Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Procrastinating on the Sabbath

About a year and a half ago, in the midst of a siege of anxiety, I spent a weekend alone with my husband in a friend's country home.  While there, I happened upon a copy of Sabbath:  Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives, by Wayne Muller, among my friend's stacks and caches of reading material.  I suppose I was primed to pick it up by a sermon or two on the subject by my since-departed minister.

As a late-life Unitarian, I no longer ascribe to the mass-on-Sunday sabbath rules with which I was raised.  But I have experienced, over the course of the many unchurched years of my adult life, and since, what I now think of as a "sabbath hunger."  

Muller's book addressed this.  

Amazon's notes give a flavor of what Muller was about with this book:

In today's world, with its relentless emphasis on success and productivity, we have lost the necessary rhythm of life, the balance between work and rest. Constantly striving, we feel exhausted and deprived in the midst of great abundance. We long for time with friends and family, we long for a moment to ourselves.

Millennia ago, the tradition of Sabbath created an oasis of sacred time within a life of unceasing labor. Now, in a book that can heal our harried lives, Wayne Muller, author of the spiritual classic How, Then, Shall We Live?, shows us how to create a special time of rest, delight, and renewal--a refuge for our souls.

We need not even schedule an entire day each week. Sabbath time can be a Sabbath afternoon, a Sabbath hour, a Sabbath walk. With wonderful stories, poems, and suggestions for practice, Muller teaches us how we can use this time of sacred rest to refresh our bodies and minds, restore our creativity, and regain our birthright of inner happiness.
An enticing vision, yes?

And yet, in the eighteen months since reading Sabbath, I have managed to dodge its message.  I have avoided creating anything like a practice of sabbath.  Any "free" time I come upon is vulnerable to takeover by my never ending store of uncompleted tasks, the near constant stream of demands from those I love and some I don't, and my own laziness that would substitute mindless time-wasting activities for satisfying rest.

Why this procrastinating?

Muller writes that some of us who postpone meaningful rest, and the silence which is often part of it, fear that
if we stop and listen, we will hear this emptiness.  If we worry we are not good or whole inside, we will be reluctant to stop and rest, afraid we will find a lurking emptiness, a terrible, aching void with nothing to fill it, as if it will corrode and destroy us like some horrible, insatiable monster.  If we are terrified of what we will find in rest, we will refuse to look up from our work, refuse to stop moving.  We will quickly fill all the blanks on our calendar with tasks, accomplishments, errands, things to be done--anything to fill the time, the empty space.
Having recently experienced a two-year bout of grief and depression, his words ring true for me.  And there is at least a part of me that is persuaded that I recovered by outrunning the darkness, by keeping busy, by focusing on others, by moving.  

But now, I think, it is time for some ritualized rest.  And time to screw up the courage to attempt it.  

Muller ends his book, and I this post, with these words from Wendell Berry:
Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.
And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace.  That we may reap,
Great work is done while we're asleep.
When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.
from Sabbaths, by Wendell Berry.  Copyright ©1987 by Wendell Berry.  

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