Creating Sanctuary: Reflections on Keeping the Sabbath for a non-Jewish, non-religious family

Sabbath Keeping

It’s the end of the week and we are preparing for the Sabbath.

We’re not Jewish. In fact, we don’t belong to any church. Other than praying in the verbiage of Christianity, we aren’t particularly situated in any religious path. But recently, we’ve felt called to observe this day of rest.

With no specific education around the Jewish Sabbath, we also don’t feel obligated to follow any particular “rules” – except those that feel deeply true in our the spirit.

The basic rules:

Just rest. No electronics. No being ‘out in the world’ unless it’s really necessary.

We light a candle on Friday evening just as the sun begins to set. We let it burn until after sunset on Saturday night.

Anything that feels like *work* gets put on hold.

*I think this is where most of our intuitive guidance is needed. Since we homeschool and both work from home in passion-based businesses, work can easily slip into play and vice-versa. So we use our best judgement.

As a writer, I don’t write on the Sabbath (but I still see the world as a narrative story.) As an ethnobotanist, he doesn’t study plants or people on the Sabbath (but I’m sure he still hears plant spirits regularly 🙂).

We talk as a family about what the day represents. We read inspirational texts. We spend time in prayer and meditation. We hug a lot.

The Wide Struggle

Our ritual makes this day of rest sound idyllic. It can be, but there is struggle too.

All week long, we are journeying toward this place of repose. We bring all our fears and shortcomings with us.

On the Sabbath, the struggles feel wider, more in-your-face and alive.

The rules are guidelines. The struggles are signposts. Together they map out a place that needs healing.

My Struggle

Last Sabbath, I struggled. There was a battle between my heart and my mind; between my ego-self and my divine self.

It’s the same struggle I face most days: the struggle to remember that I am not my emotions. That my thoughts do not define me.

It’s the struggle to abide in love and be kind.

Stone bench image
This struggle feels easier when I sit for meditation because I go into the practice almost expecting the never-ending chatter in my mind. Plus, it only lasts for as long as I’m sitting.

I can draw upon the energy of movement if I need to, or focus on the breath.

But on the Sabbath, I’m not sitting alone, quietly, shielded from opportunities to react.

A whole day of living an ordinary life as a daylong meditation. It’s a different practice.

I’m focused on rest from the world but I’m still moving through the world on a micro-level. I’m feeding my family. I’m trying to create an example of repose while also offering ways for my daughter to enjoy this quiet time.

I’m still tending to my home and family, but I’m trying to do so in a way that models mindfulness and rest.

How do you tend to your ordinary life in a way that models rest? 

That’s the struggle I carry as I respond to the needs and moods of those around me trying to remain aware of my own moods, thoughts, and needs.

This is my practice. It’s also the place where I need the most healing.


There’s a beautiful book,The Sabbathby Abraham Joshua Heschel, that’s inspired us.

Heschel calls this day and the keeping of it a sort of temple-making. He says, “The Sabbath itself is a sanctuary which we build, a sanctuary in time.”

The idea of having a sanctuary to come to at the end of the week is what brought us to this practice. A sacred space where time melts away for a few blessed hours.

In the introduction to the 50th Anniversary Edition of the book, the author’s daughter, Susannah Heschel, describes her father opening the Sabbath with a prayer and a blessing.

She says, “I also felt that he was blessing my life.”

I grew up in an environment where my life was more often cursed than blessed, so her description touched me deeply.

It’s a longing that many may understand: the desire to have our lives blessed, to be nurtured and supported.

Sabbath Keeping as Temple Making - Creating space for the care of your soul There is a growing need for temple-making. Now more than ever, we’re seeking rituals and daily practices that nourish us on a deeper level.

This is the practice my family and I are trying to create. The practice of temple-making, entering that sanctuary in time where, as Heschel put it, “we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul,” p13.

A sanctuary in time for the renewal of the soul. #creatingsanctuary #sabbathkeeping Click To Tweet

So even as I struggle, I know that my tending is not mundane work, but the upkeep of a temple where we can come to be renewed.

This is the place I want to create in my life and in the world: the sacred space where I can daily walk with God.

Keeping the Sabbath: Reflections of a non-Jewish, non-religious family


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