Monday, September 3, 2007

Sabbath rest

For the last 2.5 years I have practiced Sabbath. I was convicted about it mid-way through my seminary career. I was listening to a campus minister at Emory talk of her sabbath practices (going to the mall, the movies, getting a pedicure--but NOT working) and decided it was something I needed to add to my routine. The following week or so I decided to start. Being a working seminary student with church obligations, Saturday became the only choice. My first rule was "no work". So I didn't do homework or anything related to my job, church or admissions. That was all well and good but as soon as my friends heard I was taking Saturday "off" they began to sign up to hang out. Now, not that I didn't love my friends, but I found Saturdays booked up in nothing flat and it was not terribly restful for me. So I created a new rule--No committing myself to anyone. It may seem a bit strict, but for me it had to be that way so I could declare clear boundaries. In time, the two rules morphed into one "I don't do anything I have to do." Basically that meant if I said "I need to ____________." It was immediately taken off the list for sabbath day possibilities--that might have meant returning a phone call, doing homework, cleaning the house, or running errands. It also meant I didn't make commitments that I would then have to fulfill on my sabbath day. With time, my friends began to understand my rule and no longer took offense to my rigid rules, which later meant I felt free to call them up on Saturday to see if they wanted to hang out. Because our time together was not pre-scheduled it didn't feel like it was hanging over me or that I was going to let someone down if I decided it didn't quite fit in the rest I needed for the day.

I have continued to be diligent in my sabbath practices, sometimes I feel like a sabbath Nazi. Guru might be a better choice of words but I don't know that I am sage enough to merit such a title...anyway, I have found sabbath to be invaluable. If I have to miss sabbath for whatever reason, I find I am short tempered and exhausted all week. I never realized how much I needed that day free of obligations until I actually instituted it. More and more I am finding myself reminding others to take a sabbath day as well. Even a half day can be restorative.

As I look around at people and the demands of the American culture I am overwhelmed by the need to do something. Early on in my sabbath practice I could hardly figure out what to do with myself on those days, I felt useless and worthless if I didn't do something. I realized that was problematic, that doing didn't make me a more valuable person (which is extremely counter-cultural here in the U.S. of A.) Honoring the sabbath and honoring my person was a legitimate way to spend my day even if I only slept or watched TV for that period of time. Encountering and embracing the value of rest has made me a more whole person--I am less run down, less bitter, and more energized when I do work because I have had a real rest, not just a time where I am too tired to do anything and feel guilty the whole time for not getting more accomplished.

Now that I am in the parish, Saturdays as a sabbath day are a complete joke. There's no way I could take a Saturday, so Mondays are my official day. I turn off my church phone (I have two cells, one for work and one for friends and family), try not to read work related emails, and do my best not to even think of work. I wake up when I want and feel which way the wind blows and what I want to do for the day. I may make a big breakfast, or have coffee on the balcony, sleep, watch a movie, talk on the phone, read a book, paint, create, go hiking...whatever I want really, it is my day to do whatever feeds my soul.

Today, I began reading Sabbath by Wayne Muller. My dad gave it to me a few months back and I have had yet to crack it, but this morning I opened it and was glad I did. One of the first things I read was:

"A 'successful' life has become a violent enterprise. We make war on our own bodies, pushing them beyond their limits; war on our children, because we cannot find enough time to be with them when they are hurt and afraid, and need our company; war on our spirit, because we are too preoccupied to listen to the quiet voices that seek to nourish and refresh us; war on our communities, because we are fearfully protecting what we have, and do not feel safe enough to be kind and generous; war on the earth, because we cannot take the time to place our feet on the ground and allow it to feed us, to taste its blessings and give thanks." --Wayne Muller Sabbath

Muller's words rang loud in my heart. I too believe we do violence to ourselves, our relationships, and our world when we neglect rest. We cannot maintain the fast pace the world tries to demand of us and when we do we get sick, we become burnout or bitter, or we simply invoke violence on others by our neglect of them. We become so greedy for accomplishments that we become eternally myopic. We cannot see 2 feet in front of us. Life becomes an exile of sorts. We focus on the past--past accomplishments, past relationships or recognition, and we become crisis focused, we can only attend to the immediate problem before us. We cannot look with hope or vision to 5 or 10 years in the future. And without such future thinking, we become self destructive. We get stuck in the mire of past failures and present short-comings. We fail to see potential. We become numb to hope and as a result, we slowly injure ourselves and those around us.

So this Labor day, this day where we should all be freed by the national holiday to take a day of rest, I encourage you to think of your practices of sabbath and rest. Whether you realize it or not, you need times of silence, mediation, play, creativity, and rest. You are not less valuable, the world will not collapse because you fail to get some bit of work done, and you will become more whole. That's not my promise, it is God's! The fourth commandment is: thou shalt honor the sabbath and keep it holy. J. Ellsworth Kalas translates that commandment into: The sabbath shall keep you. Keeping sabbath is not about another thing to is about letting God's rest restore us--letting it keep us sane, happy, and healthy. When we honor God's laws, God honors God's promises, so honor the sabbath my friends and keep it holy--free yourself of obligations and let the sabbath keep you.

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