Sabbath Sense: A Spiritual Antidote for the Overworked

by Donna Schaper.
Innisfree Press: Philadelphia, 1997
121 pages, softcover

Reviewed by Betsy Alden

Sabbath Sense: A Spiritual Antidote for the Overworked book coverWaiting till the eleventh hour to write this book review is so typical of my work/life that I don’t even find the book’s subtitle ironic! The truth is that each day is sufficient unto the day, and seldom does any task or assignment or project get completed till it is due–or overdue! So goes my life, and the lives of most women I know who have careers, families, homes, and friends. Which is why I resonate so strongly to Schaper’s notion of Sabbath Sense!

Who of us has not yearned for long, leisurely Sabbaths of rest and refreshment, even as we struggle to achieve some balance in our over-scheduled lives? Yet there never seems to be enough time! Now I wonder that most of us simply haven’t been sensible enough to see Sabbath as Schaper has come to embrace it.

This poetic and profoundly helpful little book deconstructs and reconstitutes the concept of Sabbath so that we can both cherish and create Sabbath “moments” in the dailiness of our lives. Sabbath Sense is a method for honoring Spirit, a way to “take back our time and take care of our souls–one moment at a time.” The focus is on spiritual “pauses,” rather than a traditionally designated day of the week. And the idea is to cultivate a sense of Sabbath whenever and wherever we are experiencing a holy moment, a sense of divine Presence in our lives. This, says Schaper, may be claimed as “spiritual leisure,” and from it we may actually derive those benefits of renewal we usually associate with Sabbath-time.

Conceiving of Sabbath as a state of mind, rather than as a day of the week can free us from those wistful “Someday…” dreams of finally “finding time” and awaken us to the everyday gift of being more attentive to the spiritual refreshment available to us in the midst of it all. Schaper advocates that we trade our duty-driven work-ethic for a freely-chosen play-ethic, in which we celebrate rituals like family mealtimes, gardening, reading the paper, wearing a piece of heirloom jewelry, cooking a beloved friend’s recipe, or building a rock garden. This sense of Sabbath could infuse the joy and peace we crave from our spiritual life into so much more of what we do. She urges us, in the way of mindfulness teachers, to listen to our bodies and discover the mystery and paradox in our lives, even while we are busily engaged in living.

In eleven brief chapters, we find variations on the theme of practicing Sabbath Sense–and their titles convey their good sense: “Playing at Work,” “Putting Margins on the Pages of our Days,” “Creating Spirit Space,” “Clutter-free Living,” and, my favorite, “Spiritual Fitness: Allowing for the Unfinished”! Of course I starred this passage, which so vividly captures our plight:

Wasn’t it nice, God will say, that you didn’t look at your watch or do errands instead of taking your morning walk? Making like a human being instead of a clock is such an accomplishment.

Congratulations, God will say, and of course it will be exactly the opposite of what everyone else says. When I am late for the meeting because I stole the errand time from the meeting time, nobody praises me. When the mail and the messages stack up on the kitchen counter like planes over La Guardia, nobody says congratulations on my pleasant walk. They present their poverties. I present my walk.

And, of course, a little child shall lead us to the sanity and sense of reviving our play-ethic. Schaper reminds us of the joy of children playing on a carousel, which they call a merry-go-round; yet most adults use the same image as a pejorative metaphor for the whirling, non-stop pace of our lives. Perhaps we are not merry because we are concentrating on doing, and not on being, in our daily rounds! (Over my office bookshelf, next to a Sophia/Wisdom image, I keep a cartoon which shows Ziggy gazing out the window saying , “With so much to do, sometimes it’s nice just to Be!!….That must be why we’re called human Beings and not human Doings!”) Amen! Let us reclaim merriment in the fullness of our lives!

The point is, as Virginia Woolf put it so well in To the Lighthouse:

What is the meaning of life? That was all–a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one…

Just as Sabbath Sense provides a “spiritual antidote for the overworked,” this prescription, if taken to heart, could bring healing not only to our own lives, but to a society which is also desperately in need of renewal. For as we become increasingly caught up in those spiritual pauses, we are nourished and inspired in our redemptive outreach to other systems and structures which are constantly urging us to do it all, do it right, Just Do It!! Instead, Schaper urges us to participate in the Sabbath of Enough, where we may delight in the sufficiency of the day and give thanks for our abundant lives. And in coming to our (Sabbath) senses, we will know the glory of God-with-us, and, fulfilling the original intention of Sabbath, “keep it holy.”

© 2001 Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus volume 24 number 2 Summer 2001

Betsy (Turecky) Alden
Reviewer Betsy (Turecky) Alden is the Coordinator for Service-Learning at Duke University in Durham, NC, and teaches courses in feminist leadership at Duke. A United Methodist clergywoman for 25 years, she has served in ministry in higher education in Dallas, TX and on the national staff of United Ministries in Education, as well as teaching at the University of New Mexico and TVI Community College in Albuquerque. She has three children and three lively little grandsons and says she needs all the Sabbath Sense she can get!


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