When we offered a meditation class at our church this past fall, we anticipated we would have enough participants to make a go of it; we didn’t expect that nearly 40 would sign up. We chose the Enneagram as the topic for our annual women’s retreat for this winter, never imagining that more women than ever would find it interesting…so much so that for the first time in the retreat’s 24-year history we have a waiting list! I believe the responses to these two programs point to something deeper: a longing among many people to find a way for their lives to make sense, a thirst for an awareness of God’s presence in the midst of so much bad news, a hunger for meaning when our lives feel frazzled and distracted.
We have chosen Sabbath as our focus for 2019. Throughout the year, we will be sharing resources (articles, books, podcasts, etc.) about how to incorporate the spiritual practice of Sabbath into our everyday lives.
The word “sabbath” in Hebrew means “stop” or “keep”, according to most translators.
Here are some very simple ways to begin a spiritual practice of keeping the Sabbath:
- Stop what you’re doing for five minutes, long enough to intentionally be aware of your breath, the breath of life, also known as the Spirit of God.
- Stop (as best you can) the chatter in your mind for five minutes, and try to instead listen for what God might be saying to you.
- For five minutes, observe something in nature – the tree outside your window, for example, and simply notice what you notice about it: its height, its width, its shape, signs of its health or disease…just practice the art of paying attention.
I began my morning by reading some of Mary Oliver’s poetry. While deeply saddened by news of her death yesterday, I am mostly grateful for her body of work. She teaches us how to be still, how to pray, how to pay attention. In addition to poetry, she wrote a book of essays called Upstream. Here are a few of my highlighted excerpts:
“…[we have] a responsibility to live thoughtfully and intelligently. To enjoy, to question – never to assume, or trample…to observe with passion, to think with patience, to live always caringly.”
“…a better, richer life is available to us…”
For Mary Oliver, living intentionally in a spirit of Sabbath was not an exercise in self-indulgence; rather, it led to an awareness of the needs of the world around her: “I would say that there exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and our chances are one. The farthest star and the mud at our feet are a family…the pine tree, the leopard, the Platte River, and ourselves – we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together. We are each other’s destiny.”
What does it say about God’s love for us that God commands us to practice sabbath? God commands us to stop, to rest, to listen, to notice, because what God wants for us is not a life of mere survival, but a life that is abundant in joy, meaning and purpose.