A Sabbath Heart

More and more people have become aware of the need for sabbath today, even if they don’t know how to bring it into the normal rhythm of their complicated lives. We see signs of people’s desire for a more receptive quality of time in the increasing popularity of retreats and meditation practices. However, the attempts to satisfy this need have often been erratic, unsupported individual attempts. They have not been connected with the full sense of a gifted and historically grounded corporate rhythm of life for individuals, families, and the whole church, and, in its rudiments, for all human life. Buried deep in Jewish and Christian traditions we find this rhythm of time anchored in the sabbath. Sabbath time at its heart is an opportunity for special practice of unambiguous receptivity to the free gift of life in God. This practice is meant to both balance and ground our working time. It needs to be recovered and offered in fresh forms today.

My hope…is to open and deepen for us the promise of sabbath time as an integral dimension of the Christian life (as it is in Jewish life), one that touches positively all the other dimensions of our lives. I also hope that the practiced Christian rhythm of sabbath and ministry will be seen as a major contribution of the church to the whole society, one that offers an alternative to the growing societal rhythm between driven achievement and narrow escape. That deadly rhythm threatens to bury the fullness and sanity of our individual and common life and calling in God.

Finally, I hope…to heal the breach often felt by people who assume that contemplation and action have nothing to do with each other. A contemplative stance for me is one that seeks to be immediately present to God moment by moment, through whatever is happening. In this sense of contemplation, separate sabbath time gives an unambiguous opportunity for our desire and appreciation for God in the moment to show themselves steadily. In ministry time, a contemplative stance also seeks to be present in the moment for God, but with special attention to how we are called to serve the world’s needs and creativity in our day-to-day situations with our particular gifts. With this understanding, there is no ultimate separation between contemplation and action. If we see these two modes in terms of fully intimate relationship with God, we could say that they find their common ground in the Gracious One who both rests and labors through us.


Love in the triune God is open, connecting, freeing, playful, painful, transforming. Its two faces are labor and rest, ministry and sabbath. Such love is the fulfillment of all the commandments. For this we are born. Yet this love does not come easily. We are an open Dr. Jekyll who lives with a Mr. Hyde ever lurking to twist the freedom of that love into a closed, calculating fist of evil, delusion, and separation. We live internally divided in this way. Our social situations mirror this personal split. Our life in Christ is a struggle and a plea to reconcile in God the split-off beast within and without and let its energies be transformed by the river of grace that flows through all that is.

Our bodies reflect this struggle too. Their healing, cleansing, enlivening energy channels become blocked in places, and clenching pain, disease and distortion follow. There is so much in and around us that drives them closed. Thus we must return again and again to various treatments for their opening. Our love in Christ is like this. We yearn for a new and stabilized level of its flow through and around us, yet we find it blocked again and again. Our spiritual practices, underlain by gifted faith and desire for God’s fullness, are the treatments with which we are endowed to open us to Love’s flow again and again.

A rhythm of sabbath and ministry time is a foundational discipline, a framework for all our disciplines. It is a rhythm that God provides to human life for its care, cleansing, and opening to grace. This rhythm is not for one day or one week or one year only. It is for life. Broken human beings cannot expect God’s wise love to hold in our awareness once and for all. The rhythm, as a permanent discipline, symbolizes this reality. We can pray that over the years it will help us appreciate Holy Love’s desire to touch those cramped places of dammed-up spiritual energy in our lives and release us for ever deeper, wiser, steadier, and bolder praise and ministry.

Sabbath and ministry are united by a single-hearted desire for this knowing love to live through us, in all that we are and do, and indeed to live through all creation. In graced time, this rest and labor of love mingle with ever greater intimacy, and a Sabbath heart lives in us through all our labors.

Excerpted from Tilden Edwards, Sabbath Time. Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 2003.

January 01, 2009 by Tilden Edwards
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