Saturday, May 6, 2017

A Sabbath Spirituality

"Rest in the Wilderness"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House"

Today is Saturday, the weekend has begun.  Interestingly enough, the very word “Saturday” means “sabbath,” or “rest.”  Our ancient ancestors thought that taking some time to stop and rest was so important that they named a day of the week for it - perhaps a way of reminding one another to take the weekend as a time away from the busyness of the everyday routine.  
Nowadays, however Saturdays and weekends tend to be even busier than Monday through Friday.  Many people work on weekends, and if they are not actually at work they are at home catching up on the work they were not able to do during the week. In many other cases weekends are a time to get to the “to do” list and accomplish all those numerous other tasks and chores that were put off during the week, and even when people are taking some time away, perhaps relaxing at Starbucks or hanging out on a bench in a local park, the ever present iPhone is always available so that texting and emails are but a fingertip away.

As I think of it, being busy is almost a “badge of honor” in today’s popular culture. People sometimes brag about how “insanely busy” they are to indicate how important they are.

I often wonder if the phenomenon of always checking for messages on a cellphone or constantly “texting” with others is a subtle way of showing everyone around me just how busy I really am. There is a sense in which “busyness” can be just one more tool in the toolbox for building a big strong ego, and big egos are always a roadblock on the spiritual path. 

I think Socrates was wise to warn:

Beware the barrenness of a busy life.

I even wonder if our modern-day aversion to “rest” and “sabbath” may even influence the way some “spiritual” people may approach their own faith and practice nowadays. The pursuit of religion and spirituality is often thought to be a “busy” time for doing “hard work” -  busy going to church, busy saying prayers, engaging in the hard work of daily meditation being sure that you are doing it correctly and for the proper length of time.

And yet, the admonition to “rest,” to take some “sabbath” time and sometime to just “do nothing” is a teaching that cuts across the wisdom of all the major world religious and spiritual traditions

In the wonderful “creation poem” found in the Book of Genesis in the Hebrew scriptures, even God rested after the hard work of six days of creation, and in the Gospels, Jesus frequently takes his disciples to an “out of the way” location where they sit beneath groves of trees and rest from the weariness of all their missionary travels.

Back in the 6th century, when Saint Benedict wrote his famous “Rule of Life” for his monks to follow, he told them that without the “balance” of a daily period of intentional  “rest”  their commitment to prayer, study and work would ultimately lead them into spiritual burnout.

From ancient times, the Zen practice of “Zazen” has been an important discipline on the spiritual path. To this very day, Zen Buddhists practice “Zazen” by engaging in an intentional daily practice of “doing nothing,” just quietly resting while “sitting and staring.” I recently read a contemporary article by a Zen practitioner who explained:

Lots of people may think think they have better things to do
and better things to think about
rather than doing nothing.
But when I “sit and stare” I am paying attention to my life
and when you pay attention to your ordinary life you
will always find something truly wonderful

So on this Saturday and on this weekend I am intentionally observing Sabbath time and practicing the vital spiritual discipline of “resting” on my spiritual journey

In the wilderness just outside our home here in the desert, stands a beautiful oasis of palm trees – nature’s way of reminding me that as I walk through the wilderness of life I need to take the time and make the time to slow down, stop and rest, unplug for a spell, turn off the computer, just sit quietly under a tree in the heat of the day and do nothing – doing nothing is hardly wasting time, doing nothing is finding time.

Wendell Berry once said:

Sabbath observance invites us to stop, it invites us to rest.
It asks us to notice that while we rest, the world continues without our help.
It invites us to delight in the world’s beauty and abundance.

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