Conversations, VOLUME 12

Lenten Book Conversation – Part 4: Abraham Joshua Heschel – The Sabbath

Part Four of our Lent Book Conversation!

We are reading:

The Sabbath
Abraham Joshua Heschel

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(If you are running behind, you are still welcome
to contribute the previous conversation)

Reading:  Chapters V and VI (pages 50-63)

Facilitator: Jim Honig
Jim compiled the following discussion questions, and will be facilitating our conversation in the comments below.

These questions are intended to get conversation rolling. Please feel free to ask your own questions, or make your own observations, about this week’s reading in the comment section below.

Chapters  5 and 6: 

  1. In a sense, Rabbi Heschel turns our understanding of Sabbath on its ear. We are prone to think that observing Sabbath is a spiritual practice that will bring benefit to our lives.  He suggests, rather, that the Sabbath is in need of us. How does this notion reframe your own understanding and practice of Sabbath-keeping? How could this notion get lived out in local faith communities?

  3. How do you understand Rabbi Heschel’s suggestion that Sabbath brings holiness into our world of time? What does that look like for you?

  5. The Christian tradition (see, for example Hebrews 3 and 4) talks about Sabbath rest as the rest that comes to us in Christ — the forgiveness of sins, the release of the burden of the law. So if, as Rabbi Heschel writes, Sabbath makes time holy, does the Sabbath rest we know in Christ make our whole lives — all of our time — holy? How do we order our lives to reflect that kind holiness of time?

  7. Rabbi Heschel writes that the Sabbath “day was a living presence.” I experience this living presence in Sunday worship. I realize, of course, that Sabbath-keeping is much more than going to church. But for me, this is the closest I come to experiencing Sabbath as a “living presence.” What about you? How do you experience Sabbath as a living presence?

  9. I’m intrigued by this sentence: “The Sabbath is the presence of God in the world open to the soul of man.” We speak of the presence of God in many places: in the natural world, in the face of both neighbor and stranger, in the gathered assembly for worship, in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, in the water of baptism. How do you see the unique presence of God in Sabbath?

  11. I want to reflect for a moment on Sabbath as bride. I think there’s a connection here, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Rabbi Heschel speaks of Sabbath as a bride and its celebration like a wedding. I couldn’t help but jump to the image of the church as the bride of Christ, steeped as I am in New Testament imagery. Does anyone else see a connection here? Can you help the rest of us think more clearly about what that connection might be?


Logistics of our Conversation:

Our conversation will unfold in the comment section below. Feel free to answer any of the above questions or to ask your own questions or add your observations about the reading. If you are adding a new question / observation, please do so as a new comment, not as a reply to another comment. If you are responding to someone else’s comment, please use “REPLY” instead of responding in a new top-level comment.  

If you have not left a comment on the ERB website before, your first comment will have to be moderated, and may take up to 24 hours to appear. But once you have an approved comment, you will generally be able to post without moderation.

Feel free to disagree with other participants, but do so with gentleness and respect. Comments that do not follow this rule of thumb may be deleted.

Check in often to see how the conversation is going. (Unfortunately, we do not have the technological capacity to email you when new comments are added)

About our facilitator:

Jim Honig is a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, serving with the people of Shepherd of the Bay Lutheran Church in northern Door County, Wisconsin. In addition, he is a community organizer, reader, writer, blogger, hiker, bicyclist, and kayaker.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

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  1. Starting with Question 4….like you, my experience in the Mass is where I come closest to what I hear Heschel talking about in this book—a place of ‘living presence,’ where time is transformed by the holiness of God’s presence. What I’ve been hearing as I’ve been reading this book is that Sabbath is where we experience time as God originally created it, as a dimension in which we come into the living presence of God, where we can dwell and walk with God. I do think for me that happens primarily in worship—communal worship, personal prayer, as well as those moments of personal encounter where God is tangibly present (i.e., accompanying the sick, reconciliation, etc.). It seems to me that as Genesis continues, this sense of time continues through Genesis 3. The way that we experience time outside of the Sabbath now is time fallen. One task of discipleship is to allow Sabbath time to emerge throughout the structure of our regular days.

    Re. question 6—I must admit, Heschel’s correlation of the Sabbath with the bride—and his extensive discussion thereof—made me very uncomfortable. I agree that there are probably correlations to be made with these ‘bride’ images of Sabbath and the church, etc., but they give me pause.

  2. Thanks, Therese, for your thoughtful comments. I especially appreciate your calling our attention to the fallen nature of time in the aftermath of Genesis 3.

    Would you be willing to say a little more about your discomfort with Heschel’s characterization of Sabbath as bride?