"Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10).
So it's summer, and the living is easy. Or is it? Well, the days are slower and easier. The nights are warm and sweet. The earth is filled with the music of birds during the day and the sound of crickets and frogs singing at night. There are crashing thunder and lightning storms, sun-soaked beach days, and barbecues and pool parties with family and friends. Most of us even get to take some time off from work to be on vacation. Mmmm. Who could ask for anything more, right?
In theory, that all sounds pretty good. But I'm utterly amazed at how hard most of us work ... to relax. Have you noticed that about us? We are people on a mission, though it's hard to know exactly what that mission might be most of the time. We live our lives at a pace that can best be described as frantic. Most days, we manage to multi-task ourselves into oblivion and exhaustion. We're held hostage by our over-communicating but under-relating lifestyle. We find little time for the little things ... you know ... the really important ones, like loving God or loving those closest to us. Our days, and weeks and months and years go flying by in a blur of frenetic over-activity. And clergy-types are certainly not immune to being sucked into the black hole of our crazy, hazy, daze-y lifestyle. Mea culpa, for sure!
But, with its long, gentle days, quiet mornings, sweet-smelling afternoons and cool evenings, summertime is a perfect time to renew, or to begin, a regular practice of Sabbath. Now notice that I didn't say it was a perfect time to observe Sabbath or a perfect time to perform Sabbath or a perfect time to do Sabbath. Because Sabbath isn't about observing or performing or doing ... Sabbath is about being. Because we shouldn't have to work to rest.
Most of the world's great religious traditions advocate frequent and regular times of stillness: periods of time set aside to simply dwell in the presence of the Divine, to be with the Source of our Being, to gaze upon the awesome beauty of the mystery most of us call God. There is nothing else in our human experience that so connects us to ourselves and others, as connecting ourselves to the one from whom we came and to whom we will ultimately return. It has long been said that if you look deeply enough into the present moment, you can see eternity. And so it is. But we have to stop long enough to look.
Last year, my husband Anthony and I were blessed to be able to visit the Holy Land with some other Episcopalians. While we were there, we decided to explore the beautiful old city of Jerusalem several times. One such time was on a Saturday. Most of the city was bustling with crowds and noise and street vendors and shopkeepers. Without realizing the boundaries of the various quarters of the city, we wandered into the Jewish quarter. It was like crossing some invisible line into another world. All the shops, stores and restaurants were closed. The streets were empty and still. We could hear the soft sounds of birds singing and children laughing. The only folks we saw were families strolling slowly through the streets, smiling and talking, holding hands and walking together, nodding and waving pleasantly at one another as they passed by. It was so beautiful and so peaceful.
In trying to replicate some of that peace, I've started a Sabbath practice that draws on the wisdom of my Jewish sisters and brothers. I now observe my personal Sabbath on Mondays because, as a Christian clergyperson, I "work" every Sunday and most Saturdays. But on Mondays, I don't set my alarm clock. I don't turn on my computer, I don't go shopping, clean house or do errands. Most times, I don't even drive my car. And I certainly don't do anything that would qualify as work. I DO sleep, read, pray, walk, sing, do yoga, eat, meditate, nap, listen to music, spend lots of time outdoors, and ... my favorite Sabbath pastime of all ... I sit outside and look at the earth or the sea or the sky, and I make "goo-goo" eyes at God. Which gives God a perfect opportunity to make "goo-goo" eyes right back at me. And I am renewed by being held in the loving gaze of my infinitely loving God. I am renewed in the image of my Creator.
And that seems pretty perfect ... because we shouldn't have to work to rest. Shabbat shalom.
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The Rev. Victoria A. Pretti is rector of the All Saints' Episcopal Church in West Newbury.