By Don Richter

“What will you be doing at 3 o’clock this afternoon?” This question was recently posed to members of our adult Sunday school class at Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.

“I’d like to say that I’ll be taking a nap or going to the zoo with the kids, but what I’ll probably be doing is grading papers for school.”

Heads nodded in agreement with this response, as each of us admitted – sheepishly – that Sunday afternoon has become an extension of the work week instead of a time for rest and relaxation.

“What are specific things we can do to reclaim Sabbath time for ourselves and our families?” With this question, class members began to share suggestions for ways to order time instead of having time always order us.

We noted how the weekly observance of Shabbat has been at the heart of Jewish faith for centuries. We confessed our temptation as a congregation to over-program Sundays, sometimes filling the day with activities instead of Sabbath rest.

On this day, our Sunday school class as studying the practice of Sabbath-keeping one of 12 Christian yet fundamentally human activities described in a new book entitled Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People.

Edited by Dorothy C. Bass, a church historian, this book offers sage advice from 13 contributors on topics such as honoring the body, hospitality, testimony, saying yes and saying no, shaping communities, forgiveness, healing and dying well.

When our class examined the first practice – honoring the body – we were deeply moved as a class member recounted how challenging it was for her to honor the swollen and disfigured body of her sister-in-law dying of AIDS. Parents in our group expressed concern about the way media imagery encourages teenagers to dishonor their bodies. We all agreed that “honoring our bodies” provides a more constructive framework for teaching about human sexuality than slogans such as “safe sex” or even “true love waits.”

The last activity portrayed in Practicing Our Faith is no “dying well” but “singing our lives,” since Christians believe that death does not ultimately have the final word.

To help us explore the practice of singing – especially hymn singing – our class enlisted the musical talent of Don Saliers, an Emory colleague who authored this chapter. Don invited us to tell each other about our favorite hymns as we sang them together.

In an era when many folks prefer to characterize themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious,” it is refreshing to find a book that shows how the best of our religious tradition addresses the deep yearnings of the human spirit for respect, shelter, companionship, melody and freedom.

Editor’s Note: Dan C. Richter is director of the youth Theology Institute and assistant professor of Christian education at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University. Reprinted from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.