Sabbath Keeping

Oct 17, 2022

by Susan Young Thornton

As the holiday season approaches and the to-do list gets longer, the idea of Sabbath is on my mind.

When asked what he had learned while on Sabbatical, a wise friend of mine responded, “Life is not meant to be lived busy.” This was it. Full stop. Of course, the time for study, reading, and deep thinking, the Celtic pilgrimage and a retreat on Iona were appreciated, but the soul-deep realization was busyness is not God’s intention for humanity.

God’s word to Israel long ago and to us today is “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.”

We get caught up on that word day. We say we no longer keep the Sabbath Day; we worship on the Lord’s Day. However, some of us are old enough to remember when stores and restaurants and most services were closed on Sunday – a practice of Sabbath in a Christian rhythm. However we may feel about Chick Fil A, we cannot help but notice that this very popular eatery is closed on Sunday. This openly Christian corporation has managed to negotiate leases with shopping centers, malls, and airports that allow it to shut its doors when it could choose to stay open and add not only to its own bottom line, but also to the landlord’s. The day we choose does not matter, but shutting the door to business as usual does.

Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

When asked by a student about the most important commandment, Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, replied “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” He continued to explain, that only when we set aside the to-do list, take time to rest, to be quiet, to dwell in the presence of God can we know who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do.

Perhaps that “sitting quietly” is what keeps us from practicing Sabbath. Some of us are not the sitting kind. Those who have thought deeply and written about Sabbath remind us that Sabbath is more than sitting quietly – it is reveling in the goodness of God’s creation, it’s doing what brings us joy – walking in the woods, surfing early in the morning, preparing and sharing a delicious meal, walking the dog, making music, cultivating a garden, setting aside Oma day with a grandson, golfing with buddies, taking a drive along the coast, building a doll house for a daughter, enjoying date night with a beloved…. What brings you joy?

Genesis 2:2 tells us that after a very busy, productive week, “God… rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done,” thereby setting a rhythm for all of creation.

In his book Sabbath, Wayne Muller writes:

“All life requires a rhythm of rest. There is a rhythm in our waking activity and the body’s need for sleep. There is a rhythm in the way day dissolves into night, and night into morning. There is a rhythm as the active growth of spring and summer is quieted by the necessary dormancy of fall and winter. There is a tidal rhythm, a deep eternal conversation between the land and the great sea. In our bodies, the heart perceptibly rests after each life-giving beat; the lungs rest between the exhale and the inhale.


We have lost this essential rhythm. Our culture invariably supposes that action and accomplishment are better than rest, that doing something – anything – is better than doing nothing. Because of our desire to succeed, to meet these ever-growing expectations, we do not rest. Because we do not rest, we lose our way. We miss the compass points that would show us where to go, we bypass the nourishment that would give us succor. We miss the quiet that would give us wisdom. We miss the joy and love born of effortless delight. Poisoned by the hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest. And for want of rest, our lives are in danger (page 1).” 

The Chinese pictograph for busy is composed of two characters heart & killing.

We are created for rest, to take time to reset, to replenish our energy, our bodies, and our spirits.

Muller continues, “our lack of rest and refection is not just a personal affliction. It colors the way we build and sustain community, it dictates the way we respond to suffering, and it shapes the ways in which we seek peace and healing in the world.”

A spiritual director once said, “spending time away at a spiritual retreat builds up our capacity to do God’s work in the world. We are no longer running on empty. We re-enter the everyday empowered and emboldened, filled with a new love of self and neighbor, ready to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly.” Our spiritual retreats may be time spent away from it all or the hour we spend drinking a cup of tea as the sun comes up or savoring a glass of wine as it sets. It is taking time to notice that we are, indeed, standing on holy ground.

When we make time for Sabbath we can come to a deep-down-in-the-marrow-of-our-bones knowing that we are beloved. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for [us]; it is so high that [we may] not attain it,” but we will be much closer to the realization and the gratitude it engenders.

Speaking of GRATITUDE, we’d like to know what you’re grateful for. We’ll share your responses in the month of November here in the eNews and on our Facebook page. If you’d like to remain anonymous, tell us and we will honor your request. You can share your expressions of gratitude here.

Susan Young Thornton is the Consultant for Spiritual Formation and Communication for the Presbytery of Los Ranchos. An experienced Christian Educator, she serves as the Moderator of The Association of Partners in Christian Education’s Diversity Task Force and sits on the Board of The Covenant Network of Presbyterians and the NEXT Church Strategy Team. She snatches moments of Sabbath when sipping a fine Oregon Pinot Gris, tending her roses, reading almost any kind of mystery novel, and spending time with CoCo, her beloved chocolate cocker spaniel.