“Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.”
--Exodus 20:8 NRSV
I remember life before I had seasonal allergies. Whatever was blooming had no effect on me; that all changed in my late thirties. Now I get them bad and although Zyrtec is my daily drug of choice, there are some days when I try every over the counter option out there only to get no relief. True confession: prior to suffering allergies myself, I secretly thought people with allergies were making it up and being dramatic; I had no idea how bad it can be.
I recently had the kind of bad allergy day that strikes me only once or twice a year. I was sleepy in the middle of the afternoon and took a nap. When I woke, the pressure in my sinuses was immense—I literally felt like somebody was pumping air into the empty spaces in my skull! I shambled downstairs to have dinner with the family, but my wife took one look at me and said, “Go back to bed. You look miserable.” I skipped dinner and remained in bed until the following morning. I think I literally needed to remain asleep until the air cleared.
This never used to happen to me. It seems bizarre that I would need to just collapse in such a manner. This kind of breakdown makes me want to look up at the sky and scream, “What the heck?” (Except replace the word “heck” with the expletive of your choice.)
I’m a minister, so I’m always looking to find some spiritual meaning out of my experiences, even if those meanings are sometimes forced. So my collapse due to allergies has got me thinking about the idea of rest. Sometimes our minds and our hearts are so full, we need to just collapse into rest. When the pressure gets too great, the best thing we can do is stop, because the very air we are breathing is filled with stuff triggering a reaction inside of us that necessitates halting our activity immediately.
I preach, teach and write about cultivating a spiritual life, but I have to cop to being pretty bad at it myself. I’m addicted to activity. I feel a sense of guilt or shame when I stop and rest. Part of the secret thrill of resting for me is a sense that I am getting away with something. I should be doing “something worthwhile,” I think when I’m taking a nap, binging a TV show or reading a book just for pleasure. Somehow, doing any of these things for its own sake seems selfish or at least misguided. There is always a “to do list” sapping the joy out of pleasurable things.
In his book Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, Wayne Muller writes, “Our culture invariably supposes that action and accomplishment are better than rest, that doing something—anything—is better than doing nothing. Because of our desire to succeed, to meet these ever-growing expectations, we do not rest. Because we do not rest, we lose our way.”
In the Torah, the first five books of what Christians misname The Old Testament, God commands keeping sabbath, a practice of connecting with the very order of creation which was created in six days and a seventh day of rest woven into it. The sabbath is a day where everything rests—even the hired hands, slaves, animals and land itself rest on the Sabbath. Everything needs rest, a time to worship God and a time to reflect upon what really matters amidst all the activity of our lives.
I’ve heard of people who practice sabbath on days other than Saturday or Sunday. I’ve heard of others that make keeping sabbath a part of their daily routines of prayer and meditation. I’ve even known a few who practiced sabbath in moments of breathing, prayer and meditation which have become an integral part of every day as they go about their daily work.
My own efforts of keeping sabbath look more like a hit and miss, start and stop, and sort of an awkward catch as catch can sort of thing. I’m pretty sure that’s why I end up collapsing sometimes, as if my spiritual self has collected too many allergens along the way and I’m left overloaded and spent. I feel sure there is a better way, and daily doses of sabbath would help in this regard. As I age, perhaps like allergies, things will get severe enough that I’ll be forced to change my ways. I’ve usually found that I’m thick headed enough that I only do what’s good for me after things have gotten bad enough to force me to change.
Joan Boarysenko shares a story about a woodcutter to describe her own tendency towards fruitless activity, “He had an axe that was dull; the blade needed to be sharpened. A stranger came up to him and said, ‘You know, if you just stop working and take time to sharpen that blade, everything would go so much more smoothly.’ And the woodcutter was frantic. He said, ‘Forget it. I don't have time to stop and sharpen my blade. I've got things to do. I've got a family to support.’ And he just kept on keeping on .... Sometimes when I'm sitting at my computer, I remember the story of that woodcutter. And I say to myself, ‘Joan, you might be busy, but if you take five minutes, and you just get up and you do some stretches ... or you take 10 minutes and go out and take a walk ... or if you just take two minutes and close your eyes and do some breathing — you'll come into your center, your blade will be sharp, and the rest of your work will just flow ...’”
Man, I think that woodcutter and I were separated at birth.
Whether you are the kind of person who is proactive and disciplined, managing to care for yourself daily in order to connect with the Divine or you are like me and must be dragged into God’s presence by the painful circumstances of life, I wish you less collapsing and more flowing with the very essence of creation that will nurture your soul and make all your activity purposeful.
Grace and Peace,
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