Keeping Sabbath

“How is your Sabbath?” As he opens the conversation on this week’s podcast, Dr. Dan Allender invites us to consider this question of ourselves. You’ll hear him and Rachael discuss the particulars of their own Sabbath practices, the wildness and play they each experience, and how Sabbath is not bound to a certain day or strict code of conduct. A true Sabbath is meant to engage both beauty and heartbreak, to stretch us, to grow us, and to show us the places where we long for the Kingdom of God in the here and now.

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Episode Transcript

Dan: Rachael. A question that I don’t think people ask very often, let me ask you: So how is your Sabbath?

Rachael: You know, well, one thing I think is interesting is trying to figure out which day to Sabbath. Because obviously, in the Christian tradition, Sunday would be a Sabbath day. But for us, Sundays are a transition day, living in a co-parenting situation, in a blended family. Sunday is a day that right in the middle of the day is a really hard transition, where you’re having to say goodbye or welcome back. And there’s just some relocating that happens. So often, we try to think about Saturday as being our Sabbath day in our home–because we’re not working, the kids aren’t in school, and we can be much more spacious with our intentionality. So I would say, as any parent of children, our Sabbath was lively and always holds a lot of tension.

D: Amen! A lot of the goodness of life.

R: Because, you know, there’s a lot of different, a lot of contradicting or, you know, negotiating around how we experience delight together.

D: Well, our Sabbath was spent—I love the idea of tracking ideas. So a lot of my Sabbath ends up reading something and then going, oh, but I get to go play with this on my Sabbath. And because at least in the non-COVID era, you know, I would travel a lot on weekends. And so it would be a Monday, so don’t get hung up about what day or that it has to be 24 hours. You can Sabbath in a two or three hour period of time, as long as you are cutting that time off for what we’re inviting you to do. And at least in my Sabbath, there are two things. I don’t know why I live in the Northwest and I have never studied moss. Come on, it’s practically growing on me. So I spent a couple of hours just reading about moss and how it was used in the Pacific Northwest. It was used for so many things, particularly in terms of sapping up wounds because it sucks in water or other liquids three times as fast. It’s used for diapers, even adult diapers. So I am again fascinated by moss. And then, I don’t know how, but I got onto pockets. Oh my gosh, do you realize? Did you know this: that your pockets as a woman are 48% smaller than men’s pockets?

R: Yeah, I mean, we actually talk about this, and that’s why when you see a designer creating a dress with pockets, it is one of the most exciting things in the world because it feels like pockets are very evasive in clothing.

D: Look, if you want to know more, I picked up a book by Barbara Berman called Pockets of History, the Secret Life of an Everyday Object. But let me just tell you that pockets really didn’t even come to be for men until about the 1600’s. But there was a deep commitment to make sure that women’s clothing did not have pockets, and there really didn’t come until the end of the 1800’s, when women began to rebel and began to actually allow their clothing to have some version of something other than a purse. And I’m going, what are we talking about? I had no clue that women were not “allowed” (for an honorable woman) to have pockets. And actually, it was the suffragettes and others, particularly African-American women who rebelled against the empire and began to utilize pockets. And it became much more common for women in the twenties and thirties. To have trousers with pockets, but even those pockets weren’t the same size as men. Look, it’s wacky. And what I began to see was, why are women not allowed to have pockets and why their pockets are small? And Borman particularly says it’s because men are terrified that women, if they put their hands in their pockets, will be too close to their genitals. We are talking about the insanity of misogyny and patriarchal, I don’t, I’m about to swear.

R: I’m like, and this is Exhibit A why Sabbath is wildly particular.

D: Look, moss didn’t get me into trouble, the pockets did. I could even figure how to construct, you know, adult diapers out of my own yard. But the reality is: when you begin to play, you cannot help but engage two worlds, the world of creation and its beauty, and the world of the fall and heartbreak. One of the questions you brought up last time was: How do we allow our hearts to grieve and still engage in delight? And the answer is, we have to hold death and resurrection together. One does not obviate the other, but indeed they could be held together. So there are moments where Sabbath ought to be spent in one sense in tears, that knowing even your weeping brings endorphins, which are part of the pleasure body of bringing us back to a taste of Eden. And there are other times where I’m raging and Becky’s like what is wrong with you? And I looked at her and I said, Do you know your pockets are smaller than mine? And she’s like, have you lost your freaking mind? But she didn’t know what Berman and others have at least put words to. So there is a sense in which we’ll bring this a little bit more to clarity that the Sabbath is meant to open your eyes, to heartache and goodness in a way in which something of the confirmation that evil will not win comes to be the core of what Sabbath holds.

R: Ooh, I love that. And I, you know, I think I want to dive into that in particular to an example, of how we Sabbath here. For those who are going, yeah, what does that look like with kids? Because we start our Sabbath with doughnuts because Saturday is doughnut day. So we usually let that be the entrance into Sabbath with doughnuts, you know? Yeah, if you don’t like that it varies, sometimes it’s Dunkin Donuts because that’s the energy we have because it’s near our house. And sometimes we really go for, like, our favorite doughnut shop. And it’s like that’s an extra special day. Trying to figure out that intersection of those two worlds you talked about. You know, we started out saying no screen time, which for parents out there, especially in the COVID season, you would know that that sets up some heartache and confrontation with the powers of this world that you have to negotiate. But what we found is in this time, our kids are wanting to play Minecraft with their friends, and it’s a social space where they’re building something together and there’s a kind of play and a kind of way they’re being connected. So we had to really keep negotiating. What does this look like? And we try to play games together, and we do try to be curious with each other about what brings delight because it doesn’t always line up. And we find that if we’re trying to push it, to me like I think any time you intention something and you think it’s going to be amazing, everyone’s gonna love it and then it backfires. Just trying to have a posture, even on the Sabbath day of just a lot of grace and generosity that we can pivot together. And sometimes it might mean you know what, three hours was as good as it’s gonna get today. And to protect that three hours that was really sweet, we’re going to bring this to a close. And sometimes it feels like you know we’re just in a flow together and you know let’s see how far we can extend this, so I think there just has to be a lot of permission on display.

D: Well, like the ways to ruin Sabbath is to get legalistic. And then once you get legalistic, fail and feel guilty. Give up, the cross really is enough. So when Jesus says, you know, the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath, he was disrupting the Empire– in this case, the religious leaders– and couldn’t have been clearer. This is a day for you, in one sense, to eat well as you pass through a wheat field. That would have been viewed in that day as work. So we’re meant to capture literally moments, hours, if possible. But don’t get ultra-religious. I mean, just burn that out of your system. It’s just so far from what the Sabbath is meant to be. And you can fail by preparing or failing to prepare. And so I mean, the way you’ve put words to it, it’s such a lovely sense of you got to pivot, just like all games. You gotta learn to play the game well. But some days in some weeks and sometimes for months on end our Sabbaths suck. Like ruined. You know, and so If you expect to play in this game, you’re going to fail. But each failure becomes a new opportunity to in one sense, recreate again. So I’m curious, Rachael. How are your Sabbaths? In this season? You play a game that I will never have played on Sabbath or any other day in the universe. I don’t know. It’s a game where you capture things that, like I would have said it was Mario Brothers. But it’s not. It’s . . .

R: Oh, Pokemon Go? [laughs]

D: That’s it!

R: Oh, yeah, Pokemon Go is such a delightful Sabbath practice. I make no apologies about it, and I play with my husband. And at first, to be honest with you, it’s something he is really involved in, something he does. And I kind of started playing just to try to understand. What is it about this game? I mean, I really entered it, and I think this is kind of what’s fun about Sabbath in community is like I kind of entered it like, let’s just see what’s so delightful, and within a week was like, I want to play all the time. And now I love this. So again, I think that is–we’re trying to break into some categories that I think helped, you know, name imagination. I don’t know if you can hear the piano happening in the background of my home. I’m just thinking about your question about music because my son is playing the Rick Astley song Never Gonna Give You Up. He is learning that.

D: [laughs] Fabulous.

R: I’m sorry. Just it made me, piano lessons are happening right now, and it just brought me a lot of delight in that moment. I thought I would just name if you’re hearing that too. You’re not crazy. It is. It is there.

D: Well, you know, even the conversation for me feels like a form of Sabbath because we have an overall most of the time, a kind of plan, general sense of where we’re going with this topic. But part of even doing the podcast is if it weren’t a sense of play, it would not have the vitality of the Kingdom of God. And I think I’m one of the billionaires of this world because six days a week, I really do what I want to do. I really get to put my foot on the neck of evil to some degree each and every day and I don’t think a lot of people get that same concentrated privilege that somebody who works with trauma, that works in the realm of abuse and trauma and violence, gets to do. But I desperately need just a kind of almost playful, crazy, wild like–I don’t know where this day is gonna go, but I’m gonna invest in it. And it has a central challenge to take me into directions I would never like. I would never have thought pockets would take me to a cry. Maranatha, come quickly, Lord Jesus, snuff out patriarchy. Oh, good God! But it not only overwhelmed me, and it angered me, but also brought me into a sense of: I’m glad there are designers of women’s clothing that are saying, hell, no. Like we’re going to create pockets and not fear women might masturbate. Good God, this is just a crazy world. So as we open up conversations about play, I want to go back to what you and Michael do. And you told me at one point, oh, it was such a good day because we captured a–and I can’t remember what it was.

R: Pokemon go has community days, once a month, where there’s a certain Pokemon that’s going to be out in high volume and you get to catch them. And there’s a higher number of shiny’s and a shiny Pokemon is like a special version of that Pokemon that actually has maybe a different color. And there are shiny little animations around it. So it just feels very exciting and delightful and special. And I realized, even as I’m talking about this, how ridiculously nerdy I sound and I’m just trying to embrace this part of myself that I’m talking about this. Why? So What did it remind you of? How is this connected to Sabbath? [laughs]

D: Well, again, I have three categories. It has to be, like any game it has to have some level of challenge. Like I had the privilege once of fishing in a very rare place in Alaska, and it was, the guy basically said, you’re going to catch a fish every time you cast. It was like no, and it’s not gonna happen. I’ve never had that happen in my life. Well, it did! And it happened 15, 20 times within, you know, 10 minutes. About 15 minutes in, I was so bored. Because it had no challenge to it. So the assumption that heaven for fly fishermen will be that you catch a fish every time you cast, well, that’s a vision of Hell. So we’ve gotta have a sense that the Sabbath is meant to take us, stretch us, ask things of us, and the game you’re playing to me is ridiculous. But it sounds challenging, and it actually requires that you grow. It calls you to grow, in your ability to catch these dudes, I’m assuming.

R: Oh, there’s lots of challenges! And then they keep adding more elements to the game to increase the challenge so that you keep growing your skills, which is, and there’s projects that you have to . . . yeah, they know what they’re doing.

D: So it’s challenging. It calls forth growth, and clearly you two nerds invite one another to delight is you play this game.

R: Yeah. We actually have a competition on community days to see who can catch the most shinies. Oh, God. But you know what this is making me think of that I think would be helpful for people, I’m just so aware that delight, even in itself is such a tricky thing because it’s so deeply connected to like the core of who we are and what we long for in our humanity. And so I do think for those of you listening going man, this sounds great, but you don’t know the contours of my marriage. This sounds great, but I’m working two shifts right now to try to make up financial loss. And I think this is where I would say it’s a place of starting small and being faithful with the small, taking steps to explore. What kind of risk are you willing to take to invite others into places that you’re cultivating a sense of play and delight, a sense of playing in the kingdom of God in a way that feels different than the other six days of the week? And I think I’m just aware of how so many of these places are so sacred. And so it could almost feel mocking to say, just do it when I don’t even know how to tell someone. This would be a really delightful thing to do because it feels too sacred. And I don’t trust them to honor that. So as we’re kind of talking about the practicality of this is just where I want to say, oh, you get to be faithful in this small before you’re taking the risks of the big. And I think that’s part of what makes Sabbath so radical, is that it also exposes the places where we long for the kingdom to manifest in the here and now in really tangible ways in our lives. So we’re aware we’re talking about something that, as we talk about it, is so playful and has brought us a lot of joy and yet not without vulnerability, not without strife and not without, like you said at the beginning. A lot of failure. And a lot of things like imagining and intentioning a Sabbath day that you just think, Oh, this is gonna be we’re gonna make a meal together. We’re going to read this thing together, and that’s just not how it goes. And so I think I’m holding that as we talk.

D: Oh, it’s so important. I mean, when would you say you really began working where play was no longer a central part of your life? At about what age?

R: [laughs] Pretty young.

D: Okay, I’ll leave it at that. I would say soon after my father died in a car accident around age four I started my first job at nine. I haven’t stopped working since age nine. So look, play is not natural to those who have known trauma. And in some way do you hear what I’m saying? Seditious. It’s seditious to stand against the kingdom of evil that does not want you to rest, to take in goodness, to know what it is to indeed delight and play. It is so hard to know. I mean, the first couple years of trying this out, I would be so frustrated, like I don’t know what I want to do. I don’t know how to do this. And then I would go to work. But even five or 10 minutes to just ask the question, why am I so afraid of delight? The delight of my beloved wife, the delight of my friends, the delight of God. It’s what I made for; it is what I’m terrified of. And most of us will prefer almost anything to escape, even creating a religious burden that we feel either deeply dogmatic and proud about or wickedly guilty for failing at. So when we come to this, we’re really saying: we cannot change the current world. We cannot change our own heart until we learn how to receive something of what Jesus says so clearly. Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. That’s the invitation of Sabbath.