Heschel/Sabbath Experiment Instructions. In this part of the course, I want to introduce you to the “heart” of the Old Testament: how it works when it is lived out in practice.  It has three components, integrated into one assignment.

  1. Sabbath Experiment: I am asking you to pick one thing to actually practice in your life to bring quiet reflection to your otherwise busy life. It should take no less than 15 minutes; it may last much longer. Those with religious conviction may want to augment that conviction with some new religious practice; those without a religious tradition are encouraged to find an alternative but similarly regular and reflective practice that brings solace and respite and “marks the time”.
    1. Your “activity” needs to be the same thing at the same time every week and only once a week (for a minimum of 3 weeks in a row, preferably more, if possible).
      1. It does not have to be alone but it needs to put you in touch with your sense of “being” not “doing”, and being “present” (to people, God, the world) not “distracted” or just “entertained”.
      1. E.g. You might pick a meal with friends, but the meal must be without anyone checking their phones at all for a whole hour. You might be alone on a walk, but not while listening to music (viz. alone with your thoughts and self). You get to choose, but you will need to explain and justify your choice.
  • Memorization: I am also asking you to memorize 3-6 versesof the Old Testament from any of the passages below. So much of biblical history, writing, and study is connected to memorization. In many ways, the Bible is the Bible because it is a collection of texts worth memorizing.
    • You are also highly encouraged to make your process of memorization part of your Sabbath experience somehow. (Ideally, you meditate on the meaning of the text as you quiet yourself from your normal distractions & patterns.)
    • You may want to memorize more of some passage. Feel free!
    • You will come to my office and recite your passage from memory. So practice!
    • List of Passages (again, pick any 3-6 verses from within these biblical sections):
      • Deuteronomy 6:1-9.
      • Psalms 1, 2, or 3; 22, 40, or 51; 121, 131, or 133.
      • Job 28:12-14; 21-28.
      • Isaiah 11:1-9.

3. Reading: Alongside this practice and memorization, you will read Abraham Heschel’s The Sabbath.[1] The book is intended to be a dialogue partner to your own practice. You may find Heschel inspiring, or aggravating, but try to read him sympathetically. He is there to press you to think about how people live out the Bible (especially in this one particular way).

Recommended: I suggest reading a few per week and reflecting on the book as you take on your new practice.  Heschel’s book has an Intro (which you should read) and is broken down this way: Prologue, Part 1: chs. 1-2; Part 2: chs. 3-6; Part 3: chs. 7-10; and an Epilogue. –Also, citations of Heschel can be kept to parenthetical numbers, after quotation marks but before the period where appropriate, e.g. “Time is the heart of existence” (3). Other sources should include the author’s name, e.g. (Warren, 144).

4. Assignment: (1) Compose a 3-4 page personal reflection essay (with standard font, margins, & spacing) on this small attempt to live out the Bible in one particular way, i.e. your own practice and how Heschel influences you, especially in connection to the Bible.[2] Draw connections between your experience, the Bible, and Heschel’s book. (2) Recite your memorized text for Dr Parker in his office, word-for-word perfectly according to the version you choose. (This only takes a few minutes each! Sign-up sheet will be on my office door, EVANS 115.)

NOTE: Reading Heschel well is the center of this assignment. He will help you think deeper about what you are doing and what Sabbath is. Cite him repeatedly in your essay (with just a number in parentheses at the end of a sentence or clause), engage with him deeply and across the breadth of the book. Through him, Scripture, and your practice bring everything in your essay back to this: What is Sabbath and how can it or should it impact human living (or not)?

a. Adding creativity: You are encouraged to consider adding a creative work to your project, e.g. poem(s), music, dance, art, sculpture, etc. ANYTHING that helps engage your “heart” alongside your ceasing and reflection.

b. Key factors in grading:

(i) Your own practice: Is it defensible as a “Sabbath experiment”? (Don’t spend time defending it. Just tell me about it enough. I can determine its defensibility.)

(ii) Your sympathetic and critical engagement with Heschel [this part is weighted the most]: Do you understand him and where he is coming from? Do you engage with him at a personal level (whether or not you agree with him)? Can you cite particular passages that were particularly meaningful to you?

(iii) Memorization/Reflection on the Bible itself: How does any or all of this assignment affect your thinking about the Bible (esp. passages quoted or alluded to in Heschel or your memory verses)?

(iv) Your presentation: Have you created a quality presentation and response?  Is it appropriate (not overly informal or trite)?  Is it thought-provoking?  Is it well-done?

Rubric: See Canvas.


[1] Heschel draws from rabbinic sources that will be foreign to most of you. Don’t worry about where he is getting the ideas; instead, consider the point being made and how what it means for you.

[2] “Bible” is always capitalized while “biblical” is not. Whenever you quote the Bible in English, cite the version you are using, e.g. “Praise the LORD” (Ps 105:45b, ESV).

“Is this question part of your assignment? We Can Help!”