3 Simple Ways to Start a Sabbath Practice

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:

  1. 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.  
  2. 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.
  3. 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 ServiceThe Christian CenturyandSojournersHer 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:

The Hardest Question I've Ever Asked

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 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.

This is part of my “Why I’m Giving Up God for Lent” series. For more articles like this, click here and here.

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