Review: Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest

Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest, Ruth Haley Barton, foreword by Ronald Rolheiser. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2022.

Summary: Describes the journey to life-giving sabbath practices as well as planning for and taking sabbaticals.

Ruth Haley Barton is a gifted speaker, writer, and Christian leader. And like many such people she pushed herself hard in a high-performance church culture and later as leader of her own ministry organization. She enjoyed reading books about sabbath, but that was for other people. Until she was in a bike accident. And she realized that God had given her a harder nudge that it was time to begin a journey of sabbath practice.

This book describes that journey and a further one of taking sabbaticals–extended sabbaths allowing a longer period of rest and transformation. She discovered that sabbath began with God, who wove rest into the fabric of creation with his own rhythm of six days of work, and then rest. Sabbath is participating in the rest that is already there, that we work and rest in rhythm with God. Sabbath is also an act of resistance. It was for the Hebrew ex-slaves who always had to work for Pharaoh. It is as well in our 24/7 culture.

Sabbath was meant as a community practice, enjoyed and shared together. We often try to figure this out for ourselves, and one of the unique contributions of this book is that it casts vision for churches and other communities to share in sabbath practice. She gives practical help in leading that culture change process, beginning with oneself, other leaders, and the congregation. She speaks of “no emergencies with God” and allowing the process of communal sabbath-keeping to take the time it needs. The book includes an appendix with a discussion guide for church leaders to use.

She addresses unplugging from our technology, acknowledging the hold it has on us, and ways we may be more present to God and each other when we include “unplugging” in our sabbath practice. She shares with us her delight in sabbath, particularly in just having time to “putz” around. It’s a time to be free to be neighborly, to allow the accumulated emotions of the week to bubble to the service, and to bring them to God without self-numbing. She speaks of sabbath in different seasons of life, as a student, with families, caring for parents. Then she pulls this together in helping us shape our sabbath practice.

There are times when sabbath is not enough. But the good news is that sabbath prepares us for sabbatical, for extended periods of rest. She addresses the temptation to be “productive” during sabbaticals and encourages beginning to plan a sabbatical by listening to what one’s soul is trying to say to God and ourselves about our longings for this time. She shares her own sabbatical journey–during a pandemic–and offers practical helps on how to plan a sabbatical and an appendix on re-entry from one. One of the basic insights that everyone I know affirms is that you don’t know how tired you are until the first weeks of a sabbatical and the importance of making allowance for this.

It is obvious that Ruth Haley Barton has “put her own mask on first” before trying to help us. Her delight in sabbath and rich experience of sabbath invite the reader to consider these for oneself. Sabbath and sabbatical are shared as gifts rather than obligations and burdens, practices that keep us even more than we keep them. Perhaps more, the language of embrace suggests sabbath as a welcome friend, or even a reminder that as we rest and trust, that the Lover of our Soul will embrace and hold and refresh us.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

One thought on “Review: Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: March 2023 | Bob on Books

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