Sabbath is a holy word. It must be--it's in the ten commandments. Then again, so is kill, but the context is different. So there. Sabbath is a holy word because sabbath is a holy concept. It's at least a twofold idea: (1) on the seventh day, God rested, therefore we ought to mark each week with a time of rest; (2) to be human is to be enslaved--either literally, to another person, or spiritually, to sin--but to be a child of God is to be free, therefore we rest to celebrate the freedom that God gives his children. The Jewish people and later, in modified form, the church have ordained opportunities to honor this twofold idea, and so sabbath has become a sanctified concept, a holy word.
Rest, on the other hand, has gotten a bum rap. Rest is remedial, an admission of our limits. While sabbath is for the saints, rest is for the weak.
Keri Wyatt Kent has written a book on rest. It's also ostensibly a book on sabbath, because it has to be: a Christian book on rest is a tough sell. So Keri coins the phrase "Sabbath Simplicity" to extrapolate sabbath from a weekly rite to a lifestyle of rest, working out from the biblical conversation about sabbath to a rhythm of life for twenty-first century American families.
I should note at this point that I took up Keri's offer to bloggers she knew to read the book at the proof stage and review it online. Consequently, quotations I make of the book should be checked against the final, published form. I suspect there will be only minor editorial differences between what you read here and what you'll read there.
I gladly took this project on even though I'm fairly far removed from the Kent family lifestyle. I became a fan of Keri Wyatt Kent when InterVarsity Press (my employer) published her first book, God's Whisper in a Mother's Chaos. It was fresh, honest, helpful and charitable. I'm not a mother, of course, so I appreciated the book from a certain epistemological distance, and while Kent hasn't quite been pigeonholed into writing only for women, she has taken on a "family writer" kind of brand that as a nonparent I struggle to fully identify with. I also don't have any hard and fast sabbath routine to speak of. Nevertheless, I'm a fan of writings on the sabbath, ever since my early editorial experience working with Lynne Baab on the book Sabbath Keeping, a great introduction into the history and practicalities of the discipline. So I was pleased to read this book and write up a review of it.
Keri is a no-nonsense writer; a busy mother and type-A Christian, she cuts to the chase and gets to the point, which is interesting considering that the chapters of this book are unusually long. I suspect she recognizes that, while we are all likely to nod our heads and mutter "Amen" to talk of sabbath rest, we are more likely to think of it in a similar way to how we think of the resurrection, which is to say, we think that sabbath has very little to do with our everyday lives. That, coupled with a cultural bias against rest that leads us to brag about our busyness and experience shame during times of inactivity, is a big hurdle to the kind of lifestyle retraining that Keri has in mind for us, so she spends extra time making the case that rest is achievable and desirable.
Keri makes sabbath local, telling stories from her home and her neighborhood that tether the idea of rest to similarly elusive concepts such as loving your neighbor. When we practice rest regularly, we put the activities that preoccupy us into proper perspective, so that an interruption from an acquaintance becomes less a nuisance or a crisis and more an opportunity to serve, to enter into the reality of another person, to entertain angels in disguise. It was in the context of sabbath, she reminds us, during the Israelites' exodus that the manna which normally spoiled within twenty-four hours miraculously lasted for forty-eight. Sabbath, and the lifestyle of rest that flows from it, is an act of faith: a hyper-reality in which the rules don't necessarily apply and what is normally impossible becomes possible--like Jesus showing up in a locked room, like us loving our enemies.
Sabbath is a means to an end, a sanctified practice that opens an avenue to a lifestyle rooted in rest. "When people ask, 'How can I do Sabbath?' I ask them, 'Do you know how to eat, relax, and sleep?'" Obviously there's more to sabbath than these three things, and Keri goes to great length in defining and realizing them for her readers. But such is the paradoxical faith we celebrate: entering into a discipline opens up to us a world of grace. "Take my yoke upon you," Jesus invites us--and we might consider a day of inactivity for every six of our culturally approved hyperactivity to be something of a yoke--"and you will find rest for your souls."