What if resting, all by itself, is the real act of holiness?

My great-grandmother was a lifelong Baptist who spent the last four decades of her life worshiping with the Methodists because by then there was only church left in that tiny farming community in Lower Alabama…She was so quiet in her convictions that I was 10 or 12 before I noticed that she went straight back to her room after church every Sunday. On other days, she was always busy — shelling peas or snapping beans, crocheting or quilting or sewing — but on Sunday her hands fell still, and her sewing machine sat silent. The foot-pedal Singer she’d ordered from a catalog sometime during the early 20th century was still in daily use until a few weeks before her death in 1982, but she never sewed on Sunday.

When I went looking for her help with a tatting project one Sunday afternoon, I found out why. Tatting is a kind of lace made of tiny knots tied in very fine string. The trick is to tie the right kind of knot without tangling the string into the wrong kind, but I had made so many of the wrong knots that I couldn’t even figure out how to unpick the tangle and start again. I found her sitting in a chair under the window, her Bible in her lap. The book was very old, with edges so worn they curved inward toward the pages, as soft as a puppy. I knocked on the open door. “Mother Ollie, can you help me with this?”

All these years later, I think about the heartache it must have cost my great-grandmother, the one whose bedroom I shared whenever the house was full, to disappoint a child she loved so much. But that day she could not help me with my needlework. “Not today, honey,” she said. “The Lord tells us not to work on the Sabbath.” And handwork, by definition, is work.

I’ve thought of that conversation many times over the years. Sunday has never been a day of rest for me. I’ve always used at least part of the day to catch up with work, with email, with the myriad responsibilities that fall to people in the sandwich generation. I don’t know anyone who takes Sunday off anymore. If we aren’t doing professional work, we’re doing the housework that won’t get done once we leave for work on Monday morning.

But it’s not as though the world stopped on Sunday in Lower Alabama, either. The crops — and the weeds — in my grandfather’s fields continued to grow, whatever the day. My grandmother still had papers to grade and lessons to plan. The peas in the bushel basket on the back porch would not shell and can themselves. Nevertheless, my people put their work aside on Sunday to nap on the daybed or sit on the porch and rock. They didn’t ask themselves, as I do, whether they could “afford” to rest. God obliged them to rest, and so they did.

There are many, many people for whom this kind of Sabbath is not an option. People who work double shifts — or double jobs — just to make ends meet, truly can’t afford to rest, but I could reorganize my life if I tried. I could focus on priorities, spend less time on things that matter little to me and make more time for those that matter most. Somehow I had simply reached the age of 57 without feeling any obligation to sit still.

That changed the day after my book tour ended last week. Possibly I am just too old to learn the art of solo travel: of lying in a different bed night after night and actually sleeping, of finding my way through new cities and new airport terminals. I love meeting book people with all my heart, but by the end of book tour all my body was in revolt.

I sat on the sofa with my laptop, planning to get started on the 90 million emails that had piled up in my absence, but instead I fell asleep. I tried the wing chair next to the sofa with no better results. When I found myself looking at the one clear spot on my desk as a good place to lay my head, I gave up and went back to bed, rousing myself barely in time for supper. Then I slept 11 hours more.

Nothing in the third commandment identifies which day of the week should be the Sabbath. It doesn’t even mention the need to attend church. Its chief requirement is to rest. “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy,” reads Mother Ollie’s Bible. “Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work.”

Reading those verses again made me wonder: What if resting, all by itself, is the real act of holiness? What if honoring the gift of our only life in this gorgeous world means taking time every week to slow down? To sleep? To breathe? The world has never needed us more than it needs us now, but we can’t be of much use to it if we remain in a perpetual state of exhaustion and despair.

The next day, I didn’t even try to work. I took a walk around Nashville’s Radnor Lake, the best possible way to celebrate a day of rest. The temperatures here have finally dropped, the rains have finally come, and Middle Tennessee is now serving up one fine October day after another.

At Radnor, the beauty-berries were gleaming in all their purple ripeness, and the asters and the snakeroots were still in bloom. Behind its mother, a fawn was foraging, its springtime spots just beginning to fade. A great blue heron was standing on a downed tree at the edge of the water, preening each damp, curling feather and sorting it into place. A fallen log just off the trail boasted a glorious crop of chicken-of-the-woods, and the seedpods of the redbud trees were ripe and ready to burst. At the lake’s edge, the sound of a lone cricket rose up from the skein of vegetation next to one of the overlooks. Its song was as beautiful and as heart-lifting as any hymn.

~ Margaret Renkl, from “What if resting, all by itself, is the real act of holiness?” (NY Times, October 21, 2019)


Photo: Radnor Lake State Park in Tennessee by Michael Hicks

Sunday Morning: The Sabbath, the day of rest

Oliver-Sacks

In February, I felt I had to be equally open about my cancer — and facing death. I was, in fact, in the hospital when my essay on this, “My Own Life,” was published in this newspaper. In July I wrote another piece for the paper, “My Periodic Table,” in which the physical cosmos, and the elements I loved, took on lives of their own.

And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.

~ Oliver Sacks: Sabbath. The Seventh Day of the Week. The Seventh Day of Life

Postscript:

Oliver Sacks died this morning. He was 82 years old. His work here is done and may he now rest in peace.

The story in NY Times: Oliver Sacks Dies at 82; Neurologist and Author Explored the Brain’s Quirks


Notes:

Sunday Morning: Shrinks back farther into the empty sleeve of the church

church-old-abandoned-faith

Early in March,
in the shadow of the abandoned Assembly of God,
there’s a melting snowdrift shaped like a hand
whose five thin fingers reach
to soothe the grass on the neighboring lawn.
Each day this white hand shrinks back farther
into the empty sleeve of the church.

~ Ted Kooser, The Wheeling Year: A Poet’s Field Book 


Photograph: Ed Erglis (Minnesota)

 

Sunday Morning: As if this quiet day

hazy-day-ocean-landscape-black-and-white

Only a beige slat of sun above the horizon,
like a shade pulled not quite down.
Otherwise, clouds.
Sea rippled here and there.
Birds reluctant to fly.

The mind wants a shaft of sun
to stir the grey porridge of clouds,
an osprey to stitch sea to sky with its barred wings,
some dramatic music: a symphony,
perhaps a Chinese gong.

But the mind always wants more than it has –
one more bright day of sun,
one more clear night in bed with the moon;
one more hour to get the words right;
one more chance for the heart in hiding
to emerge from its thicket in dried grasses –
as if this quiet day
with its tentative light weren’t enough,
as if joy weren’t strewn all around.

– Holly Hughes, Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems


Notes:

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church. I keep it, staying at Home.

peace,rest,calm,still,quiet

Pico Iyer, Chapter 5: “A Secular Sabbath” from “The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere.”:

The need for an empty space, a pause, is something we have all felt in our bones; it’s the rest in a piece of music that gives it resonance and shape…the reason a certain kind of writer will include a lot of blank space on a page, so his sentences have room to breathe (and his readers, too). The one word for which the adjective “holy” is used in the Ten Commandments is Sabbath…

These days, in the age of movement and connection, space, as Marx had it in another context, has been annihilated by time; we feel as though we can make contact with almost anywhere at any moment. But as fast as geography is coming under our control, the clock is exerting more and more tyranny over us. And the more we can contact others, the more, it sometimes seems, we lose contact with ourselves…

This is what the principle of the Sabbath enshrines…the one day a week we take off becomes a vast empty space through which we can wander, without agenda, as through the light-filled passageways of Notre Dame. Of course, for a religious person, it’s also very much about community and ritual and refreshing one’s relationship with God and ages past. But even for the rest of us, it’s like a retreat house that ensures we’ll have something bright and purposeful to carry back into the other six days…

The Sabbath recalls to us that, in the end, all our journeys have to bring us home. And we do not have to travel far to get away from our less considered habits. The places that move us most deeply, as I found in the monastery, are often the ones we recognize like long-lost friends; we come to them with a piercing sense of familiarity, as if returning to some source we already know. “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church—” Emily Dickinson wrote. “I keep it, staying at Home.”


Notes:

Believe. In Verbs…

sunrise

Sunday mornings evoke childhood memories. Our cousins are off fishing. We dress and are dragged by our Parents to the sobranie for the Sunday morning molenie (service). Bread, salt and water sit on a spartan wooden table separating the men on one side, the women on the other.  Prayers are read.  Psalms, are led by the Elders – their intonation climbing and falling – lyrics incomprehensible. This is followed by the chanting of Otche Nash by the entire congregation…Our Father in Heaven...I’m yanking on my turtle neck, stealing glances at the clock, and at my Brother.  When will this end?

I haven’t been back.
To our religious services.
Or to any other for that matter.
In more than thirty years.
Yet, Sunday mornings return.
With their quiet Grace and Peaceful easy feeling.

Two men, both bloggers, are workmanlike in their daily postings.
Steve Layman posts after midnight. I’m posting at dawn.
He’s a Believer.
And like Friend Brenda, Belief comes from the Center, the Core.
There is Confidence. There is Conviction. There is Peace.

And there I sit.
A Bird on the fence.
Anxious. Restless. Hurried. Searching.
Flitting on and off.
And Leaning in the wrong direction. [Read more…]

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