The Sabbath, the day of rest, is the topic I write about the most in this blog. It is a topic and spiritual practice that I cherish deeply, and its meaning in my life has continued to evolve and deepen. Naturally, I’ve read and collected books on the topic over the years and I’ve found it enlightening to read about Sabbath experiences from different communities of faith.
Below, you’ll find my personal favorite books on the Sabbath. They tend to speak more to the experience of Sabbath, of living out rest, rather than its technicalities. Let me know if you’ve read any of them and share your thoughts!
When I first read The Sabbath about 15 years ago, I was floored and amazed by the language by which he described the Sabbath. This book is very poetic, its language soars, almost as if transporting you to eternity itself. I was surprised because as a person who grew up Seventh-day Adventist, someone who has kept and enjoyed the Sabbath all her life, I had never heard or read anybody talk about the Sabbath the way Heschel did. Heschel wrote about the Sabbath as a palace in time, as “the seed of eternity planted in the soul,” like a visiting queen, a bride, whose presence is longed for and whose departure is regretted. If you want to enlarge the meaning of Sabbath in your life, or to deepen your understanding on humanity’s need of rest, I highly recommend this book.
Quotes from the book:
“There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord… The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”
“There is a word that is seldom said, a word for an emotion almost too deep to be expressed: the love of the Sabbath.”
Quite frankly, I don’t know too much about the author of this book. I found a copy of the book while browsing a used bookstore in Chicago. It talks about incorporating Sabbath in our daily lives, syncing into the rhythm of nature and time, as an antidote to busyness. It highlights the importance of a season of rest, of wintering, of retreat, because no other living being in nature goes on without stopping.
This book inspired an article I wrote a few years ago titled Sabbath: The Pause in the Rhythm of Creation.
A quote from the book:
“When we rest, we can relish the seasons of a moment, a day, a conversation… To surrender to the rhythms of seasons and flowerings and dormancies is to savor the secret of life itself.”
This is a short and powerful book, because it talks about Sabbath as a resistance to culture–the market culture, the commodity culture–that insists on putting numerical value on everything. It criticizes the constant societal anxiety from nonstop hustling. The book highlights the prophetic power of keeping the Sabbath that stands in defiant contrast to the endless pursuit of economic gain. Of resting, in contrast to the profit-chasing that tends to reduce human beings into commodities. With respect to my community of faith, this book made me think hard about how some of our practices lean more into the anxious kingdom of Pharaoh as oppose to the kingdom of rest. This book inspired this blog post: Restless Sabbath: When You Can’t Stop Hustling on the Day of Rest.
A quote from the book:
“They may have gone through the motions of Sabbath, but they did not stop the practices of anxiety, coercion, and exploitation that real work stoppage would entail. Their acquisitive enterprise had such momentum that it carried right into and through the Sabbath. The great festival of rest had become simply another venue for restlessness.”
This selection is probably a little unconventional in several ways. It is a small collection of essays (4 in total) that Oliver Sacks wrote toward the end of his life. If you’re not familiar, Oliver Sacks was a neurologist and a prolific writer. One of his well-known works is The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. I’ve read a number of his books, and his writing strikes me as deeply human, holding humanity in high regard.
There’s something special about reading an octogenarian reflects about his own life. The last essay that Sacks wrote was titled, Sabbath, one of the essays in this book, which you can also read here. Personally, I consider this piece the perfect essay. It was said that he labored over every sentence in this piece. In Sabbath, Sacks reflected on his memory of the Sabbath from his childhood in the Jewish community, and how he became an outsider because of his sexuality. As his life was closing, he found himself thinking about the Sabbath more, reflecting on the final rest that he was heading towards. It is achingly beautiful.
I love thinking about this essay because it reveals Sabbath-keeping as a gift not just strictly for those who practice it–it can be a gift to others, the larger world. It makes me think of the Sabbath feasts in the Old Testament (Lev 23), as if the canopy of the palm and willow branches that they collected could extend to the “outsiders”, and they took could partake in the joy of the Sabbath.
Since beautiful language always inspires me, I wrote Consciousness of Time: Wisdom in the Sabbath as a result of this book.
Last by not least, this book is from the Seventh-day Adventist community. It is both resourceful in the academic sense, but also poetic and profound. It synthesizes wonderfully the many facets of the Sabbath, the various schools of theological thoughts on each facet, and the author’s commentary on the prevailing views. In our endlessly exhausting modern life, Sabbath carries an extra special significance in retaining and restoring our humanity.
This book inspired Sabbath in the Time of Corona.
Favorite Books Lists
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