The Promise of Sabbath, Solitude, and Stillness in a Restless World
By Kate H. Rademacher
Broadleaf, pp. 213, $16.99
Review by Abigail Woolley Cutter
Kate Rademacher’s Reclaiming Rest is the latest in a long line of popular books about the Sabbath. What stands out is that Rademacher has arrived at her insights less through research than through dedicated personal experience and intuition.
Her style is chatty and anecdotal, accessible to the most casual small-group readership, but a reader who follows her through the journey will encounter one good question after another. Rademacher’s long commitment to finding a Christian Sabbath practice has brought her face to face with some of the most difficult spiritual, practical, and ethical themes on offer. Rather than as an expert with all the answers, she sheds light on them like a wise friend.
The book begins by noting how deeply damaging Americans’ busy schedules are, but then goes far beyond the daily stresses of the American middle class. Rademacher finds the Sabbath speaking not only to the problems of anxiety and depression, but also to the struggles of the poor, to the fight against COVID, to global conflict, to the challenge of racial justice, to the experience of “mommy guilt,” to the pursuit of sexual intimacy, and to the way our lifestyle choices affect the earth. As she narrates her year-long experiment with Sabbath retreats, she begins each short chapter with an experience from a retreat and then winds her way into a reflection on one of these themes.
In telling about her various attempts to keep the Sabbath — both successes and failures — she raises several questions that any study of the Sabbath today should address. Keeping the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments, so why don’t Christian churches seem to care? Doesn’t the Sabbath only work economically if we all do it together? What if you don’t have a Sabbath community, or even a family who shares your faith? Are Sabbath rules a burden, or a necessary help? Should we keep the Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday — and does it matter? Is keeping a day of rest a way to push for economic justice, or a practice for the privileged that only mocks the poor? How do we make sense of the apparent conflict between our calling to fight for justice and our need to rest in God?
The book is a resource in Christian formation well-suited for laypeople, whether individuals or groups. There are 17 easy chapters, as well as a Quick-Start Guide to Sabbath Keeping for review or as a practical shortcut. Each chapter would serve well as a discussion-starter. Rademacher offers challenges to Christians of both progressive and conservative camps, since she offers invitations to continued conversion to Christ. That she writes as an Episcopalian, and the book features a blurb from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, makes it particularly well-suited to an Episcopal audience.
I don’t recommend the book without reservation. The meandering chapter structure, the short and choppy sentences, and the references almost exclusively to other popular authors might be frustrating for adept readers. That she sees a progressive position on sexuality as a “no-brainer,” which should give everyone pause (shouldn’t we all hope our views accord with careful thought?), might be alienating to conservatives, who would then miss out on an otherwise helpful resource. Imagery drawn from anecdotes, which she tries to tie in with Sabbatical principles, sometimes seems like a poor fit. And finally, Rademacher seems a bit too enamored with solitude, which plays little to no part in the Sabbaths of the Bible or rabbinic Judaism.
While Rademacher is hardly unique in writing about the Sabbath, her personal confrontation with its challenges, her accessible tone, and her responses to very current events make the book a valuable contribution for our moment, with an audience that could gain more from it than others.