Sabbath in the Suburbs: One Family’s Experiment With Holy Time
by MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Chalice Press. 144 pages
reviewed by Leslie A. Klingensmith
“Come right in, new friends and old friends. Would you like a cup of tea? I just made some muffins. Let me get you one while you peruse Margaret’s artwork.”
This is the gracious, inviting tone of “Sabbath in the Suburbs: One Family’s Experiment with Holy Time.” The reader feels invited into the Danas’ home to experience Sabbath, in all its glory and tribulation, alongside the family. Within a few pages, you are drawn into their everyday life and how they choose to punctuate those days with Sabbath. Because the book follows a calendar year, it easy to pick up its rhythm and feel as though you are experiencing the time with the Danas.
Even though the voice is gracious, the reader does not get a sanitized version of Sabbath in a household with two working parents and three young children. The Sabbath experiment is presented with all its joys and frustrations, centeredness and scatteredness. We are not entering a home where everything is perfect. We are ushered into a home where the people are familiar, and so are the circumstances. There are dishes in the sink and there is a basket of laundry waiting to be folded.
The Sabbath household is allowed to be what it is, because when Sabbath comes, a different way of living pervades. The space does not have to be perfect for guests to be welcomed. Not everything has to be “done” for the family to set aside time to create and experience the holy.
MaryAnn McKibben Dana makes a persuasive case for Sabbath-keeping. She writes eloquently about the excuses that so many of us make for NOT practicing Sabbath, or for practicing it in a haphazard and slapdash way when it is convenient for us. With gentle humor and without harsh judgment, she points out the ways so many of us overfunction, and how we think that we are letting the world down if we take time on a regular basis for renewal, reconnection and recreation. We make idols of our “to do” lists rather than savoring the gift of life.
The book also shows how we wind up letting ourselves AND everyone else down if we do not consciously let go of the myth that we are indispensable, that the world will fall apart if we opt out for a day. Dana’s argument is framed theologically and refers to the history of Sabbath in the Israelite culture, but also is accessible for people not as well versed in biblical history or more abstract theological doctrine.
“Sabbath in the Suburbs” is compelling reading for anyone, but will particularly resonate with working parents who are trying to balance the demands of young children, jobs and the other obligations that creep into our calendars. It is an excellent resource for families who want to live in a more mindful way, savoring our children’s formative years rather than enduring them. Dana also provides tips (“hacks”) for living intentionally from which any reader can benefit, not just fractured parents trying to hold it all together. Highly recommended reading for anyone who hopes to be more fully alive in the present.
LESLIE A. KLINGENSMITH is pastor of St. Matthew’s Presbyterian Church in Silver Spring, Md.