Conversations, VOLUME 12

Lenten Book Conversation – Part 6: Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath

Part Six of our Lent Book Conversation!

We are reading:

The Sabbath
Abraham Joshua Heschel

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*** It’s not too late to join in!


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

Reading:  Chapters X – Epilogue (pages 86-101)

Facilitator: Joshua Hale

Joshua 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 10 – Epilogue:

Chapter 10: “To Covet Time”

    1. The Sabbath, Heschel writes, “is not holy away from us. It is holy unto us” (87). In your practice of sabbath-keeping, how has this been realized? Is there a relationship between Heschel’s understanding of the Sabbath, and Jesus’ rationale that “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27)?

    3. Heschel sees additional, substantial import is given to human dignity and possibility: the soul is added or its capacity enlarged; a light emanates from the person, more substantial than
      mundane, workaday materiality; rabbis are taller, en-rosed, or revealed in sanctified countenance. How does the Sabbath materialize tangibly when you practice it, by yourself or in
      community? Of what does sabbath-keeping’s ability to magnify human life consist?

    5. Heschel says the first and tenth commandments bookend the Ten Words by invoking freedom, from God’s saving action in the Exodus (outer liberty) to renouncing possessiveness
      (inner liberty). Is keeping the Sabbath something liberating or constraining in your life? How has your posture to/in the Sabbath changed over time?

    7. While coveting things is forbidden by the tenth commandment, a Genesis account in Aramaic calls the Sabbath Hemdat Yamim, “a day to be coveted” (91, 117n14). Does that feel right to your soul and life? Do you long for, desire, even covet the Sabbath
    Epilogue, “To Sanctify Time”

    1. 5. In keeping with the distinctiveness of both space and time, Heschel says we “may pray to God equally at all places, but God does not speak to man at all times” (96). Have you found this to be true? How might experiential phenomena such as “thin places” in Celtic tradition respond to Heschel?
      6. R.S. Thomas’s poem “The Bright Field” is one example among many that expresses a Heschelian insight into the value of something deemed transient, naming “a brightness/that seemed as transitory as your youth/once, but is the eternity that awaits you.” Is time fleeting and evanescent, or have you found it otherwise?

    3. 7. Looking back over the whole book, what has Heschel unveiled or revealed for you? How has the art, the text, the method or meaning made a difference to you?


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:

Joshua Hale is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Liberty, Texas, an inveterate reader, and a periodic pilgrim [saunterer, backpacker, outdoor-nature-spiritual-walker]. Josh’s wife Christie is also an
ordained UMC elder, and they have four brilliant and delightfully odd children together. If his Twitter @expatminister was yet another child, it would be starting middle school in August; his Facebook author page, however, is a newborn…and he’s almost as terrified to bring it into the world as with any of his human offspring, so help stave off the imposter syndrome by liking Josh Hale: ExpatFaith, and by commenting below!


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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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