If you've been looking for a chance to get in front of a new audience or a larger group of people, I've got good news: iAmSteveAustin.com is now accepting submissions for guest posts. Read this post for submission guidelines today.Read More
I am a fledgling sabbath-keeper. Though I’ve written a book about it, embraced my 52 chances per year to practice it, and have even preached it, I am a less-than-perfect sabbatarian.
And that’s OK.
But Americans think we have to be the best at everything. As my friend Rev. Elizabeth Hagan writes, “I’m a better do-er than rest-er.” Like her, we thrive on the “go big or go home” mentality. “Good enough” equates to mediocre, which is why our bookshelves are lined with tomes on mastering a craft and becoming our best selves.
I’ve spent the last two years trying to perfect the art of shabbat,or “ceasing” from labor. I researched it from both a scholarly and lay perspective; I interviewed countless clergy and a rabbi on scriptural wisdom and sabbath theology. Combining all the knowledge I gleaned, I wrote a 144-page how-to guide on keeping the fourth commandment. When For Sabbath’s Sake headed to print, I was confident I had mastered this spiritual practice.
But then it came time to talk to real-life folks about how to (realistically) keep sabbath in a noisy, 24-7 world. I had to boil down two years of research and writing into bite-sized bits of “be still” that a frenzied culture and community could digest. Nobody had time to hear me pontificate about how to “master” or “become” a sabbath keeper. In truth, I realized I hadn’t “mastered” or “become” a perfect sabbath keeper, anyway.
So instead of becoming, I decided to “be.”
I decided to invite others to catch glimpses of sabbath rest, devotional practice, and community whenever, wherever, and however they can. I call these “sabbath moments.”
We don’t have to wait for the calendar to bestow these “sabbath moments” upon us. We only need to be open to the Holy Spirit’s movement, and be willing to “see” the sacred among the ordinary. God has given us all the tools we need to catch eternity in a minute (or 15). Here’s how:
- Put away your phone. Research indicates that having a smartphone within sight drains your cognitive capacity. Stowing it for even 15 minutes gives you the opportunity to just sit, think, and engage your brain (and soul) in a meaning-making or thoughtful ritual.
- Get more sleep. There’s no shortage of data on how sleep deprived we are. A delicious 15-minute sabbath nap can feel like an entire night’s sleep. Remember: “resting your eyes” on the couch with People magazine also counts. The point is that you lie down and relax sans screens.
- Talk with someone. I mean really talk—like face-to-face. When’s the last time you attended a community gathering (worship, civilian club, or activism event) and chatted with someone you knew or didn’t know well? Scientists have uncovered the correlation between increased social media use and loneliness. Being online tricks us into thinking we’re connecting in meaningful ways, but it actually leads to FOMO (fear of missing out) and the feeling of being alone.
That’s my 1, 2, 3 broad-strokes key to keeping sabbath: think, sleep, connect. Repeat.
There is a right way to observe sabbath—Jesus taught us this. Christ fought against the legal fiction that declared folks needn’t be healed or fed on the holy day. Instead, Jesus was “Lord of the Sabbath.” He worshipped, he prayed, he gathered people, and he served. Each sabbath looked a little different, but the core themes remained: rest, worship, and community.
If we follow his lead, we would be wise to try these baby-steps. Then, we just might catch a glimpse of eternity in the ordinary moment.
Think. Sleep. Connect. Repeat.
Rest. Worship. Community. Repeat.
The Rev. J. Dana Trent is an ordained Baptist clergywoman, award-winning author and World Religions faculty member at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, NC. Her work has appeared onTime.com,Religion Dispatches,Religion News Service, The Christian Century, andSojourners. Her second book,For Sabbath’s Sake: Embracing Your Need for Rest, Worship, and Community,is available now. She loves naps with cats, vegetarian food, and teaches weight-lifting for the YMCA. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @jdanatrent on Facebook.
Interested in a deeper conversation about sabbath?
Listen to Steve and Dana on Episode 36 of The #AskSteveAustin Podcast. Just click the "play" button below:
We have the ability to change the course of our lives when we become aware of that core of sacredness—which I call the Beloved—and begin to live with it as our guide. Whenever we have a flash of love, innocence, acceptance, inspiration, awe, or wonder, or we’re moved to tears or filled with joy, we must remind ourselves: this is the real me. We must not let such moments simply pass us by. We must stop and appreciate those moments and act on them—and ask that we receive more of them in the future. -Rev. Ed Bacon, 8 Habits of Love
The Hardest Question I've Ever Asked
The first time I took my old 85 Isuzu pickup out on the interstate was in college. I’d been driving that old truck for a few years, but only on country backroads below 45 miles an hour. At those speeds, on those roads, that little truck did just fine. But as I eased onto I-65 for that first time and the speedometer crept past 55 and onto 60, the pistons began to scream. Every joint was rattling. The tires were begging for mercy. The axles were wide-eyed. And the motor couldn’t believe what was happening. This was too much.
I had a similar experience Saturday night. It was one of those rare soul-shifting, theology-shaking, heart-wrecking, tear-inducing kinds of experiences. It was just a small gathering with friends. A little wine, some light hor d'oeuvres, and lots of love.
But the conversation that transpired over those two and a half hours, sitting in conversation with Ed Bacon, changed me. And maybe it didn’t change me as much as it confirmed in me that I do have an inner-knowing deep inside of me, and that I have all the permission I need to fully explore those truths.
[clickToTweet tweet="God is not a Christian. God is not a Muslim. God is not an Atheist. - @revedbacon #graceismessy" quote="God is not a Christian. God is not a Muslim. God is not an Atheist." theme="style3"]
He made a statement, during the “lecture” portion of his talk with us, “God is not a Christian. God is not a Muslim. God is not an Atheist.” The list went on, but you get the idea. In the whole of the evening, this statement was really just a side note. And though Ed really just said it in passing, he fully meant it. He fully believes it, but it wasn’t the point of the night. And it wasn’t said to be shocking. It was said to show us the fullness of God, to impress upon the group that yes, God is so much bigger than we have ever imagined.
All Over But the Shoutin'
My chest began to rattle like that old 85 Isuzu. Every inch of my body was shaking. I could feel my bones rat-a-tat-tatting against each other. It was as if my soul would climb the rungs of my ribs and makes its way up and out my esophagus to scream, “YES! Hallelujah! Amen! Say it again!”
And that is exactly what happened. In my friend’s living room, I yelled like the recovering Pentecostal that I am. And we all laughed. And I was relieved. I wasn’t trying to get attention. I didn’t need it. But this wrestling, which has been such a part of my private life, has only become more public in recent months, and this affirmation from “a man of the cloth” was such a powerful moment for me that the only right response was to holler.
But the night wasn’t over. When it turned to time for questions, I knew the one I’d have to ask. The question I confessed to my wife on our way to this event. “This is the question I’ve been wrestling with for a while. This is the question I have but can’t tell anyone else but you.” I knew I’d have to ask it, or the entire evening would be a waste for me.
There was a great question about Hell, followed by an intimate discussion. But I was still clenching my question, knowing that saying it aloud would surely send me straight to the Lake of Fire. My wife confessed that walking through postpartum depression was Hell on earth, because she couldn’t feel God during that time. And there was more great discussion.
But I still had my fearful claws in my question. The one I’ve been wrestling with for a long while. The one that would officially brand me a heretic. The one question that, once uttered, can never be silenced. It can’t be reeled back in. It can’t be erased or taken back. Once you put it out into the universe, everything changes.
I made eye contact with our speaker. “I’ve got a question.” My typically confident tone was shaky. And, like I do when I get nervous, I prefaced it with all sorts of rambling and warnings and a little bit of humor. “Y’all may want to move back before the lightning strikes. I’m on staff at a church, but I can’t skip over your statement about God not being a Christian and not ask the one question my soul is begging me to ask.”
The speedometer passed 55 and the pistons were screaming again.
“Is Jesus the only way to God?”
*Stay tuned for my response to this post.
Want more messy grace? Sign up for my weekly newsletter! Just click here.
Abuse, addiction, and a suicide attempt weren't the end of Steve Austin's story. In fact, a suicide attempt is where Steve's life began. Watch the video today!Read More
I blog often about how the power of vulnerability and transparency has changed my life. But it’s only because a lack of those things created an environment of toxicity and shame that nearly killed me. I was recently interviewed by Jon Fuller for the R U Real Podcast and in our talk, we cover the power of vulnerability for the Christian and anyone recovering from abuse, addiction, or a suicide attempt.Read More
I am no longer the boy who intentionally memorizes Scripture, and I haven’t been the President of anything in more than a decade. I work a part-time job, live paycheck-to-paycheck, and being hired by a new church was one of the scariest experiences in the past four years.Read More
“So, are you Pentecostal?” After almost 3 decades of Sunday's spent within the four walls of various charismatic denominations, that question still squeezes my stomach into knots and induces awkward laughter befitting a pubescent boy talking to his crush. Mainly because the question is accompanied with a look of disgust, followed by a litany of questions to point out that I am, basically, a heretic.Read More
During my childhood, I saw people act forcefully on behalf of the Holy Spirit, but I never experienced Him that way. I knew the Holy Spirit as a gentle nudge, a Comfort, like one of my Grandmother’s quilts. But what I heard was that He was the hall monitor of our souls: the ever-watchful Eye of a perfect and holy God, who was more interested in finding the secrets we hid in the darkest places of our wandering hearts than being the balm for our weary souls.Read More
I just knew the Henchmen of Heaven would come and steal me away in the middle of the night as a thirteen-year-old and damn me to eternal punishment early because I’d said “shit” or been caught lingering too long on the adult movie channels late at night at my grandparents’ house. Any 90’s boy knows exactly what I’m talking about: the high numbers on satellite, blurred out, with the fuzzy green and pink lines. Every once in awhile you could catch the shadow of a boob if you just stared hard enough.Read More
Since I’ve begun sharing how I went from a being a pastor to being hospitalized in a psych ward, people often ask about my recovery. Everyone wants to know, is there a single solution? Where does the magic lie? How do they get their own lives (or their loved ones’) back? Or, as others have said, “What is the one thing that made you want to start living again?”Read More