Friday, July 27, 2012

July to August: Keeping Sabbath and Gratitude

Keeping the Sabbath is hard, we agreed. We don't want to give up our busy-ness.

Reflecting that, we started with this poem by Wendell Berry from Sabbaths (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1987) on what happens when we don't really honor the Sabbath:

Sabbath Poem V, 1980
Six days of work are spent
To make a Sunday quiet
That Sabbath may return.
It comes in unconcern;
We cannot earn or buy it.
Suppose rest is not sent
Or comes and goes unknown,
The light, unseen, unshown.
Suppose the day begins
In wrath at circumstance,
Or anger at one’s friends
In vain self-innocence
False to the very light,
Breaking the sun in half,
Or anger at oneself
Whose controverting will
Would have the sun stand still.
The world is lost in loss
Of patience; the old curse
Returns, and is made worse
As newly justified.
In hopeless fret and fuss,
In rage at worldly plight
Creation is defied,
All order is unpropped,
All light and singing stopped.

Reflecting on the commandment:
Exodus 20.8-10 (NRSV)
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 

Other than the rules that Jana Reiss describes and breaks about the orthodox Sabbath, what does Sabbath mean to Jews who keep the Sabbath? We listened to "Shabbat, Shabbat Shalom" to get a sense of the joy of the sabbath and the peace of the sabbath that we seek.

We asked: what does it mean not to do work? What does it mean to make time for the holy in our lives? Why is it that naming someone a workaholic seems like a compliment? We realized that we struggle with this as Abraham Joshua Heschel captures in this quote:
Indeed, we know what to do with space but do not know what to do about time, expect to make it subservient to space. Most of us seem to labor for the sake of things of space. As a result we suffer from a deeply rooted dread of time and stand aghast when compelled to look into its face.
(Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1951, p. 5)
 We fear time? Joan Chittister reflects on this in Songs of the Heart (New London, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 2011) using this verse from Psalm 103 (p. 62): 
As for us, our days are like grass; We flower .. the wind blows ... We are gone.
She also shares this quote from Carl Sandburg that captures the way we clutch to time (p. 63):
Time is the only coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent.
But in her chapter on the Sabbath, she quotes Alice Walker to put it in perspective (p. 99):
 Anybody can observe the Sabbath but making it holy surely takes the rest of the week.
 We agreed that we know and feel the presence of the holy, often in worship and in community and in communion, and the challenge is to take that home or make it at home. We've found that to be most successful when we plan ahead to avoid the bustle of getting dinner on the table (the crock pot discussion at the beginning of our wonderful shared meal came up again!) and to sing or listen to music to bring the holy into our time and to read spiritual reading material rather than mysteries or the newspaper: the Bible, devotionals, poetry. Walks along the water and in nature also captured the holy.

We ending our Sabbath discussion listening to Serenity by Charles Ives, sung by Jan De Gaetani:
O, Sabbath rest of Galilee!
O, calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee,
the silence of eternity
Interpreted by love.
Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease:
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess,
the beauty of thy peace. 
by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) , "The Brewing of Soma", from The Pennsylvania Pilgrim, and Other Poems, published 1872
With one more Sunday in July, we still have an opportunity to seek and know the peace of the Sabbath and to find that holy time.

Looking Forward to August
In August we are reading chapter 8 on Gratitude. 

I recommended that people begin keeping a Gratitude Journal, something I heard about in several places a number of years ago: from reading Simple Abundance; from the research done on the effects of gratitude; and even from Oprah. What I know that writing the five things I'm grateful for each morning reframes my day and has made an enormous difference in my life. 

And I am especially grateful for all who are participating or have participated in this book group!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

June to July: Centering Prayer -> Keeping Sabbath

Some people had success with centering prayer and others did not.
Some long-time meditators in the group liked the Jesus prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner) while that prayer didn't resonate with others. We listened to the audio of the how-to video from Thomas Keating.
Centering Prayer Guidelines
Thomas Keating

Guideline 1
Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God's presence and action within you. (Examples: Peace; Be still; Shalom; Jesus; I surrender; God is love)

Guideline 2
Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God's presence and action within. 

Guideline 3
When engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.

We did centering prayer together. We found that Centering Prayer seemed more "successful" when done in a group, than when done at home. This is consistent with what we've discovered each time: our spiritual practices are better supported in community. We decided to include a time of centering prayer in our next session.

Thinking about Sabbath
In July we are talking about ch. 7, keeping the Sabbath, so, in the next couple of weeks, can you try to keep a Sabbath--even a half day (start small and work up?). What does it mean to you in your life to give up the busyness of the world and focus on rest and restoration and the holy?

Blessings on all of you as you travel and as you stay home and as you keep the Sabbath and a holy time for God in your lives.