The Gift of Sabbath Time

Today’s post is by Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin.

I didn’t realize it at first, but I was given a gift this evening.

My fiancé was working late, my son’s lacrosse game was cancelled, and the project I thought I had to do evaporated.

Distant thunder called me out to the porch. Dramatic summer storms are so beautiful, exciting, and thrilling.

I sat down to enjoy the show, but found myself mesmerized by the steady rain falling in the woods. It lulled me into awareness. Breathing slowed, muscles relaxed. Then the exhale of gratitude for this moment, for these extended moments, and the slipping into a sense of the Holy.

Then, my breath caught and I realized I’m holding back. What is that about, I wonder? Oh, the to-do list perhaps or the fear that I’m going to go too deep. I’m aware that there are so many things I’d like to do in this quiet, this pause. How laughable! I’m about to fill my quiet time. “So, Holy Spirit, could you hurry up and show me the epiphany of some sort because I don’t get much time to read and I need to finish that book on spiritual direction.”

I shake my head at myself. There are so few moments of downtime. Daily meditation and gratitude time are not chunks of Sabbath. I tend to want to shoehorn in lots of spiritual activities!

Perhaps the call I’m realizing this evening is to schedule in larger chunks of rest time and to prepare for it so there isn’t that panic to get lots of spiritual stuff done during that time.

Instead of seeing Sabbath time as a period to do spiritual activities, perhaps it’s a time to just enjoy God. If during that time there’s a leading to do something contemplative, that may be okay, but only if it’s being done out of love and not a sense of urgency or accomplishment.

You may have gotten this long ago, but I am just realizing this means I need to prepare for this true time off. I believe it means I need to try to move some other things out in order to let in the spiritual relishing.

I see I am wrestling with bigger issues here, ones regarding how to structure life, my whole life. I now understand why my breath caught. What’s being pondered here is how to really live my life. What can I get rid of so Sabbath time can be without structure and the deep desire to do 17 things at once?

Sabbath is a time for rest, not just other kinds of recreation.

The rain continues to pour down hard enough to stop all outside activities. A forced rest of sorts, at least from what we’d do outdoors. And I realize there is an aspect of respect at play here too.

I have a healthy respect for lots of things I love: the ocean and fire to name a couple. And with these things I know there are boundaries, things I need to do in order to enjoy them. The same is true for Sabbath. I need to have a healthy respect for it and do certain things in order to really enjoy that sacred time. I need to not cram it full of to-dos, even if they are spiritual. I need to give myself enough other holy pockets to pursue those other activities. I need to rework my schedule to make sure I block out actual Sabbath chunks and not just an hour here or there.

And then, I need to just relish God during Sabbath and rest in that enjoyment. It seems a little like a tall order now, but I realize I’ve been giving it the short shrift and getting ripped off by my own actions (or inactions). One step at a time. I can take the baby steps of rearranging some time weekly to pursue my other interests and work on the preparation. This will be a work in progress, but then again, so am I!

By giving the preparation and respect it needs, I will be getting so much more out of Sabbath time. And, the end result will be delicious!


By Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of their Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. You can see more of her writing at blessedjourneyblog.com.

The Energy of Emotion

Today’s post is by Savannah Kate Coffey

I sometimes sit by the ocean in the evening light when the air is soft and the clouds are pinky-orange. The youngest children have gone to bed. The sandcastles of this day are giving way to the fresh grainy canvas of tomorrow. Lovers walk holding hands. Vacationing families, freshly showered, gather in their white shirts and khakis for the yearly photo. There are a few gritty shore fishermen, beer in hand, hoping for a gift from the sea.

beach_blog_Christy

It occurs to me as I sit there how like the sandy shore our emotional lives can be. Often, seemingly out of nowhere, we are hit with wave after wave of emotion. It may be boredom and listlessness one minute, or longing and passion the next. Anger, sadness, loneliness, joy, love, elation, and disappointment all break upon the shores of our spirit sometimes relentlessly. Our emotions are a great gift, but I imagine there are times when we all wish we didn’t feel the way we do, or when it is simply difficult to balance the energy coursing through us. It is easy to understand wanting relief from painful emotions, but even the more desirable ones can be strong and overwhelming. I sometimes feel relieved on those days when the waves of feeling have been mild and the water warm.

The physicists have taught us that all matter is simply energy condensed into form. A baby is a beautiful example of the energy of desire becoming life and breath. Although we know physiologically how the process works, it all begins with energetic presence. We are learning there is “an energetic continuum running through all creation.” (Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Way of Knowing, p. 45) French Jesuit philosopher and biologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote that our suffering is actually potential energy that can be consciously offered to God as a gift. The energy of our pain becomes part of the “ascending force of the world,” fuel for the transformation of fear to love. This understanding also keeps us close to our elemental humanity, knowing that even our “failures” and setbacks are the instruments of grace on our behalf, enriching the soil of our lives from which we grow strong and beautiful.

I wonder if this wise Jesuit’s insight might provide a path of peaceful partnership with all our unwieldy emotions. Might we see our emotional waves as energy that once liberated from our fear, grasping, and attempts at control, can be offered for a higher purpose? Life is full of emotional conundrums. A dear friend experiences daily frustration working with a man who expects super-human effort and offers very little grace. A beloved son is drinking himself to death and his father is determined to help, but his love cannot be received. A woman feels great tenderness for a man whose heart is unavailable to her. A son watches his mother suffer with cancer, wanting to be present for her, but knowing there is little he can do about her pain. There are situations that can and should be changed, but when change is not possible or is slow in coming, we are left with our strong feelings and very little idea how to live with them. Sometimes our resulting actions come from a simple desire for relief. In the case of the woman wanting to love–a seemingly “positive” thing–she can attach her desire to the unavailable man, trying to force love and doing violence to both their spirits in the process, or she can choose to release her longing into the universe, asking that it be used for Love’s purposes. Who is to say what shape that energy might come to take? Who is to say what purpose our loving and suffering might serve and accomplish when joined with the great energetic Love that upholds the universe?

Unlike the shoreline, we are not powerless victims to the waves of emotion that crash through us. We can receive what comes, adding the power of our own consciousness, our willing surrender and the beauty of our own spirit, thereby offering our emotions as gifts of energy for Love’s purposes. We might also find, then, in the evening when the air is soft and the clouds are pinky-orange that our emotional shoreline has been renewed like the canvas, washed clean and ready for the work, play, and discovery of a new day.

Kate Coffey is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and Shalem’s Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program for which she now serves as adjunct staff. She lives and writes in South Carolina.