The Friday Loaf

It’s hard to believe it’s been more than five years since Sabbath in the Suburbs was released! I still hear from organizations who want me to come and speak on the topic, but I’m doing way less of that than I used to… (and more on improvisation as a spiritual practice!). As important as a regular time of rest and renewal is, I’m just not invested in the sabbath stuff at the moment. Part of that is to be expected—spiritual themes loom large in our lives for a while, then fade away in favor of other things—but my reluctance to speak about sabbath is about something else.

Sabbath has been really, really hard. For a while now.

Whenever I speak to groups about sabbath, I hope I’m crystal clear that while it’s a simple practice, it’s far from easy. The reason our family devoted ourselves to it for one year is because it took a concerted effort (and bounded time) to make it happen! Now our three kids are much older—one of them in high school, with all the projects and extracurriculars that entails, not to mention the fact that she’s not super into mom and dad these days.  When parents of teens would come up to me and say, “Yeah but…,” I knew they weren’t just rationalizing. It is hard. I knew it must be. But now I know it first hand. Add in a vocation that has me on the road many weekends, and getting into a regular rhythm is tough.

What to do?
The answer, at least for now, has been bread.

Last fall, I spoke at an event for the Women of Reform Judaism—my first interfaith speaking event, but I hope not my last. The event took place prior to a Friday Shabbat service, and was preceded by dinner, a joyful affair with ample loaves of golden braided challah on each table.


Friends know that whereas some of us live gluten-free, I like to joke that I am gluten-full. I run specifically so I can eat carbs, and I’m only half kidding about that. I adore bread, and challah is the crowning achievement of that ancient technology.

That night last November, sitting at table with the Women of Reform Judaism, I loved the sensory experience of breaking that bread together, smelling its yeasty goodness, and pulling apart spongy pillows of the stuff. “Taste and see that God is good,” indeed! (If you don’t love or can’t eat bread, I trust that you have other sensory and gustatory experiences that provide similar satisfaction and well-being. I’d love to know what they are! Coffee? Chocolate? A good nourishing soup?)

I recently found a bakery close to my home that makes fresh challah each Friday, so it’s been a weekly practice to go and grab a loaf. Some weeks it’s a frenetic challenge to get there in the afternoon. (I’ve also been known to buy a second loaf and freeze it if I suspect I won’t make it to the bakery.)

It feels very old fashioned, even extravagant, to run this extra errand to a specialty shop, a place where I can’t cross anything else off my list. Sometimes I chafe against this inefficiency, self-imposed though it may be.

But all of that falls away on Friday evening, which has become our family’s default sabbath time, and the challah is our sabbath marker. It’s the sign that family time, holy time, is beginning. I put out the loaf, on a cutting board with serrated knife, and children and spouse cut themselves generous slices when they come home from school and work. We have a simple meal, usually leftovers—often out of a can or a freezer container, to be honest—but the challah sets it apart.

In fact, maybe this practice of buying and savoring bread is a place where sabbath and improv come together. Our lives are always changing, and our practices must change as well. Improvising life means responding to things as they really are, not the way they used to be… or the way we wish they were. We’re finding our way into a new way of being, one loaf at a time.

Sometimes, Friday night is all we can muster in terms of family sabbath. Sometimes, not even that is possible. When I’m being unkind to myself, I think a loaf of bread seems like a cop-out after how seriously we used to take our sabbath time together. But I have no use for an unkind spirituality. Bread it is. Reheated food, table conversation—it is all enough.

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4 thoughts on “The Friday Loaf

  1. Gary

    Great thoughts, and I love good challah. I’m interested in your improv book. Some friends and I have discussed the intersection of Sam Wells’ Improvisation and Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants. Looks like this might hit that spot.

  2. Ric White

    I just had a marathon reading session of your book when I should be sleeping, and I’ve come away with a crazy amount of ideas and inspiration. However, reading this post has sorta rained on my parade a bit. I’m a high school teacher, and I’ve been sitting here thinking about how great it would be to have our school theme center around tsking your time back and finding rest and pause. But this post makes me worry about the applicability, while also making me question if you still believe a great deal of what you said in the book is true. I understand what you are saying about the ebbs and flows of themes in our spiritual lives, but you just seem very dismissive of something that you said was difficult but definitely worth it and necessary. Of course, it could all be the 1:30 AM sleepiness. I guess I’m writing to find out if you do think this is still something that’s important and you are just ready to pass the torch, or if you have some modifications you would make to your book including and / or beyond what you’ve written here. No matter what, thanks so much for your great, insightful, and real book, and for the inspiration you have given me to learn more about the Sabbath and what a wonderful gift it is from God.

    1. MaryAnn McKibben Dana Post author

      Hi Ric, thanks for reading! Hope the book helped your insomnia 😉

      It’s not so much no longer believing what I wrote then, so much as it is acknowledging that there are seasons of our lives in which sabbath looks very different and takes on a different routine and texture. In my workshops and retreats, I always encourage people not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. An entire day every week is not our family’s current pattern, and for many people, it’s too heavy a lift. But there *are* ways to take the practice seriously. The discernment for each of us is to figure out how exactly to do that in each season and circumstance of life.


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