I have to admit up front that I’m something of a Rebecca Ann Parker fan anyway, but I’m becoming even more so after reading her essay “Spiritual Practice for Our Time,” in Everyday Spiritual Practice: Simple Pathways for Enriching Your Life. She writes about an ancient spiritual practice that I have been trying to adopt over the past couple of months, keeping the Sabbath. She says, “To keep the Sabbath means, once every seven days, to step outside the dominating culture and enter another space.” The dominating culture emphasizes shopping, consuming, working, striving, competing. Stepping outside of it for a day means slowing down, paying attention to family and friends and nature, giving oneself time to think, pray, reflect. “Stop the madness and rest,” she says.
I have to admit that my life isn’t madness in the first place. I’m blessed with the ease of retirement, with enough money and time and space, and I have the luxury of attractive choices about how to spend my days. And I’m naturally averse to shopping – when we’re in need of food, I’ll go to the grocery store, and if my clothes wear out, I’ll buy new ones, but it’s not a recreational sport for me as it is for so many people. Even with my comfortable life and with my daily yoga and meditation practice, though, I love the idea of setting aside a day for rest and contemplation. Because it’s traditional and works best in my life, Sunday is my Sabbath.
For me, Sunday no longer means a time for laundry, cleaning, shopping, or taking care of business, whatever that might be. I try to stay away from my computer, which is probably the hardest part – it means no e-mail, games, news on-line, and writing blogs. Sunday means going to church and singing in the choir, visiting with friends and family, reading good books, doing the Sunday Times crossword puzzle. It means walks with Bob, quiet afternoons reading and napping.
I’ve grown into this practice slowly and still haven’t made a public commitment to it, although I’ve started telling friends not to expect responses to e-mail on Sunday. Nor am I rigid about not doing anything that smacks of work or commerce. I cook because we need to eat. If we go out to eat, I’ll pay and not feel guilty for spending money on the Sabbath. If there’s a congregational meeting at church, I’ll go even if it’s about budgets and by-laws. What keeping the Sabbath does is give me permission to rest, to contemplate, to pay attention to what’s important in my life. Parker says, “To keep the Sabbath is a radical act of resistance to a culture that has lost track of the meaning of life.” I find it also a radical act of resistance to my own tendency toward busy-ness. I’m discovering that it’s okay not to be producing or accomplishing something every minute. I’m grateful to Parker for opening my heart to this spiritual practice – it’s one I can live well with.