Sunday, November 30, 2008

Unforced Rhythms of Grace

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."

4 comments:

Pete Juvinall said...

It was a similar book that had an impact on us regarding rest. It isn't always 'Sunday' and it isn't always 24 clock hours, but regular, intentional periods of rest renews me. In Ethiopia two weeks ago, it was the mornings that we had 'off' that were Sabbaths, in a way.

Did you ever hear the term 'Sanctuary in Time'? I forget who used it, but they were referring to Sabbaths as that...

Jamie said...

dear mr. zimmerman, i am currently reading your book comic book character which i bought last year but i was wondering why the cover of the book i have is different from the ones i see online. mine has darna on it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darna
perhaps it's because i am here in the philippines?? do you even know about the different book covers? just wondering.

David A. Zimmerman said...

Jamie: Great to hear from you! You're right; a publisher in the Philippines released the book with a different cover. Thanks for the link; it's nice to know the origins of the cover art!

Jamie said...

thank you for the response, kind sir. there are also other filipino comic book characters here, if im not mistaken! captain barbell, panday (blacksmith), lastikman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lastikman, you can see the pic is almost the same as the one on the cover), and im not sure about the winged dude. must be a mulawin, but it's from a tv show.