s a perspective that’s been hard won over many years in religious communities.

    You and your readers may or may not respect that.

    You’ve created an opportunity for people like me to speak up.

    Thanks. I’m going to take advantage of that opportunity.

    If you don’t want my input just let me know. You don’t exactly seem to have legions of followers here. Maybe you’ll welcome it. Maybe not.

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