As a Seventh-day Adventist, I’m always excited and intrigued when I come across books by authors from other faith traditions exalting the virtues of the Sabbath. I was born into Adventism, and so the Sabbath has always been a central part of my faith, which is both a beautiful thing and an incredibly easy thing to take for granted. Reading about how others have discovered or rediscovered the Sabbath, what it means to them, and how they are reverently carving out a place for it in their lives is a delightful journey I never tire of walking.
And so it was with this eager anticipation that I opened J. Dana Trent’s latest book, For Sabbath’s Sake: Embracing Your Need for Rest, Worship, and Community. Trent instantly drew me in with her down-to-earth relatableness and refreshing wit. With heartfelt candor, she describes finding herself at her breaking point — stressed out from myriad professional and personal responsibilities, and dealing with debilitating migraines — and her yearning for a return to the restful God-centered Sundays of her childhood.
We’re invited on this journey of rediscovery with Trent, as she shares memories of Sundays filled with “daydreaming, reading, resting, praising, praying, fellowshipping, gathering, and moving toward the Divine,” (12) and her present day search to reclaim that time.
She starts by searching for Sabbath’s roots, not just in the faith tradition of her own family and childhood, but by sharing in a Passover meal with Jewish friends, dialoguing with her husband’s Great Aunt who is a devout Seventh-day Adventist, and visiting a Catholic retreat center.
She says that though each faith tradition emphasizes the Sabbath in different ways (and on different days), “the most important aspect of ‘authority’ when it comes to the Sabbath is not the individual’s or church’s idea of what Sabbath should or shouldn’t be. The essential ingredient of Sabbath is making it holy by making it God’s” (46).
This, of course, is easier said than done, and Trent is upfront about what a difficult struggle it was for her to shift from filling every minute of every day with busyness to setting aside time to just be. Even at the retreat center she visited, the distant sound of construction equipment and the jarring rifle shots of target practice reminded her that “no matter where I am, I will always have to contend with obstacles to the Sabbath — my yearning for production, my rambling mind, or someone else’s idea of an afternoon well spent” (85).
Trent also acknowledges that the ability to observe a day — or even a few hours — of sacredness and reconnection with God is a privilege not everyone has. “How can a person who is working three minimum-wage jobs, not making ends meet, and barely providing for children even think about a day off?” she asks (118). At the same time, many people whose socioeconomic status affords them the ability to experience the Sabbath still have trouble finding time. She encourages readers to start small. “We worry that if we can’t observe the fourth commandment in its fullest sense, we should give up entirely” (117), but it is the intentionality behind our efforts that matters more than our ability to set aside a full 24 hours a week at the get-go. Trent says “in addition to a formal Sunday (or any day of the week) practice, I’m a big fan of ‘sabbath moments,’ which are sacred glimpses in regular time — like a rainbow on a Thursday afternoon or a conversation with a close friend. Sabbath moments are a good place to start” (121).
Once she was ready to “stretch those moments into an hour, an afternoon, or a day,” Trent compiled a list of ten Sabbath practices she found helpful in her journey which she shares with readers. In the final chapter of For Sabbath’s Sake, she guides readers through crafting their own Sabbath plan, ending with the following wisdom: “this is your journey, take delight in it” (131).
I’m so appreciative of J. Dana Trent for sharing her Sabbath journey with readers in this intimate account. It helped renew my joy and appreciation of the Sabbath, and I’ve become more conscious of finding those “Sabbath moments” in everyday life. I think anyone looking to connect with the sacredness of the Sabbath God has gifted to us will be captivated by For Sabbath’s Sake and the wisdom and hope it contains.
Alisa Williams is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org. This review was originally published by The Englewood Review of Books. It is reprinted here with permission.
Image: Upper Room Books
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