Sabbath as Spiritual Practice


Flora Slosson Wuellner

Do I give myself regular “Sabbaths”? Each hour we need tiny Sabbath moments of inner renewal: gazing at a sunbeam on the floor, looking at a beloved painting, smelling a flower, touching a leaf, listening to a bird, stretching and breathing deeply, holding our hands under running water, gently palming our eyes, or just quietly sensing God’s breath upon and within us. Such tiny but powerful Sabbath moments are especially important after intensive thinking, working, or interaction with other people.

Each day, we should lay aside at least one hour of Sabbath time to be and do what delights us most. We might walk, enjoy a garden, listen to music, read a delightful book. Whatever we choose, we should do it with joy, not compulsion. God is present with us in these moments of personal delight as much as when we are praying. 

We need one day a week for relaxing, joyous, humanizing activities. The original scriptural concept of Sabbath was not that of heavy church responsibilities or even of intense prolonged prayer. Originally it was given as a day of total peace and relaxation; a time to enjoy God’s presence, knowing God also rested after the intensity of creation. The act of resting is a holy act. 

We need a week each year (not the regular family holiday) when we can go off alone or with a few like-minded friends or spouse for a quiet retreat. It need not be a time of intensive reading or contemplation but a time of walks, music, drawing, sleeping, keeping a journal—whatever refreshes and renews us most deeply. 

Experiences of Sabbath

Hearing about other Christian leaders’ experiences and celebrations of Sabbath is both interesting and helpful.

  • One minister told me she leaves town the night before her weekly day off, so that the next morning she is already within her ambience of rest.
  • An active church laywoman I know takes her hour of refreshment and delight first thing in the morning when she writes poetry of thanksgiving...
  • A lay leader prepares a fresh vegetable drink each day and sips it while walking slowly through his garden for half an hour.
  • Once a day a busy conference executive closes her door, puts her feet up, and listens to her favorite music for half an hour!
  • A pastor enjoys walking, resting, or playing tennis with his wife during his quiet hour...
  • A lay leader sits quietly at her table after breakfast, a candle lit, reading a few scripture verses, and inwardly talking with God about the events of the day ahead.
  • A Christian businessman schedules a half-hour appointment with himself each day (writing the date in his appointment book) and keeps the date as definitely as if he were meeting a colleague. He takes himself for a walk, talks with God, sits down with a book, or opens the window and breathes the fresh air. Sometimes he takes out his collection of cartoons and gives himself the good medicine of hearty laughter...

We need to take responsibility ourselves for our Sabbath times with unapologetic firmness and clarity... We are beginning to understand self-care in Christ’s name as a holy act, not only as stewardship to God’s “temple” within us but as deep witness to the faith that we are God’s beloved.

A Sabbath Activity: Soaking Prayer

Lay aside all intensive prayer and reading. Lay aside intercessory prayer for a while. (God will take care of those for whom you pray as you rest.) Make your body comfortable and at rest, whether on a bed, a deep chair, on the floor, or on the ground. 

With thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light (Ps. 36:9, KJV). 

Think of God’s warmth and light surrounding you, as if you lie in the sun or a pool of water. If this image seems too warm or confining, think of yourself in a cool, blue lake or lying on the beach with the ocean waves gently washing over you. Or you may wish to think of yourself as an underwater reed, slowly swaying in the water currents, or as a flexible tree rocking in the breeze. Some other image may come. You may wish to let your own body slowly and gently rock from side to side as if you were being cradled. 

Or you may just wish to lie very still and let God’s light and breath flow slowly and deeply into every part of your body, saturating you just as water saturates a sponge. Your whole self is washed in God’s presence. 

This prayer can last for fifteen minutes or for several hours. Let it send you into sleep if you wish. 

If you are seriously fatigued or ill, let this be your only form of prayer for a while—maybe for weeks. I have known people who were healed of illness while using this form of prayer. I strongly advise at least a few minutes of this form of prayer each day to prevent exhaustion.

Adapted from Feed My Shepherds: Spiritual Healing and Renewal for Those in Christian Leadership by Flora Slosson Wuellner. Copyright © 1998 by the author. Used with permission of Upper Room Books.