When Kate H. Rademacher converted to Christianity, she found in her new faith a new-to-her idea: Sabbath rest. She grew up with a social justice activist mom who worked tirelessly for the cause, so Rademacher embraced the idea that we humans have only ourselves to rely on to fix injustice and must work constantly to do so. With a busy career in public health, she rested only to let herself get back to work.
“The theology of rest intrigues me because it challenges that secular thinking,” said Rademacher, who talked with PW about her new book Reclaiming Rest: The Promise of Sabbath, Solitude, and Stillness in a Restless World, coming from Broadleaf Books in June.
(This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
How has your thinking about rest changed since your conversion to Christianity in your early 30s?
From a Christian worldview, we rest to remind ourselves that we are not God and can’t save the world on our own. God invites us to participate in the healing and restoration of the world, but we have to rely on God’s grace to do that. Rest is also a call to humility for that same reason: we can’t do it all ourselves.
What surprised you about the Christian observance of rest, or Sabbath?
My biggest surprise and disappointment is that the Sabbath is getting lost for many Christians. One reason may be fearing a return to legalism. We can get hung up on the “when” of Sabbath, wanting the guidelines and disciplines that come with knowing when the Sabbath is. Also, we live in an increasingly fast and social media-saturated world so we don’t rest. I think Sabbath-keeping is being overlooked as a gift from God.
How do you blend everyday life and Sabbath rest?
By embracing both, not one or the other. I work very hard in international public health and we’re in the middle of a pandemic and that work is important. I work hard and rest deeply, which is what motivated me to write this book. I took 36-hour solitary retreats throughout one year and really explored the themes of solitude. Now, I break apart Sabbath-keeping to part of Saturday and part of Sunday.
Is there a connection between Sabbath-keeping and social justice?
For sure. In the Old Testament, everyone had an equal right to rest on the Sabbath. Now, not everyone can access the Sabbath. (This) shows us something and should inform our political and world view if we believe that everyone deserves a Sabbath rest. There is also evidence around Sabbath-keeping and racial justice in that Black people (are able to) rest less than white people.
Does the day matter when keeping the Sabbath? Does everyone have to rest on Sunday?
God calls us to work six days out of seven. But there are shift workers working crummy hours, health care workers, first responders, those caring for children and elders (who cannot do so). I think we need to make the questions more overt on Sabbath rest. As we think about building back after the pandemic, at top of mind should be building back better in terms of supporting working families, elder care, and more in ways we haven’t seen before to allow for rest.