J. Dana Trent
Upper Room Books, 117 pages
Reviewed by Meredith L. Kemp-Pappan
I write this review in the midst of ending one church call, preparing a household to move to a new city and state and beginning a new call. Moving boxes and bubble wrap have transformed my living room into a serpentine labyrinth. When not engaged in packing, I’m on the phone with my son’s new preschool, utility companies and friends and parishioners wishing a fond farewell. When rest finally arrives, I collapse in an exhausted heap on my bed.
What providence to read a book on Sabbath during this time!
Life for the typical American can be described as “busy.” Perhaps this is why the latest trend in self-care is to unplug in order to unwind. Faith leaders from a variety of traditions have taken note, urging adherents to once again seek that oft-forgotten commandment from God to take a weekly Sabbath. J. Dana Trent’s latest book, “For Sabbath’s Sake,” argues that Sabbath is not just necessary for “good Christians,” it is essential to curating Christian community. She writes:
The world is yearning for Sabbath. There is an entire American culture sending out emergency Morse codes, begging for relief from their stressed, overworked, desperate lives. People want rest, devotional practices, and community. They want real life — the kind of meaning-making we only find apart from ordinary time.
Like countless others, Trent’s frenetic lifestyle was literally making her sick. Chronic migraines, a symptom of her stress, would leave her bedridden, and though medicine would relieve her pain, the side effects took their toll. She realized her spiritual health, too, needed tending.
So she reexamined her Sabbath habits. Like many of us, she grew up in a culture that honored Sabbath with extended family get-togethers on a Sunday afternoon. For her family matriarchs, even going to the movies on the Sabbath was forbidden. But in today’s world, a flawless Sabbath seems entirely out of reach. Trent reminds us, “Sabbath may help us get a glimpse of eternity, but it doesn’t mean it will be perfect.” Her first attempt to reclaim Sabbath — a weekend on silent retreat — was fraught with mishaps and unrealistic expectations. Her vulnerability, and ability to laugh at her spiritual foibles and neuroses, will likely resonate with many of us who have bought into the falsehood that Sabbath is an “all-or-nothing” undertaking.
Many excellent books about Sabbath have been written in the past decade and Trent’s is a welcome addition, particularly for millennial women who feel immense pressure from church and society. Trent draws extensively from a variety of resources on Sabbath, including Abraham Heschel’s spiritual classic by the same name. While her inclusion of diverse voices and traditions helps to distill the meaning and tradition of Sabbath, it’s almost an embarrassment of riches. I would have preferred hearing less from other interpretations and more about her own experiences with Sabbath keeping. Trent’s voice, unassuming and accessible, brings clarity to a daunting subject. For those wanting to begin a Sabbath journey, this is a logical volume with which to begin.
Meredith L. Kemp-Pappan is pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Topeka, Kansas.