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The intentionality of sabbath

“When we welcome sabbath, we welcome the holy,” writes Maggie Alsup.

Photo by Official on Unsplash

I think we often misinterpret what sabbath is in our fast pace, Western-minded world. We often think it is about stopping to get our nails done or treating ourselves to a cup of iced coffee ahead of a long workday or binge-watching the latest show. While these are some ways to take care of ourselves, it isn’t necessarily resting or true sabbath.

Oftentimes, sabbath is that time in which we encounter the Divine in new and profound ways. And it often isn’t until that moment is over until we “come down from our mountain top experience” so to speak, that we know we were experiencing sabbath.

Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book The Sabbath claims, “Shabbat comes with its own holiness; we enter not simply a day, but an atmosphere … We are within the Sabbath rather than the Sabbath being within us … Strict adherence to the laws regulating Sabbath observance doesn’t suffice; the goal is creating the Sabbath as a foretaste of paradise.”

When we welcome in the sabbath, we welcome in the holy.

When we welcome in the sabbath, we welcome in the holy. And in these moments, we get a foretaste of what can be for humanity and creation.

As I think about my life and the ways I observe sabbath, I must admit at times I do not do a very good job. In part because I want to make sure that things run as smoothly as possible in ministry. In part, it is because I worry that something will happen in my absence to draw me back early. I know things will happen that are out of my control, but it still causes concern for me and makes it hard at times to create that experience of sabbath.

My sabbath practice is a growing area for me — something that I have tried to be more comfortable with. And what I know is that there are times that I need to withdraw to be in relationship with God, to welcome in the holy and to remember that I too, as Heschel writes, “am within the Sabbath.”

It has been a learning curve for me in ministry. And every time I am intentional about my sabbath, I learn something new about God and myself that I did not know before.

Every time I am intentional about my sabbath, I learn something new about God and myself that I did not know before.

One of the ways I welcome the Divine is through connecting and visiting with my chosen family, those friends and siblings who know me and love me. There is something about being around these people that remind me of who I am and whose I am. They remind me of my potential while challenging me to end old habits. They are the ones who I laugh with and cry with. They embody the Divine’s great love and mercy. And in these connections over the phone, via Zoom, or in-person trips and adventures, I gain a glimpse into how good the kin-dom can be.

These moments aren’t always life-changing. They don’t always happen on the weekend or on days off from work. In fact, these days, they take place while rocking kids to sleep or chasing around a pet to give them medicine or while we are driving to meet a parishioner. But what makes these moments one of renewal and holy, is that these people know me and embody God’s love. These can be very brief moments or hour-long phone calls while driving home from work. But God’s love is the constant in these encounters. I gain a sense of what love and belonging feel like. To me, that is a taste of what is to come in the kin-dom. That gives the soul true rest and a true encounter with the Divine.

I still enjoy treating myself to that iced coffee on busy workdays or enjoying a day at the nail salon with my sisters. Those feed me too, but not in the same ways as when I spend time in the atmosphere of the holy. I know that it is still a challenge for me at times to withdraw, but when I do and do so with my chosen family, I know that I am better for it and I will learn something new about the holy in the process.

As you think about your place in the sabbath, what are some ways that you create the foretaste of the kin-dom for others? What or who offers that foretaste of paradise for you?