In this secular age, the idea of a Senator writing what amounts to a guidebook for observing the Sabbath might seem more than a little out of the ordinary.
And, truth be told, it probably is. But Joe Lieberman has never seemed to mind being perceived as standing a bit off the beaten path, so “The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath” is really no stretch for the Connecticut Independent.
“For me, Sabbath observance is a gift because it is one of the deepest, purest pleasures in my life. It is a day of peace, rest, and sensual pleasure,” Lieberman writes. “By sensual I don’t mean sexual — though you might find it interesting to know that one religious ‘responsibility’ given to every married Jew is to make love with their spouse on the Sabbath because this is meant to be a day on which we experience the fullness of life.”
Lieberman returns to the idea of sensuality — and even sexuality — elsewhere, though a peek into the romantic life of a Senator might not be what the reader expects when picking up this book.
Still, those instances fit nicely into the nature of “The Gift of Rest.” It is intensely personal while striving with some success to universalize the experience of observing the Sabbath.
“This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” Lieberman said in an interview with Roll Call, “because of how much my Sabbath observance has meant to my life.” He said writing the book was among the most important things he’s done.
Everybody, Lieberman said, whether a person of faith or not, can benefit from the time and space that Sabbath observance provides.
“I love the Sabbath and believe it is a gift from God that I want to share with everyone who reads this book, in the hopes that they will grow to love it as much as I do,” Lieberman writes in the author’s note that begins the book.
Politics rarely intrudes, and when it does Lieberman uses it to make a point. He devotes one chapter to those occasions when it is permissible to interrupt the Sabbath. I think the book could have done without it, if for no other reason than because politics is for the most part joyously absent from the rest of the narrative.
(One exception is an experience Lieberman shares from the 2008 campaign trail, in which he counsels GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin using the story of Esther.)
It is in the sections in which Lieberman offers suggestions for how to observe the Sabbath that the book becomes less of a quiet dissertation on practical theology and more of a modern how-to guide, a “Chicken Soup for the Sabbath Deprived.”
“Let yourself take an afternoon nap!” he writes.
“Consider not wearing a watch on the Sabbath. Don’t worry about being late.”