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Sabbath Rest: The beauty of God’s rhythm for a digital age, by Mark Scarlata, and Sabbath: The hidden heartbeat of our lives, by Nicola Slee 

26 July 2019

Jennie Hogan on two new books about the importance of holy rest

I CURRENTLY have no emails; I’m on sabbatical. For the first time in years, I am able to think deeply, rest properly, and live more creatively. Two fresh and dynamic approaches to understanding and living the sabbath are offered here to relish and learn from, if we give ourselves the time and the space to do so.

An Old Testament lecturer, Mark Scarlata (Features, 31 May) roots us in the sabbath experience of the people of Israel, from the story of creation, to the experience of exodus and the trauma of exile. We subsequently see more clearly that Christ’s presence not only disrupts but embodies sabbath rest, not least in his miracles and his resurrection.

Scarlata offers a clear scriptural and historical overview laying out the complexity of interpretation. It is well-pitched for a wide readership. We are reminded that living out the sabbath is subversive; recognising God’s gift of sacred time is an act of resistance against the onslaught of digital slavery which, he suggests, can be as oppressive as captivity in Egypt.

The importance of being stopped in our tracks by beauty so that we might be drawn more closely to God’s image is revealed here without pestering us to be peaceful. We already know that we need to do less and simply be more, but Scarlata’s approach may inspire and invite us to experience sabbath and enter into deeper rhythms of time with glad obedience.

A theologian, Nicola Slee offers bold, humble, and poetic perspectives on the sabbath. The subtitle of her book emphasises the difficult work of sloughing away our resistance to rest. The American farmer-poet Wendell Berry’s Sabbath Poems shape Slee’s approach; his emphasis on the covenant with the land and the seasons so tenderly expressed encourages us to slow the pace of our experience of this book, as well as our lives. Choice journal entries that Slee wrote during periods of sabbatical leave add honest and expansive insights. Slee marries the personal with the professional with the confidence of a consummate feminist writer.

There is a strong sense of a profound need for sleep, which may ring true for many readers in an age of endemic sleep deprivation. Yet Slee observes that sabbath is not simply a nowhere land of recovery, but a gentle and compassionate discipline that will always be a struggle to follow, no matter how paradoxical this invitation to “blessed idleness” may appear. Slee digs deep; she explores the fears that entering sacred time might unearth.

Each chapter offers questions and reflections for prayer; blank pages follow for the reader to use. Some questions are frank: “How do you regard and experience the regime of the market and the machine?” Others are asked of herself in her journal entries: “Are you seeking the pearl of great price or have you scattered your pearls before swine?”

Ultimately, we learn from each author that God’s gift of the sabbath is a movement of grace, not a moment to be snatched. To embrace the sabbath rest is to be embraced by God. Could this be why the call to live a sabbath life feels at once so tantalising and yet so frightening?

The Revd Jennie Hogan is Chaplain of Goodenough College and Associate Priest of St George’s, Bloomsbury, London. Her book This Is My Body: A story of sickness and health is published by Canterbury Press.

Sabbath Rest: The beauty of God’s rhythm for a digital age
Mark Scarlata
SCM Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop special price £10.99

Sabbath: The hidden heartbeat of our lives
Nicola Slee
DLT £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9

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