It feels like a Sunday today, not Monday. Holiday weekends always do that to us. It’s like our brains know we are going to have one extra day, so we live on Sunday like it’s Saturday and today we live like it’s Sunday.
Living like it’s Sunday means a wide variety of things for each of us: sleeping in, travel, visiting family, or just generally catching up. My Spiritual Formation professor reminded us it can (and I guess the assumed underlying message was probably should) also mean Sabbath. In Hebrew, the word is Shabbat, which means “a rest or cessation.”
Ha! Rest? Cessation from doing? Talk about “Oh my god.”
One of the books we had to read for class was Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. As you guys know, I’m not a super feel-goody all mushy gushy kind of human being. I write my emotions and every once in a while, succumb to them.
So when I read her book, it was an immediate love-hate kind of thing. The stuff she wrote about – eight practices for growing closer to God – made sense to me, but some of it made me roll my eyes. This is not easy for someone who is trying to ditch the cradle Catholic guilt that inevitably creeps in with everything, mind you. I’m reading a book about practicing getting closer to God, but this is seriously stupid…crap, is thinking that a sin?
That’s how my brain works and it’s literally what was running through it by about practice #2 (SOLITUDE). It’s so confusing and annoying sometimes. Being still and not doing anything is painful for me, there’s honestly no way I can be still most days, let alone an entire day. But practicing things and not giving up resonate with me, so I kept reading. Just like I keep trying to get closer to God.
But wait! – isn’t “trying” to get closer to God like, doing something?
Stop the insanity!
And I think that’s where most of us – clearly myself included – often land. “I can’t do this…so I’m out.” It’s too hard, it doesn’t matter, I don’t even know if I’m doing it right, so whatever. Never mind.
The assignment we had to submit after reading Barton’s mushy-gushy book was to write a 1 paragraph, single-spaced reflection about our experience with each of the five practices we chose to engage with – and then one paragraph explaining why we didn’t use the other three.
Again with the insanity, I thought. Now I gotta actually put in writing why I don’t “do Sabbath?” Lovely. Why don’t I just hand God my entry ticket with the list of $!@* I did wrong, can’t figure out, kick and scream over even though I know it’s right, etc. etc. I’m sure He will find that SUPER helpful in doling out my punishment.
That is what I had to tell myself. I had to absolutely remind myself that what I learned growing up – all the “Catholic” ways of getting to know God – isn’t who He is. God is not my, yours, or anyone else’s white-bearded old man on a throne pointing a bony finger at every single thing we do or think or say wrong. I mean, could you imagine how stinking tired his finger would actually be if this were the case? How much God would pretty much hate his own being if that is all he was doing every day?
Yes, I am minimizing this in jest but it’s only to make the point (and selfishly, mostly for me…so I will deal with that sin later) that we would do well to remember it is not about trying to outthink what it is “supposed to be like.” There’s no one right way. We are all made differently, are wired differently, think and respond differently. So, what works for you in your relationships with friends, family, kids, and – God, is not necessarily what works for your neighbor, coworker, or the guy sitting next to you in church.
What works is simply being in relationship. I am often terrible at this, mostly because I think I am “supposed” to sit and be still and breathe breath prayers in a chant-like manner until I fall into some deep like trance and am BAM!… instantly transformed into having this perfect little tight-knit relationship with God and all is and will be well every single day henceforth.
But it is so not like that. At least that has not been my personal experience.
Rather, I think the whole trick to this Spiritual Formation thing is that it’s a life-long journey. I am happy to report that I am not the same person today that I was at fourteen. Or twenty, twenty-five, or, THANK GOD thirty-seven. Those renditions of me are not all that flattering in the rear-view mirror, but I trust and find solace in knowing that today’s rendition will also be different from tomorrow’s.
Richard Rohr calls it “the second half of life.” If we are still chasing the things in the second half of our lifetimes like we did insatiably in the first, not only is transformation not occurring, but an indescribable emptiness is probably also secretly consuming us – contrary to what our social media profiles and feeds would try exhaustively to have us believe otherwise.
I’m fairly certain this is why Mark Zuckerberg, a one-time self-professed atheist, finds religion “very important,” revealing to the Pope when he met him that, “We may all come from different backgrounds, but we all want to find purpose and authenticity in something bigger than ourselves.” Ah, the spiritual growth irony. The guy who created Facebook during a time when he didn’t believe in God came to realize that there is more out there than that platform – something which is constantly authentic, not constantly self-focusing.
I can tell you exactly where I was when I felt like I was becoming someone different, more in line with the person I was created and meant to be: in a car with my mom and sister. It’s the most non-interesting and mundane story ever, but in that moment I knew what came out of my mouth was very different than what would have flown out years prior. We were in Canton, Ohio (where they both used to live) and my sister was driving me past her new house for the first time. Our mom was in the back seat and had already properly informed me in a whispery tone what my reaction should be: “WOW! It’s so nice, Sarah! I love it!”
But instead of saying those words, I teared up, looked over at her driving and said, “I’m sorry I told you a long time ago that the house numbers were ugly at your last house. That was really unkind of me and not the kind of person I want to be.”
She literally almost drove off the road and into a field of cows. Which, all things including me brutally making fun of her the first eighteen years of her life considered, was a reasonable response.
Today is Sunday-ish.
When I walked into my basement office this morning, the first thing I noticed were four of my journals piled up on a side table that have remained unopened since we moved into this house in January. So I sat there. Coffee in hand, quasi-still, reading each of them with fresh, more (hopefully) spiritually formed eyes.
About half-way into the first one, I realized both the allure and anguish that keeping journals invites.
One journal contained well-intentioned daily excerpts (only it ended up being more like monthly…then quarterly) during Liv’s senior year of high school, lamenting the impending loss I knew I’d feel once she was gone.
One outlined the daily happenings during a twelve-day trip to Israel in 2008. Strange the historical things I noticed when I was there, yet thankful to have this journal as its own kind of concordance, theologically unsound as it may be.
Another small, compact, and not very well-worn in journal contained pithy quotes and remembrances from a time in my life that oddly, during that time I thought was the best time in my life but now I wish I could erase altogether. I will not live long enough to say I’m sorry enough.
The last journal was the beginning of a book. When my Editor and I are in more constant communication, I’d like to add to those pages.
Each of those four journals represent four very different time periods in my life and reading them was definitely not easy breezy. But when I was through, the first thing that came to my mind was: I think that might have been a Sabbath.
I was resting and ceasing from that which I normally do during the course of my days and instead, found myself talking to God through words on a page.
That, I can do.