Just a quick update—the Sabbath Project book proposal was accepted! There are plenty of details still to be worked out, but the upshot is, I’m writing a book about Sabbath-keeping generally, and our family’s experience of Sabbath specifically, over the next several months.
I am still trying to decide what the fate of this little blog will be. I do most of my writing at The Blue Room now, and may move all this stuff over there for the sake of continuity.
Well, the blog has been dormant but the Sabbath work continues as always. A couple of months ago I submitted a book proposal on Sabbath-keeping and families to a publishing house. We are now in the waiting game, but if that proposal is accepted, expect this space to become lively again with thoughts and updates as I write the book.
I just got back from a week of Sabbath (vacation) with my family up in Maine. One of the books I read (during the days and days and days of rain) was Debbie Blue’s From Stone to Living Word: Letting the Bible Live Again. The book is so beautifully written that just reading it is an experience of Sabbath in itself, but there is also a section on Sabbath. My favorite quotes:
The work that’s forbidden [during the traditional Jewish Sabbath] is any work in which you interfere with nature and act as if you are master over it. You are not supposed to pluck a single blade of grass… You could think it’s all sort of crazy and too much, but I can see how giving one whole day a week to doing all these things, or rather, not doing all these things, could actually change the world. All week you step on bugs, you trample grass, you ignore, change, destroy, use, exert your force all over the place. But on this day you pay attention… you pay attention to every living thing, and you allow it to live.
…It would be good for the world to have to observe the Sabbath, a day of rest where everyone tries not to exert their force on the world, and is grateful to God, and tries not to squash any life, not even bugs, and all the malls and the fast-food restaurants and TVs are shut down. It seems like the world would be about a thirty-thousand-times better place.
This is not specifically Sabbath-related, but I consider our dinnertime practice a moment of Sabbath in the midst of our busy days. One of the practices in our house is to share during the meal our most favorite and least favorite moments in the day. We use a practice called mutual invitation, in which one person starts, then invites the next person. The next person can speak or pass, but in either case they invite someone else, and so forth. I like mutual invitation because it is more welcoming than calling on someone. It gives people the option to pass, though Robert is the only one who ever does (usually because he’s too busy feeding James to reflect on his day).
This is our kid-friendly version of the Ignatian examen. As the kids get older, I imagine the questions will grow with them.
The kids are always interested in hearing Mommy and Daddy’s ideas, especially our least favorite moments. It’s good to model that adults have low moments, make mistakes, and have times when they’re not at their best. Still, I have often wondered whether this is something that mattered more to me than to my poor little preacher’s kids who have had this thing inflicted on them.
About two months ago, Margaret was having trouble sleeping. She got up once because she was too warm. After getting her settled again, she got up a second time. I could feel myself getting ready to scold when she said, “We didn’t do most favorite/least favorite at dinner tonight!” I walked her back to bed, suspicious of this as a blatant stalling technique, but I listened to her tell me about her day. I sat in the corner of the room for a few minutes, and sure enough, she was asleep within 2 minutes.
Image is Family Dinner by Yael Bruria Aviezer
I highly recommend BBTs latest book. Even independent of what she says, the way she says it is so sumptuous that reading the book is an experience of Sabbath in itself. Here is just one morsel from her chapter on “The Practice of Saying No”:
The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth wrote, ‘A being is free only when it can determine and limit its activity.’ By that definition, I have a hard time counting many free beings among my acquaintance. I know people who can do five things at once who are incapable of doing nothing. I know people who can decide what to do without being able to do less of it. Since I have been one of these people, I know that saying no is a more difficult spiritual practice than tithing, praying on a cold stone floor, or visiting a prisoner on death row.
(Photo is of the cairn atop Dun I hill in Iona, which is what I always think of when I ponder BBT’s book title, An Altar in the World.)
It’s spring in DC, so I’ve been thinking about last year’s trip to Flower Mart at the National Cathedral. It was an atypical Sabbath for me, in that just spontaneously decided to go. I normally plan my excursions down to every detail beforehand… especially when kids are involved.
This planning can backfire sometimes. I remember a trip to go apple picking with the family that had so many burdensome last-minute logistical details that I found myself thinking, “Hmm, cash machine, gas station… This doesn’t feel like Sabbath, this feels like a random Saturday of errands.”
Here’s what I wrote last year to the Sabbath group after the Flower Mart experience:
Last week after our discussion I found myself with a day with just Caroline and James. I had a lot of things on my to-do list but for some reason I didn’t even look at it in the morning. A friend of mine had talked about going to the National Cathedral for Flower Mart and I just decided to go. We just got in the car and went.
I can’t believe how “unprepared” I was. I later discovered that the diaper bag had NO diapers in it. I had one twenty dollar bill which I hoped would be enough to buy us lunch and some tickets so Caroline could do the moonbounce and such. I normally get all my ducks in a row before embarking on that kind of excursion. Those of you who have or had small children know how important that is. Bringing along a snack can mean the difference between a pleasant errand and a tantrum, for example. But the thought of “managing” things just drained me in that moment.
And everything worked out fine. I just sorta went into it having made the decision that even if there were diaper blowouts or traffic or what-have-you, I wasn’t going to be bothered.
So here is my challenge to each of you. Set the intent to find Sabbath moments. Say it out loud to yourself and to God (maybe don’t say “I will make time for Sabbath”; instead try “I am going to discover Sabbath time” or something like that). Say it more than once. And then don’t force anything. Just look back a week later and see if you didn’t find some Sabbath lurking amidst your busy life!
As I re-read this reflection, there are a few things I notice.
One: I didn’t look at my to-do list, which meant I wasn’t even tempted to dispatch with a thing or two or three. I’ve read a lot of time-management stuff that says NOT to check e-mail in the morning. While I continue to struggle with this habit, I see the wisdom in that advice.
Two: It was all about attitude. I just made up my mind to accept whatever came. It was a happy accident that everything went beautifully… or was it? I’m sure there were hiccups in the plan, but a year later, I can’t remember any. Maybe my attitude made the difference.
I love Family Fun magazine, though many of the crafts and activities are frankly beyond me. But recently I read about a family that does something interesting on Shabbat: they take an ordinary household object or toy and take turns pantomiming “uses” for it. So a long foam noodle (like the kind you use in the pool) might be a unicorn horn, or a jousting stick, or a jump rope. They try to come up with 20 uses for each thing.
I thought that was a good silly fun and wanted to share!
I have been reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder series to my daughter Caroline (who loves the fact that Laura’s Ma shares her name). I was taken by this ending of Little House in the Big Woods and thought it had something to say about Sabbath and the passage of time. Laura is in bed and listening to her Pa sing “Auld Lang Syne.”
When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?”
“They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.”
But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fidle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the fire-light gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.
She thought to herself, “This is now.”
She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.
My friend Ruth has been blogging about Sabbath–what it means to her, what Sabbath “looks like” in her house, and so forth. She recently wrote:
Since the definition of “work” involves trying to effect change, I am embracing one simple fact: Sabbath is the cessation of trying to effect change in my environment. This is primarily a mental discipline, and means that I must cease thinking: 1) that things are not okay as they are, and 2) that I need to take steps to change things.
I think this is an interesting definition!
It occurs to me that definitions of Sabbath can (and probably should) shift as people’s lives change. I like where she’s going with this, although I realize how many times during my Sabbath time I have to change something. Diapers, for example…
I also know people for whom gardening is a great Sabbath activity. That certainly does change things. Weeds get ripped from the ground; bushes get pruned. So what makes it restorative for them rather than draining? It must in some ways be different enough from what they consider “work,” even though there is obvious labor involved.
These last few months I have had a number of writing deadlines converge, and have been so busy that I have felt like every available moment has been filled with work, or feelings that I should be working. Last week I realized I was completely spent mentally. So Friday was a Sabbath day, but my definition of Sabbath involved abstaining from anything intellectual. So I did several loads of laundry, which I normally avoid on Sabbath. I certainly did effect change, but after the mentally taxing couple of months I had, it was deeply satisfying, and even… restful.
What do you do when life is so chaotic that Sabbath seems impossible? You take your moments where you can get them and try to pay attention when they happen, even in the midst of tough times. The following reflection is from a family that had participated wholeheartedly in round 1 of the project, written to the group during round 2:
As some of you know, my husband and I have separated recently. Finding Sabbath time with the children on top of dealing with the myriad emotions they’re experiencing has been a challenge. My parents are in town, and, on Saturday, we drove down to the Northern Neck to visit a plantation. The drive was truly a nightmare. B and C fought almost the entire way, B asked every other minute how soon we would be there, A kept announcing how bored she was, the sun kept disappearing behind the clouds, the rain kept returning, and traffic around Fredericksburg was, of course, crawling.
But when we arrived at Wakefield and everyone spilled out of the car, it was like a switch had been flipped. The sun shone on the water, the children starting running and laughing, and the entire mood of our group improved. Anyhow, when we finished our tour of the house, the guide invited A to play the spinet in the hall. She sat down and played beautifully–Brahm’s Lullaby and Fur Elise. The view out the front doors was gorgeous–tall trees, undisturbed water, C and B playing tag on the lawn. And A just lit up when everyone on the tour applauded her playing. It was definitely one of those moments in time where I could feel God working in our lives–a Sabbath breath.
What place does Sabbath have during tough times? Is it OK to give yourself permission to let the practice go? Or can Sabbath be a lifeline during the chaos? Both? What do you think?