I feel … thin. Sort of stretched, like … butter scraped over too much bread. I need a holiday. A very long holiday. — Bilbo Baggins, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring
Families today find themselves tapped out on multiple levels: socially, financially, relationally, spiritually, and more. They are “spread thin” to the point where anxiety and stress are constant companions. Where is the rest God promises and the peace Christ gives his people? How might we ground our children in healthy rhythms of life and worship? Can we have lives full of the good “stuff of life,” without rooting our children and ourselves into unrealistic and unhealthy cultural norms?
These are all questions I am preparing to teach on this Winter in a Christian Education course in the parish where I work. In particular, I am seeking answers and wisdom to such questions myself, being no expert in rhythms of rest. The following are resources I have found helpful for practicing Sabbath in the various areas of family and professional life, and I trust you would find them helpful as well.
- Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath (2006)
This text is immensely helpful, serving as both a theological justification for why we need to practice Sabbath rhythms and as an application of Sabbath principles to many areas of our daily lives: home life, economics, education, environmentalism, and worship. Wirzba is a philosopher and theologian at Duke Divinity School whose writing is informed by deep reflection, and this book is a great primer on practicing the Sabbath this side of the New Testament. I would be remiss in not mentioning the hallmark work by Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath. But, while it is beautifully written and theologically rich, it is more conceptual throughout and not as pointed on the level of application to daily living and vocation as Wirzba’s text.
- Robert Benson, Wedding the Wild Particular (2012)
Benson was trained at Vanderbilt on the tail end of the Southern Agrarian movement and taught Medieval English Literature at various universities across the South, including Sewanee (where he currently lives). This book, while not explicitly about Sabbath, will enflame your imagination for how being attuned to the rhythms of creation can draw you more deeply into the life of God. In it you will find ruminations on everything from fishing and hunting to reflections on a Tennessee Anglo-Catholic Priest, to poetic encounters with a rattlesnake to meditations on soil erosion in the Delta. Read, mark and inwardly digest. (This book was recommended to me by Covenant author Fr. Will Brown, who was a student of Benson.)
- Dorothy C. Bass, Practicing Our Faith (2010)
Bass edited this volume now in its second edition, but the chapters on “Honoring the Body,” “Sabbath,” and “Household Economics” are worth the price of the book and are especially helpful for tracing out how shalom and communion with God — the telos of Sabbath — might be experienced practically in our finances and in how we keep and treat our bodies and those of others. However, if you have not read the Rule of St. Benedict, that might be the best place to start (stabilitas!).
- David Robinson, The Family Cloister (2000) and The Christian Family Toolbox: 52 Benedictine Activities for the Home (2001)
These two texts seek to apply the Rule of St. Benedict to family life, and while one might legitimately question whether mapping the Rule onto a family allows it to maintain integrity, Robinson seems sufficiently grounded in the Rule to make such applications, enough at least to be the winner of the Catholic Press Association for “Best Family Life” book in 2001.
- Wendell Berry, This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems (2014)
This work is an expanded edition of A Timbered Choir, which covered Berry’s Sabbath poetry from 1979-1997. The newer edition was published in 2014 and therefore includes many new poetic gems. Again, like Benson’s work above, the value in this volume lies in its ability to cultivate the imagination of the reader toward being attuned and rooted in God’s creation and inner life.
- Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb (1967; repr. 2002)
It is no secret that obesity is at an all-time high, not only in the United States, but in many other nations across the globe. Capon’s Supper of the Lamb beckons the reader to ground diet and culinary delight in the rhythms of what he calls “festal and ferial cooking,” which is simply an outgrowth of Capon’s tethering of human relation to food in the divine mystery of the Eucharistic feast (as opposed to being grounded in functionalism, angst, or consumerism). This move allows Capon to glide effortlessly from talk of cutting boards to the new Jerusalem, with the same wit and humor that makes his other writings at once entertaining and theologically provocative.
To be sure, there are many other resources on this topic one could list, not to mention all of the ancient publications one might suggest. What resources, rhythms, or practices have you found helpful for practicing Sabbath rest?