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Monday, July 1, 2013

"Sabbath in the Suburbs" (MaryAnn McKibben Dana)

TITLE: Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family's Experiment with Holy Time (The Young Clergy Women Project)
AUTHOR: MaryAnn McKibben Dana
PUBLISHER: St Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2013, (144 pages).

What do you do on the Sabbath? This question itself is easily asked but not easily answered. It can also be easily planned but not easily executed. Tell that to the author and her family. As young parents, with both holding on full-time jobs, observing a 24-hour Sabbath day of doing nothing seems crazy in a oft-called 7/24 world. Just think of it. For anyone already complaining about not enough time to do all they ever wanted to do, slicing off 24 hours per week just to do nothing is absurd, even unproductive. Yet, it is the very busyness and frantic lifestyle that drives the family not just to observe the Sabbath, but to want to redeem their lives from the busyness of life. The author declares right from the start that Sabbath is not just about stopping from work, it is about freedom from work. What does it take to move from a hurried and harried week toward an unhurried and casual Sabbath day? The whole book is a testament to the gradual appreciation of the ancient practice of Sabbath for modern times.

The Danas learn quickly that keeping the Sabbath is no easy matter. Wiring the Sabbath mentality into the whole family is even more challenging. Chronicling 12 months of intentional Sabbath observance, the family begins with deciding exactly which common day to keep the Sabbath. With some flexibility to set the day, they then work on the actual things that they can do and not do.  In doing so, they learn to simplify meals. It means trying not to change things, working on self-improvement, or anything that is considered "productive" over the other six days. It means being more casual about activities. It means timeless moments. They call it "Sabbathly" which is to do things in the manner of Sabbath. It is caring and yet remaining care-free. It is taking a break from the routine. It is a focus on delight.

Reflecting on Scripture, it is about learning to count our days; bringing things back to balance; appreciating the creation of God; doing things slowly; and many more.

So What?

This book is a practical look at how one family battles the pressures and frenetic pace of life with the ancient practice of Sabbath. Done with a light-hearted touch, it carries an essential message for us to observe the Sabbath more faithfully and fully. Instead of rushing to tie up loose ends, push the family to do more and more, for one day a week, do not simply do less. Either do nothing or do something else completely different from the other six days. It is an experiment that invites the experience. The first few chapters will be appreciated by most of us familiar things crazy and busy. Readers will easily identify with the struggles of the demands on a young family. In fact, things do not seem to turn out right initially. For instance, the struggles with what exactly can and cannot be done, which in itself can be quite a challenging exercise for the newbie. On top of that, with heavy work demands (the author is a pastor), it can be tough to carve out a chunk of 24 hours just to do nothing. After all, the family needs to be fed, and household chores still need to be done.

Halfway through the book, it is a pleasant surprise to see that not only the author's family gets used to the Sabbath routines each week, they actually look forward to it. I think this is the biggest value in reading this book. For Sabbath is something often talked about in religious circles but seldom practiced. One reason why people shy away from keeping Sabbath is because of erroneous paradigms in the first place. For instance, some may think keeping Sabbath amounts to religious legalism. Others may suppose that Sabbath keeping is too ancient for any modern practical usage. This is precisely the point why we need Sabbath keeping. Let me offer five thoughts on the Sabbath.

First, Sabbath is about coming back to recognizing God knows best. If God has set forth an example for us to follow, we better follow it well. By resting on the Seventh Day himself, God has shown us what it means to work and to enjoy the fruits of our work. In fact, God has on a daily basis looks back at the day of creation and says it is good. On the Sabbath Day, God actually says "very good."

Second, it is about freedom. The Fourth Commandment is essentially about freedom from slavery. The author recognizes this quite early in the book. Our modern world is stuck on progress and productivity so much that we have become enslaved by it. Too much of a "good" thing is not necessarily good. Sabbath is that opportunity to become more aware and more appreciative of what we had done.

Third, it is about trust and restoration. Just taking a day off per week is a demonstration of trust that we are not masters of the universe. God is. Can we by rushing through another day save the world? Probably not.

Four, the author's observation of "observing scarcity" is something worth pondering more about. Our modern world is more comfortable with progress, with greater possessions, with faster and better advances. We have unconsciously become more electronic like rather than human like. The price of progress is high. When keeping the Sabbath, we can learn to limit ourselves to the bare essentials. There is no need to rush or to grow at any cost. We grow at the speed of love. We move at the speed of care. We travel at the speed of trust.

Finally, what the author has shown is that keeping the Sabbath is possible. It is possible all twelve months of the year, once a week, and every week. If you want to know more about the ups and downs, and the candid but wise sharing of this family's experiment, you need to read this book!

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Chalice Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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