As part of The Seattle School’s new Resilient Leaders Project, we are working to identify and clarify practices that keep leaders grounded and energized in their work for the long haul. Here, Lacy Clark Ellman (MA in Theology & Culture, ‘12), a member of the Project’s planning team, explores Sabbath as one of those practices: a rhythmic pause in our work that allows us to engage beauty, truth, and goodness, reconnecting us with the holy substance of life that is so often buried in busyness.
When I was a student at The Seattle School, I took a class all about Sabbath. One of the assignments was to practice Sabbath in three ways: one with a friend, another with someone who is a bit foreign to the practice, and one in solitude.
My Sabbath with a friend was spent with my dear friend Katie. During that day we shared some of the best things we had in common—we watched David Whyte speak at the Search for Meaning Festival, perused bookstores to our heart’s content, ate lunch out, took a walk around the nearby lake, and sipped hot tea as we talked about life. Though we had lived together previously, this was the first day we had spent entirely together simply enjoying ourselves, and it opened us up to deeper relationship.
As for the Sabbath with someone foreign to the practice, I instantly knew my ideal companion (or victim, depending on just how hard it would be). My dad knows how to be productive more than anyone I know. Consequently this means that he rests less than anyone I know. Even his sleeping is done in a productive manner, so I don’t count it.
I knew a day without productivity for my dad was going to be a difficult one, so I brought my husband in for personal support. Ironically, though, I realized that ensuring that my dad had a Sabbath experience meant that I was not having one at all. And so, I too had to let go of my addiction to productivity, which in this case was a vision of a productive Sabbath experience for my dad. I know—an oxymoron, right? (The productive/Sabbath part, not the Sabbath/dad part, but also maybe just a bit.)
As it turns out, I ended up doing a lot of things with my dad that day that I hadn’t done in a long time, and even some things that we had never done at all. There were a few struggles on both ends, certainly, but we made it through. When we let him off the hook early around 5:00pm, I left feeling that it was a good and surprising experience. (No word yet on whether he’s attempted a Sabbath again.)
The final part of the assignment—my Sabbath in solitude—turned out to be one of my favorite days in Seattle. It was New Year’s Eve, and I began the morning traipsing through my favorite place in Seattle, Pike Place Market, and then lingered over coffee and a chocolate croissant at Le Pichet for nearly two hours as I journaled, reflecting over and celebrating the year gone by.
I then stopped into the Seattle Art Museum, sampled some salted caramels at Fran’s across the street (the absolute best), grabbed a slice of pizza at the Italian delicatessen, and took it home where I spent the afternoon reading magazines, dreaming about an upcoming trip abroad, and drinking tea. It was truly heavenly.
But I never would have had that experience without the boundaries of Sabbath.
Outside of the confines of Sabbath, productivity reigns, distractions beckon, and there is always at least one more thing I could get done. These are things to work on in their own right (perhaps a better word than “work” would be more appropriate here), but Sabbath is an opportunity to intentionally pause for a while, say “all is good,” and celebrate that goodness in the way our hearts know best.
“Sabbath is an opportunity to intentionally pause for a while, say ‘all is good,’ and celebrate goodness in the way our hearts know best.”
Sabbath, of course, finds its roots in the seventh day of creation. It’s on the seventh day, we’re told, that God rested after all the work of creating was done. But in his book Sabbath, Dan Allender emphasizes that God did not need rest on the seventh day; rather, God spent the time delighting in the newly created world.
Kim Thomas, who wrote Even God Rested, describes the Divine’s action on the seventh day—and thus the model for Sabbath as well—as ceasing and feasting.
I love that.
Sabbath is a practice to pause and remember what was intended and is written on our hearts, what we search for as seekers of the sacred, and what is to come when our true selves are set free and we are fully united with God. It is a time to cease our everyday tasks and productivity—to cease even our sorrow or worrying—and to feast on love, on life, and on the goodness of the Divine. It is a conscious creation of a time and space that is Sacred.
God emphasizes this by telling the Israelites to “keep it holy” when practicing Sabbath. To be “holy” is, of course, to be “set apart.” Dan continues in Sabbath to say this about the holy: “The holy comes in a moment when we are captured by beauty, and a dance of delight swirls us beyond the moment to taste the expanse of eternity in, around, and before us.”
This is what practicing Sabbath is all about—ceasing from our everyday and being “captured by beauty.” It’s about feasting on our delights, our relationships, our blessings, and what is good. When we do this, we are able to “taste the expanse of eternity,” to touch a bit of heaven, and to more fully experience the sacred as we rest in the presence of God.