On Being a Sabbath Heretic

This summer I spoke to a couple of groups about Sabbath-keeping: what it looks like and what’s “in” and “out” on that day. We invariably ran into what I came to call the Lemon Meringue Pie Problem: is baking a lemon meringue pie an acceptable Sabbath activity?

The responses were all over the map:

  • No, baking a lemon meringue pie is not a Sabbath activity. “No work” means just that, and even if one finds baking a pleasurable activity, it is still work. Better to bake the pie on the day before and enjoy the eating of it during Sabbath time.
  • Yes, baking a lemon meringue pie is a great Sabbath activity. Isaiah talks about keeping the Sabbath as a delight, and if baking delights you, then bake away.
  • Even if you enjoy baking, it’s not a good Sabbath activity if you’re doing it out of obligation. If it’s for a kids’ fundraiser, or for the church potluck, or because there’s a family event coming up and you always bake the pie even though you’d like to make brownies this time, dangit!!!—then you might want to let it go or do it another time.
  • If you’ve got the ingredients on hand so you don’t have to go to the store, then go for it. (Some folks see Sabbath as a time to refrain from consumerism, to remove oneself from the marketplace. There’s something to be said for making do with what one already has in the pantry.)

Our family’s view of Sabbath has shifted somewhat. In fact, each chapter of the book contains a section called “The Work of Sabbath” that describes a different way of viewing what the Sabbath is. (Hint: it can go a lot deeper than simply “a day not to work.”) But even with some shifting ideas, we always started from a desire to be expansive about Sabbath. Sure, Sabbath involves saying No to some things—obligation, hurry, anxiety, busyness—but really it’s about a bigger Yes.

So I’m with Isaiah. If baking lemon meringue pie is a delight, go toward that delight.

I realize this makes us heretical in some circles, like we’re trying to have it both ways. So be it. At various points during our yearlong experiment, our Sabbaths included things that would traditionally be seen as Sabbath-y (staying home, reading, playing with the kids, napping) and a lot of things that seem very un-Sabbath-y. Robert brewed beer and built a rack for our firewood. We went on family field trips downtown. I even ran an errand or two. What made those things Sabbath-y? Well, you’ll have to read the book to get the full answer, and decide for yourself how the boundaries work.

And now, an offshoot of the lemon meringue pie problem: the Sunday afternoon football problem. A woman in one of my workshops loves watching football and wondered, “Is that a Sabbath activity?” What do you say?

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About MaryAnn

pastor, writer, haphazard knitter
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5 Responses to On Being a Sabbath Heretic

  1. Jeremy says:

    Hmm, perhaps sometimes the “work” allows for the Sabbath. I spent all day Saturday slow cooking pulled pork. It forced me to stay home and not do anything that took more than a 1/2 hour because I had to keep checking the grill. Any other Saturday I’d have been running all over the place.

  2. Ally says:

    I haven’t been particularly successful at my own attempts at Sabbath (and I’m a single gal who only has myself to deal with!) but my thoughts on it always go back to a quote from Marva Dawn’s Keeping the Sabbath Wholly:

    p.5 “To cease working on the Sabbath means to quit laboring at anything that is work. Activity that is enjoyable and freeing and not undertaken for the purpose of accomplishment qualifies as acceptable for Sabbath time.”

    For me its all about that line “for the purpose of accomplishment” – for me that’s always my big issue – I feel guilty if I don’t get enough done in a week – I tend to like hobbies like knitting where even if you spend the time on it – you end up with something at the end. Accomplishment is entirely too important to me, and thus, that’s the part I personally need to be concerned about when deciding what ought and ought not to be done during Sabbath time. Doesn’t make that true for everyone else, but I do think it’s a good way to at least consider looking at it…

    More than likely for me, making a pie might be appropriate – because while it would accomplish something – it is something I would otherwise likely put off and never do because there were more important things to accomplish…

  3. Rachel Heslin says:

    For me, I define Sabbath as an opportunity to practice Being, as opposed to Doing/Accomplishing. If an activity feels like a Should or a Checklist, then avoid it. If an activity deepens your experience of gratitude for the blessings in your life, then do it.

    I’m not sure about watching football; it depends on the person watching. If it’s a “veg in front of the TV” thing, even though that doesn’t take a lot of “work,” I’d lean towards avoiding it, because it isn’t expanding one’s connection with experiencing the timeless nature of a life deeply lived. However, if it’s an opportunity to spend time with friends and/or it inspires one to do more with one’s own life, then it might, indeed, be part of a Sabbath ritual.

  4. Pingback: A ‘Non-Theist’ Reads Sabbath in the Suburbs | Sabbath in the Suburbs… and Beyond

  5. Pingback: Excuses, Excuses: Why We Don’t Practice Sabbath Rest | Sabbath in the Suburbs… and Beyond

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