“And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day ... “
Rest and renewal. Living deep and living deliberately. Solitude and stillness. Breathing in, and breathing out.
As noted multiple times in the Hebrew Scriptures, the spiritual practice of allowing ourselves time and space to let ourselves BE in the world, rather than exist in a state of constant DOING, is divinely commanded.
And yet, allowing ourselves this gift of an actual Sabbath, a time where we turn off our work mind, turn off the barrage of news, let our daily tasks go untended, and move inward, is often so hard to do.
When our work is meaningful, it feels good. Being productive feels satisfying. We want and need to be informed of world events. For many of us, the incessant doing and moving and producing is a normal state, and any other mode feels odd. Or even wrong.
At times, when I sit on my couch with nothing in front of me to work on, I get jittery.
Aren’t I supposed to be accomplishing something here?
If I am not making something - anything! - happen - who am I?
We fill the slots in our calendars with phone calls, tasks, appointments, reminders, perhaps pushing ourselves to do more this day than yesterday, more this week than last week.
We Unitarian Universalists may be more prone to that because we know just how much is at stake in the world. If you were to share your calendar with the rest of us, we’d see that your days aren’t filled with unimportant, selfish tasks.
But that your time is spent on behalf of others - teaching - providing housing for homeless - taking care of your family - supporting friends - knitting hats and scarves for soldiers - volunteering on campaigns - serving on ministry teams in this church
In so many ways, each of us doing our part to heal and bring peace into our world. This congregation gives us a way to do good work in the world, together. Our collective action offers us a sense of purpose. It solidifies our identity as a church community.
However, we are also here to tend to our spiritual lives. Our third UU principle names encouragement of spiritual growth as one of the values that binds us together.
Matters of the spirit are not a tangential task here, it’s woven into the very covenant that we share. Spiritual growth doesn’t just happen. Like learning a skill, or mastering a craft, or learning new information, this takes energy and commitment for us.
It requires us to create a “time out of time” for ourselves, moments of rest, where we move and think differently, finding ample time to breathe, to reconnect with the mystery and awe of the universe.
Twenty years ago, I read an article in Mothering magazine. The title was “Kid Standard Time.” And the premise was doing anything with a baby or toddler puts you, the parent or guardian, in a completely different time zone.
If you’ve ever tried to walk somewhere with a very young person, you know that hurrying and arriving on time is not part of their agenda!
They want to stop and look at every crack, every flower, every beautiful and splendid thing in front of them, holding wonder like a cup. (1)
Later, I learned it’s not only children who move at a pace all their own.
As my grandmother Lois aged, she took her time in getting places. She drove more slowly. She looked more carefully at what was in front of her. It wasn’t only that her body could no longer move as quickly; but that each outing gave her a new opportunity to delight in the beauty of the world.
Both with my young son, and later on with my grandmother, our excursions became practices in interrupting time.
I realized I could spend our time together feeling annoyed and frustrated that we weren’t moving fast enough, hurrying through our tasks together; or I could give myself over to the moment, looking at the world through their eyes, my inner stirring becoming quiet around me like circles on water. (2)
I’m reminded of a meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh: Breathing in, I calm my body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know that this is the only moment.
Can you imagine if, when someone asks you, “What have you been up to lately?”
The proper response wasn’t a laundry list of your accomplishments, but instead a recounting of the times you dwelled in the present moment, talked to the catbirds, or hugged the old black oak tree, or heard the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing? (3)
In many ways, slowing down with Adrian, or with my grandmother, put me in a different state of mind.
When I could quell my inner stirring, it became a “mini Sabbath,” a time out of time to experience the world through a different lens.
Nothing in our UU practice specifically states that we must observe an official Sabbath.
Sometimes I get a little jealous of Jonathan’s practice of observing the Jewish sabbath; he keeps what is called “shomer shabbas.” Completely unplugging from sundown Friday night until three stars are in the sky Saturday night.
In this time out of time, Jonathan, and other observant Jews, do not write, drive cars, spend money, operate electrical devices, and more.
However, the most meaningful part of Shabbat for me isn’t the list of things you aren’t supposed to do, but the rituals you practice in order to keep your heart in a holy place, as divinely commanded:
- setting a beautiful table for Friday night Shabbat dinner - lighting candles just before sundown on Friday night, singing a prayer that welcomes this sabbath time into your life - offering extra care and kindness toward others - intentional rest - time for reflection and study - sharing intimacy and laughter with a partner.
These are all considered great mitzvot - good deeds commanded by God.
It’s hard to create this kind of sabbath space alone, because it goes against the flow and demands of the world around us. But it’s so much easier and more fulfilling when you are part of a community that does it together.
I wonder what a UU Sabbath would be. For many of us - those of us in worship today - we do have one expectation of a Sabbath. That we use this one hour or so on Sunday morning to rest our hearts and minds in a sanctuary.
Through singing, silence, story-telling, and sermons we let ourselves enter into a space of spirit, recharging ourselves for the week to come, reconnecting with the values we hold most dear. Not running away from the world, but exercising our souls for the work of peace and healing that lies ahead.
Since we are UUs, and have a strong independent streak that runs through us, I can’t imagine that the combined delegates at our national General Assembly will ever put forward a motion that creates a communal Sabbath day which we all recognize, and do so with regular practices that we all share.
However, as your minister, I ask you for the next 30 days to find ways each day to interrupt your normal patterns of doing things. Puts you into a new time zone, Throop Standard Time, where your tasks lie in their places where you left them.(4)
I want you to do this because it will significantly shift the way you look at all the other aspects of your life.
Your Throop Standard Time can take any shape you choose. The most important aspect is that you make a commitment to do it every day.
Since April, I’ve begun my mornings with this mantra: I have all the time I need today.
It is a small thing, yet the days I’ve done it feel more expansive, less harried. When I notice myself frantically trying to arrive somewhere on time, heart beating fast, anxiety high, I repeat it: I have all the time I need today.
Perhaps you want to welcome more beauty into your life. One way to cultivate this is to share a beautiful image on Instagram each day. This type of practice brings awareness of the simple beauty around us, that can go unseen if our days are spent in a rush.
One man began filming one second of video, every day of his life, so he could remember all the tiny, fragile, even tragic moments in his life.
Or maybe you will memorize the mantra by Thich Nhat Hanh and slow down, and repeat it at certain times of the day:
Breathing in, I calm my body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know that this is the only moment.
May your upcoming moments of Throop Standard Time bring you increased amazement at our universe, times of rest and renewal, and space to hear your song at last.
Notes: 1) from hymn “Life Has Loveliness to Sell” #329, Singing the Living Tradition. 2) Berry, Wendell. From poem used earlier in worship out of the collection This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems. 3) Oliver, Mary. “How I Go to the Woods.” Used as our chalice lighting words. 4) Berry, Wendell. Taken from the same poem in This Day,