I have been thinking a lot about rest this week. Or rather (in the face of a lost Sunday off) lack of rest, and how far we have come from the command ‘keep the sabbath day holy’.

Now, don’t misunderstand. I think many people in our (British) culture had good reason for rebelling against the Sabbath — against the memories of oppressive Sundays that were marked by the command ‘thou shalt not have fun’. But somehow, as we let go of the restrictions, we also let go of the freedom to do nothing. To make space for conversation and long walks. To cease work without guilt or censure.

But of course, true sabbath takes planning. I blogged last week about Naomi Alderman’s Disobedience. There is a wonderful chapter in which she describes the race against the sabbath clock — trying to get the meal ready and the house prepared, all soon enough to sneak off to Camden to do something secret before sun sets and orthodoxy descends.

On the face of it, the sabbath clock is oppressive. There is a certain madness in counting down the minutes — chicken ready, candles lit, urn switched on… REST. But there is also grace in learning to be disciplined with time, to master it before it masters us.

One of the congregational challenges for The Growing Season has been to spend ten minutes a day in silence. I know many people find it hard to know what to do with silence and ten minutes can feel like forever, but I thought that in these congregations of mostly retired people, it should be possible. But a number of people have told me they just couldn’t manage. Too hard. Not enough time.

Ten minutes a day just wasn’t possible.

So I am thinking about sabbath. How do we teach it? How do we plan for it? How do we do it?

If you’re willing to share ideas, I’d love to know what works for you and how you make it happen.

17 thoughts on “sabbath”

  1. There is a mix in my life between work, recreation and rest.

    There is the cleaning I get paid for, which is definitely work.

    Then there is research and that is the next nearest to work – I have to be very alert in order to pick what to make notes on, to see what is important, to unfold the story.

    After that comes writing. If I have all of a wet day to write, and the kitchen is reasonably clean, and I make a pot of real coffee, and sit with my lap top in my big chair – that is hardly work, is it? It is story-telling. It may be difficult and it may be tiring, but it is utterly – well, I move very lightly over it and in great peace. It reminds me of Yeat’s ‘long legged fly upon water’.

    Recreation, in its literal sense, for me, involves physical activities, like riding, walking, sometimes jogging; and prayer. These are essential to me, and I enjoy them and am refreshed by them, but rest they are not. But I would soon stop functioning without them, and I know it. They are the next step – between writing and rest.

    Then there is rest – sleep, which I am almost equally bad at getting into and hauling myself out of – and just doing nothing. I have one evening of this each week, and I follow a ritual – because rituals in themselves make me feel good. I watch a DVD, with sub titles (poor aural discrimination, aka I can never tell what they say) in the dark (as soon as the dark comes) and eat particular food, which to me is a treat. I share the end of this with the dogs, who don’t normally get fed when I eat, and who know this from other occasions.

    If I was real proper rich royalty, I fantasise, I would do this TWICE a week. I’d start my evening earlier (yes it suffers from Sabbath syndrome) AND I would wear new socks every day! And I would take three weeks holiday all at once every year, and have loads of books – proper books, with murders and stuff, and none of yer hi-falutin’ stuff, and I’d lie under a tree with the dogs and read them. And walk occasionally.

  2. You’re absolutely right about the planning. I managed the ten minutes (probably more, actually) daily because I was right out of my normal life that week – in a place where I didn’t have to do anything about food, where there was no phone or email (unless I put my mobile on), where there was no TV or radio (and therefore no schedules imposed from outside). There were also few cars, and only casual acquaintances. So I was free to accept silence in its totality, and not mar it with internal busyness (a big problem in ordinary life).

    And I agree with Rosemary about the need for physical activity. My thrice-weekly routine of swimming before breakfast (mind empty other than for the counting of strokes and lengths), followed by the peace of breakfast with the paper or a book (no phone calls till I’m done) feels like an oasis in life, with the satisfaction of physical tiredness thrown in.

    Equally, the combination of planning and exercise that is a day in the hills is hard to beat for producing a sense of Sabbath – total absorption in the moment followed by total relaxation. And no-one, but no-one, can make demands of you from afar when a large mountain is cutting off your phone signal!

    And a last thought about all these retired folk: when you don’t work to a timetable (as I did for all these years) you can have a horror of completely unstructured time stretching to the grave … so you allow other things to fill the gap. The last time I contemplated a day with nothing in it other than unlimited sleeping and reading I was off work on a sicky – licensed, as it were, to do nothing so that I would recover and get back to work. I’ll never forget how luxurious the first couple of days felt – and then I became restless and it was time to be better.

    It’s the limited nature of “empty” time that makes it precious. “If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work”. (Spot?)

  3. Do people find it hard to ADD ten mins. to their prayer time? Or is that they don’t have a prayer time, and rely on ‘arrow prayers’ etc? I am always supposed to have a silent time in my morning prayers (I find it impossible in the evening – too tired to quieten my mind enough, too liable to sleep if I do, too preoccupied, I fear, with what the day has brought. In the evening I go in for prayers … well the kind of non-intercessory, non-silent prayer type prayers, I suppose – meditation broadly speaking.). For me, the main difference in this exercise was a timing it, and b making a much greater effort than usual to keep emptying my mind. I’m lazy about this, I fear, rather often.

    I hear Hari has been dispatched – Bea rather upset over Hari’s distress at this (Bea has been most of the mother she ever knew) but now Bea is safely back in Uva. I will breath a further sigh of relief when I hear Hari is safely in Chelmsford.

  4. Who will meet Hari in Chelmsford? Poor thing. It must be terrifying for a dog to be put on a plane from Sri Lanka to Britain without any sense of what’s happening. Hard for Bea too.

    As for the ten minutes — I had imagined it was a small achievable amount of time for most people. I knew some would already be doing that and more. Others maybe were used to wordy prayer times, but were less likely to make room for silence. For some the thought of a set time each day might be entirely new.

  5. When I was a child I spent many summers in the Highlands with cousins who had a Free Church minister in the family. They kept the Sabbath in a typical Wick way. Church before lunch (a long service punctuated by the rustling of peppermint papers), then lunch which seemed to go on until early evening , when we all went to a local Mission Church. No TV. No radios. No games. Lots of food and chat. But we did get to Church in a car.

    I was an Anglican interloper in that bit of my family, but I liked the routine and ritualistic approach to enforced community . And also, at the Mission Church, I saw quiet Highland men transformed into rhetoricians that would have given most bishops a run for their money. In my memory – Sunday’s were NOISY affairs filled with Psalm singing, talking, and hymn singing. (I’d not be welcome in the same way now, because of my sexuality – so it was a very exclusive community)

    Then later in life, I was drawn to contemplative monasticism and did a load of retreats at Carmelite and Benedictine Houses. Sundays consisted of six lots of prayer (the Office), Mass, lunch, lots of quiet and sometimes afternoon tea with a couple of the nuns. My memory of this was the peaceful silence that predominated. For me both types of Sabbath keeping were equally special. My cousins – hated having to keep Sabbath. My friends thought I was wierd with the whole Monastic thing.

    Now, with a load more responsibilities and no one to ‘make me’ I think 10 mins of quiet prayer daily is just as precious. But it would sometimes be rather lovely to give away my free will and have an elderly family member tell me to stop working, stop gawping at tele, and read my Psalms quietly! (And then feed me a feast of home made cooking). In fact, on the whole I keep that time through preparing my Church History materials – nearly all theological stuff. Hmm, that’s a long winded way of getting to some sort of ill-determined point.

  6. Yes, terrifying. Bea has got her used to her travelling crate – but it is the UTTER inability to explain. She will be met at the airport by the kennels, and taken by them in her crate to Chelmsford , who come highly recommended by a lady who has done this for her own dogs. DEFRA send out all the paperwork, which is checked before the dog is dispatched – this is to avoid anything going wrong this end. Even if you travel with your dog, you don’t see it between arrival and the kennels, as this part must only be done by recognised people, or so I am told. But once the animal has arrived, one can visit. The kennels is also near Kenneth and Duncan (Shmeekins) and Grace (Zebhastripes) and David, and they are promising to visit, as will Tom – whose work takes him near there every month or so. Bea is getting a big discount as this is a rescue dog. I can’t help longing to hear from Bea and Tom that Hari has arrived safely …. it seems however that Hari is good at getting people to look after her – she is now on two blogs and two discussion groups – rather good for a dog who was thrown against Bea’s door with her eyes barely open.

    I think the idea of a growing summer was a hugely creative idea. I think ten minutes was a good median sort of time – the kind of time one can add to an existing prayer structure without making too radical a change, but usefully long enough to perhaps introduce others to a more structured approach.

  7. Oh dear. This blog may never be the same. Rosemary, meet Vicky. Vicky meet Rosemary. (you may in fact know each other). If you want to talk church history, can I suggest one of you submit a guest blog, which I will post (follow the email link on the info page). Alternately, give me permission and I will give you each other’s email.

    Church history is very definitely not my thing — so you will get to laugh at my ignorance as well.

  8. Kimberley, thanks for the introduction – Rosemary – we met at TISEC (the Bield) last weekish.

    Kimberley – I solemnly promise to keep ‘Church History out of your blog’ šŸ™‚

    Rosemary – I’ll be establishing a blog for my Honours Church history course (Body and Belief) and will have it as an open source so other worthies can comment or raise questions about the topics covered…..and contribute to the general confusion I like to generate in the minds of the students!

  9. Vicky, you’re teaching Body and Belief? That’s sounds wonderful and v. relevant to my phd (starting in September) on feminist theology, french feminist theory and women’s writing. Will have to contact you about this offline – or rather, online – but in a different forum. Before we completely take over poor Kimberly’s blog!

  10. Its a funny old world, I just heard a buddist monk give a sermon on finding 15 mins of free time to meditate, and he seemed to be having problems persuading anyone, and this in a country where loads of people go to sleep for several hours in the middle of the day. I suppose humans are all rather bad at managing time, or at least it is a very human failing.

    Hari arrived in Chingford (not chelmsford, my mother is mad, what to do?) and is fine, DEFRA got the paperwork wrong, and at the last moment the bank refused my card. I have aged fully 10 years sending that dog! But she is in good hands. – sorry for invasion of your blog off topic.

  11. Erm, Kimberley, please could you let Rosemary and Elizabeth have my email? Thanks.

  12. This is exciting. Please feel free to carry on discussions about Body and Belief and Feminist theology PhD’s here. Consider it a service to a priest in parish ministry cut off from academia.

    Or, let me know when your blogs are up and running, and I’ll link them.

    Vicky — it is not now becoming clear why you stole the show on the Irigaray thread at Kelvin’s blog.

    And Bea — anyone who knows me knows a story of an animal in need always takes precedence.

  13. Hi Kimberley, the Irigaray thread thing, I am trying to work out the role that cultural assumptions about difference and alienation play in how we read Biblical texts and whether they lead us to maintain or challenge patriarchal dichotomies about God. I read something recently that suggested that South African Humanism has a basic assumption that alienation is theoretically impossible (because everything is interconnected) as its starting point for relationships (I remember being told, for instance, that there is no swahili word for ‘alone’ as in the loneliness sense.) I wondered if we read Galatians 3:28 from that perspective it would change the whole reading from a neither/or to a both/and reading. And I wondered how that fit with what you and Kelvin were discussing.
    I’m sorry I tend to just waffle – thoroughly understand if you’d prefer less waffle. It is a positive comment on both your’s and Kelvin’s blogs -as I often use them to centre my day back onto spiritual issues.

  14. Oh blimme – feminist theology, bodies and belief, and I can’t tell Chelmsford from Chingford!

  15. Many hours later, I realize there is a significant typo in my last comment.

    Should have said, ‘Vicki, it is now becoming clear…’

    Fortunately, you seem not to have taken offense! The PhD sounds fascinating. I look forward to hearing more about it as it unfolds.

  16. šŸ™‚ no offense at all. Actually, I went back and read what I had written and thought, ‘blimey, Kimberly’s right, that is a bit of a non sequiter, what did I mean’……fortunately, this is post doctoral musings so I’ll never get tied up in knots again in quite the same way…but I’m afraid it also means lots of non sequiter and ill-disciplined thinking.

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