Last March, when I was in England working on some research at a Quaker study center, I met a Baptist minister who was staying at this same study center, also working on research. At meals, we would share about how our research was going. And then I learned as the first weekend approached that he always took a real sabbath on Sundays.
He was torn that first weekend because his research was going really well and he felt sorely tempted to go to the library on Sunday to continue work. In the end, he refrained and took his sabbath. He asked if I had worked, and I was surprised at how sheepish I felt to confess that I had. I made some feeble excuse about how my time there was limited (so was his), and maybe then also talked about how Quakers don't have rigid rules about this sort of thing, but finally I confessed that I was really impressed with his practice of truly honoring the sabbath, and so I asked more about it. How did he spend the day?
He told me he does spiritual reading and reflecting. He prays. He writes to his parishioners back at home. When he is home, he visits them.
As he talked, I became more and more impressed. The image I got was that he was being intentional about staying in touch: with God and with the people in his church.
So, I started honoring the sabbath while I was there. I would engage in spiritual reading not directly related to my research. I would write in my journal and reflect. I would be in touch with the friends I needed to be in touch with, not for any "work-related" reasons, but because they were my friends. It can be too easy to lose sight of these ways of staying connected, to God and to each other, in the press of our busy lives.
Since I have returned, I have noticed that I continue to honor the sabbath. The only "work" I allow myself is following through on tasks I've promised for my Meeting, plus certain modest household chores that I engage in with an attitude of their being spiritual practices, opportunities for another kind of prayer.
Now that the academic year has started, I have wondered how my own resolve would hold up. The problem with Sunday is that it happens just before Monday. Some traditions hold Saturday as the sabbath day, and this would work better for me, except for the fact that Meeting happens on Sunday.
But also, I have come to appreciate the challenge of trying to honor it on Sundays precisely because Monday follows. The discipline of holding Sunday as sabbath feels more real as a discipline because it is hard. Monday's anxiety threatens to seep into the day, and resisting this feels very good for my soul. To stare that anxiety in the face and say, "You don't scare me!" and to dare to affirm the Transcendent boldly on this day can feel very empowering.
So far, it is working. I haven't lost my grip on my work. It hasn't all come crashing down. I step into my Monday feeling stronger and clearer when I enter work as just one state of my being, not my entire identity.
But I must confess that I write about this not only to share its power, but because these past couple of weeks I have come very close to breaking my sabbath. By writing about it and sharing it with my readers, I make my resolve more public, and so it feels more real. I have a feeling that if I stay disciplined about this as the busyness intensifies, I will gain more insight about the power of this spiritual practice.
So, I encourage my readers to try this, especially if your lives feel way too busy! Or, if you already do this, or have tried it, I encourage you to share your experiences!
5 years ago