Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sabbath Observance

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

A while back there was an article in the New York Times that talked about “the lamentable rise of desktop dining.” Apparently an emerging trend among many if not most “up and coming” professionals today is to eat their lunch alone at their desks while they sit at their computers and catch up on work. One person said that he eats at his desk because it allows him to multitask. The article also suggests that “taking a break for a midday meal has increasingly become a sign of idleness and no one wants their boss to think they are lazy.”

It seems to me that, regardless of age or status in life, nowadays lots of people are constantly multitasking and taking a break may indeed be interpreted as a symptom of laziness or idleness in our always-busy, technological society.

Since this is a “Sunday” I thought about all the constant “busyness” that goes on in contemporary life. After all, Sunday is a “Sabbath” day, supposedly a day to be set aside for rest and prayer or quiet meditation.  

Interestingly enough, most major religions recognize the weekend as a time for Sabbath observance  - Friday for Islam, Saturday in the Jewish tradition and Sunday for Christians. Our ancient ancestors thought that taking some time to stop and rest was so essential to the spiritual life that they designated an entire day to be set aside as Sabbath time.

As I see it, the idea of setting aside Sabbath time has basically been lost in today’s popular culture. Nowadays, when weekends come around many people tend to be even busier than they are on Monday through Friday.  Many people work on weekends, and if they are not actually at work they are multitasking at home, answering emails and catching up on the work they were not able to do during the week, doing all the chores they couldn’t get to while they were at work or school.

As I think of it, in a culture where people won’t even take a break from work to go and eat lunch somewhere, being busy is almost seen as a “badge of honor.” Busy people aren’t lazy people and when you can brag about how “insanely busy” you are, you also make a statement about how important you are.

In a very real sense, “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 path to deeper peace or greater wisdom. That’s why I think that regardless of one’s spiritual path and regardless of whether a person is religious or not, we all need Sabbath time and would do well to reclaim the importance of Sabbath observance in our lives.

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 beauty and abundance.

Some people may think that if you don’t go to a church or temple on the Sabbath Day, you aren’t observing the Sabbath. I think Sabbath observance involves way more than church attendance.  

We observe the Sabbath when, instead of endless multitasking on a computer, we unplug for a while and take a walk in a crisp autumn day. We observe the Sabbath by having a leisurely lunch with friends or family without constantly checking the ever-present smartphone. We can even observe the Sabbath by just sitting under a tree, taking deep breaths and resting in the beauty of the moment.

When we engage in Sabbath observance, we do indeed discover that the world goes on without our help and that’s a pretty comforting thought.

In talking about his music, jazz composer and trumpeter, Miles Davis, once observed:

The space you leave
is as important as the sound you make.

As I see it, this is probably some pretty good life-advice, especially for a Sabbath day.

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