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Keeping a Sabbath

I need a rest. It feels like every day there is some new reminder of just how low my reserves have gotten; between the loss of our April vacation and the post-viral fatigue that weighed me down all year, I feel tired in a way that goes well beyond joints and muscles and even mental alertness. Teaching has worn me out this year. Living has worn me out. I feel spiritually tired.

I'm realizing this morning that I need not to go to meeting for worship today.

This will be the third week in a row I won't have made it to meeting. That is so not like me. When I think about that in terms of my relationship with my community, and especially with the fact of my serving on Ministry and Worship, I get a tight little knot in my belly.

But it's not changing anything for me, that little knot. I'm working very hard this year--I've had to work very hard this year--to learn the difference between being acting faithfully and allowing myself to be co opted by gray-faced duty. I'm a past-master at convincing myself to take on and keep up with commitments. I suck at laying things down, largely because I have a terrible phobia about letting people down.

Caring for people is fine. Putting a concern for what they will think of you above honest discernment of what is and what is not my job... that's not so good.

Why do I go to meeting, anyway? So that people will think I'm All That? Surely not.

I know that part of what makes my spiritual life tick is my connection to other people, to members of my community. I find my link to Spirit, Pagan as well as Quaker, in the eyes and hands and faces of other human beings as often as not. God speaks to me in the intimate, loving connections I have with others, and I know it. So connecting with humans in honesty, in openness, in love, that connects me to what I most love and need that goes beyond the merely human.

More, I know that sometimes I can carry some of that Light with me; when I am open to Spirit and to a community at the same time, we all get fed. It's great. And it's what I've come to hope for on Sunday mornings, getting ready for meeting for worship.

But there's this other thing that I also need, and somehow it is, for me at least, more about being alone than with others. Peter used a phrase yesterday, otium divina I think he called it--divine idleness. And when he spoke those words, a spark passed into me, and I knew that those words fit what I need, what I'm lacking right now.

I am starved for divine idleness--for "unproductive" time spent alone, listening to rain run down a window pane or to leaves talking to themselves in the yard. I need to be empty for a little while, not filled with busy-ness or with community. Not even a spiritual community I love.

My tanks are on empty not so much for physical rest, though I need that, too, as for spiritual rest. I need to stop for a while.

I remember, two or three years ago, talking with J. H. at my meeting about how over-busy teaching sometimes made my life. The grading load on weekends, the feeling of being absolutely used-up at the end of each day... Sometimes I felt that attending meeting for worship was a luxury I didn't begin to have time for.

J. asked me what would happen if I just set aside a day and declared it to be Sabbath, and kept it.

Now, J. is someone I've heard called a "professional Quaker"--not in the sense of getting paid for it, so much as in the sense of someone who has given her spiritual life and leadings the kind of attention most Americans reserve for questions of secular career development. This is not to negate what I do--at the moment, teaching high school English--as my own spiritual leading. But she's someone who has a life well-arranged around her spiritual life and needs. I take her seriously, and I know she has worked a long, hard time to get where she is, where her life can be so well-ordered. And I take it that creating a life similarly ordered around spiritual leading is very much my business, too.

No, she doesn't have a stack of essays and exams to grade for Monday every week. No, she doesn't necessarily get it what the ebbs and flows of my own week and school year are. But that doesn't make her wrong.

What if I did keep a Sabbath? What would that be like?

Here's how the question is coming to me today. Today, I'm thinking less in terms of meeting attendance, important though that is, than I am of honoring what I'm sensing are my deep needs of the spirit this week.

As I said, I'm feeling most the need for that emptiness, that otium divina.

And I think that a real sabbath is one in which my spirit is open to the promptings of That Spirit, speaking to me. Unmediated by my expectations, narcissistic little worries, shoulds, oughts, or want-tos. What is God asking me to set aside for Her today?

Oddly enough, I don't think grading student papers will disrupt my sabbath. Oddly enough, though worship in my meeting is normally the clearest route I have in a week to communion with that Spirit, this week, I'm thinking that's not the case. This week, I think that true sabbath is about staying home and quietly, calmly, getting things done for the week--puttering my way back to another long week at work, rather than moving like clockwork through a First Day ordered for maximum efficiency in all things: worship, grading, prep.

I wish my life were simpler and quieter, or that I were somehow more energetic or efficient and could attend my meeting every week, year in, year out, without fail. I don't seem to have that life, though, and I don't see a way to get to it.

Sometimes, Sunday morning is the only day of the week I get to ask the question, "What is the Spirit of Life nudging me to do to honor my relationship with it?" It may not be the sabbath J. meant or I fantasize about, but asking that question and honoring the answer, week by week... that may be what it really means, to me, to keep the sabbath.

Right. So. No hurry to get to meeting, this morning. And probably, the kids will be getting their tests back tomorrow after all.


refmill said…
I was all set to quote "ora et labora", work is prayer, but when I Googled it to check the spelling, it turns out that this was NOT original to St. Benedict! In fact, it wasn't a common saying in Benedictine circles until the 19th-c, according to the article I read (which was an interesting one, I must say, on the OSB site).

So instead I'll offer the other image that came to me while reading this: dormancy. Even plants need time to rest, and during that time, recovery is happening. Divine idleness, indeed! May it bring blessings!

Erik said…
I certainly understand *that* feeling... I also laid out of church (mostly) this morning because I've been doing aikido all weekend and needed a rest. Even so, when they called on Wednesday and asked if I was going to be there and could set up the microphones, I agreed without remembering about the seminar - so I still had to drive over there, set up the mikes, then drive back home.

Part of the problem, I think, is that churches (or any small organization, for that matter) run on a "service economy", and your credit and ability to function effectively in that economy is based to a great degree on what and how much you do... and that the kind of people (us) who consistently do are the people who are consistently asked to do because people know that we'll get it done.
Chris said…
otium divina is exactly what the asylum used to mean to me. It caste a shadow so long and so deep that my troubles (more in my head than of worldly sources) were always silent when I was there. Without it I truly thought I would lose my mind (irony, I know). Instead I had to start dealing with things so that I might create my own sabbath, rather than relying on something else to do it for me. I have never learned so much about my own sense of faith as I have chasing down my own place for stillness, because I have never needed to create something so delicate and so necessary.
Anonymous said…
Come, Come, Whoever you are
Our is not a caravan of dispair
Come, Come, Whoever you are
This caravan has no dispair.
Even though you have broken your vow
perhaps ten thousand times
Yet come again, come again, whoevr you are
whoever you are, come
Wander, worshipper, lover of leaving, come
Wander, worshipper, lover of leaving, come


Have a good break, the Light isn't going anywhere.

Khalila RedBird said…
Sabbath is in the heart, not in where the heart is. Mind the Light, particularly when it tells you what you know in your heart you need to hear. Rest, enjoy -- soak in it.
Wendy said…
Very interesting. I can relate to this post. I am longing for community. I want to be in the river of life. But somehow God/Goddess has another plan for me. I am Caregiver for my hubby who has lung disease. I spend time at home. Pulled out of the river of life. Away from community (except family). But in this quiet environment, I hear Spirit speak.
Tom Smith said…

Your post speaks to my (previous) condition. As essentially a high school science teacher for decades, I well remember the lab reports (I expected complete well written discussions much more than the details of the actual experiment and I corrected all of the spelling, grammar, etc.), research reports, lesson preparation, etc. I think one of the better ideas that seems odd is "year-round schools." I attended a British style boarding high school in Kenya and we had 3 months on, 1 month off, 3 months off, etc. Even a one or 2 week break in the middle of the school year does not provide a true break when often grading and preparation take the end and beginning of the break anyway.

I never did satisfactorily solve the experience of "burn-out" (I don't really like the term but it does capture to a good deal the actual feelings of no fuel left in the tank, all useable energy having been drained, etc.). One thing I tried unsuccessfully on many occasions, but helpful at times, was to not think of a whole day sabbath, but taking an hour (or sometime only half an hour:-}) every seven or eight hours to take a true break. With family that often meant a physically tiring but yet a "sabbatical" of working with my children/family on an exclusive basis (difficult to do) or on rare occasions "giving" myself a walk, reading a book just for me, etc.

I often appreciated comments from others on how to deal with my stress, etc. but often it seemed like my first thought was "But you don't understand..." my commitment to teaching and students, my desire to be a help to others, a member of my Meeting community and a deep level, etc.

You are entitled to such feelings, but you are also entitled to sometime for yourself. One of the greatest models I have chosen to follow, often needed to retreat, o the mountain, to the garden, to the lake, etc., but even then he would often be interrupted but it was apparent he knew the necessity of taking the time for one's self.
Thanks to all who have commented here. I very much like the image of dormancy... as a Pagan, I particularly like it, as I am urged to recall that dormancy, death, and winter are all necessary and even sacred parts of the wheel... however much in this go,go,go culture of ours I may be urged to dismiss that understanding!

Erik, I think I need to remember that the particular "service economy" of a Quaker meeting is one, at least in theory, that's also a managed economy: managed by Spirit, not by me! It wouldn't do me any harm to think of myself a little less as indispensable! There is an entire ecosystem in any healthy spiritual community--I am only a part of mine, and surely I may (must) take some dormant times.

Chris, knowing what I do about your relationship with that particular place, I know that you have understood me well. Thank you. (And thank you for remembering to love a place too many have turned away from.) Red Bird, Tom, I see you also understand what I was trying to say. Thank you.

Wendy, thank you (though I know you are not doing it for thanks) for being the eyes and hands of Spirit in work that cannot be left undone. Again, we are an ecosystem... your community will be here when you are able to be with us.

But are there, perhaps, ways we can be with you now, in support of your work? Maybe the answer to that question is at least partially in this correspondence. And yet, I hope there may be flesh and blood contacts that can lend support, too.

In any case, I am thinking of you and hoping the best for you and for your husband. Blessed be.

For myself... I did a little divination today, on the balance of work and sabbath in my life. I used a Celtic tree oracle--not because it's a wonderful tool, but because I felt drawn to it today.

The card I drew as reflecting my work life was the Fearn, the Alder--a tree that resists rot so well that it is often used as the footings of buildings in damp places. (Venice is built on footings of Alder.) I take this to mean that I can withstand the pressure; I'll be all right over time.

The card I drew to reflect my spiritual life was the heather: small, tough, woody, and a favorite sweet flower for bees, in its own season. From that I take away that I should not be afraid to stay low and close to the truth... that I do not need to reach for things beyond my grasp today, for mine is a kind of humble staying power that will flower when the time is right.

This feels true, and I'm going to try to remember it.
visit said…
keep shabbat.. :)
visit said…
.. keep shabbat..
why wait till you absolutely "know" you "need" it and listen to the one who knows "the sabbath was made for man.." and keep shabbat every week?! How do you know you're not missing something spiritually every week and just don't realize it (or dare I say) aren't so sensitive to ad a long while. Maybe keeping shabbat would lend to a hightened spirituality!

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