Time Out of the Busyness

This morning we will have the final session of our semi-annual vocation retreat weekend for UST law students and alumni. We have spent the time since we have been here at the Benedictine Center at St. Paul Monastery reflecting and sharing about our gifts, our values, how we hear God’s call, and things that inhibit us from hearing or responding to God’s call. We also offer time for sharing, centering prayer, walking meditation, and one-on-one talks with me about whatever is on the mind of the student/alum. It is always a rich experience.

I am grateful that we are able to offer an opportunity for members of our community to “come away and rest awhile.” It is not easy. Besides for school or work, some are parents, and all (including the three of use who co-facilitate the weekend) have a lot of demands on their time. But they know that taking this time to be with God, to refocus on where and how God is calling is essential to both their growth in and with God, and to their ability to face all they have to face as the semester goes on.

It is never easy for most of us to take a weekend away. There is never really a “good” time to do retreat. But, as important (essential) as I think daily prayer is, I also believe that taking some time to “come away” – whether for a weekend, a week, or even longer – is important for all of us.

Which reminds me – time to schedule my annual summer 8-day retreat.

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Keep Holy the Lord’s Day

Today is the Christian Sabbath, the day of rest, the Lord’s Day that we are asked to keep holy. Yet, for many (dare I say most) Christians, it will be a day like any other. Apart from a quick stop at Mass or some other service (maybe) it will be a day to catch up on errands, go to sports games, deal with e-mail or any number of other things.

Although I speak of Christians because today is Sunday, I suspect the same if true for our Jewish brothers and sisters, who celebrate their Sabbath on Saturday (more specifically, from sundown Friday evening til sundown Saturday evening). Many spent yesterday doing exactly what they do any other day of the week.

On so many different levels, this is unfortunate, and the real loss is ours. Rabbi Norman Cohen, a Rabbi here in the Twin Cities it has been my fortune to meet recently, gave a talk at Holy Cross about ten days ago that he generously shared with me. It was a beautiful reflection on the Sabbath (that I am hoping he will post online).

In his talk, Rabbi Cohen quote another Rabbi, Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, who wrote:

An artist cannot be continually wielding the brush. The artist must stop painting at times to freshen the vision of the object, the meaning of which is to be expressed on canvas. Living is also an art. The Shabbat represents those moments when we pause in our brushwork to renew our vision of the object. Having done so, we take ourselves to our painting with clarified vision and renewed energy.

It is worth spending some time reflecting on those words because the message is an important one. As Rabbi Cohen observed in elaboration on them, “We need to step away from the usual, the mundane, and the routine and renew our perspective so that we can live our lives to the greatest potential.”

How will you spend your Sabbath today?

Wasting Time Deliberately

I read a quote today from author and entrepreneur Seth Godin that is a useful one to take to heart. Godin writes,

Wasting time is not a waste. In fact, wasting time is a key part of our lives. Wasting time poorly is a sin, because not only are you forgoing the productivity, generosity and art that comes from work, but you’re also giving up the downtime, experimentation and joy that comes from wasting time.

I think we often fail to distinguish between wasting time poorly and time we necessarily spend being “nonproductive.” Sitting in Facebook for extensive periods of time might be a poor waste of time, whereas taking a timeout from our work to refresh ourselves is necessary.

As one author put it, “Wasting time deliberately through leisure, prayer, silence, and service cultivates joy, creativity, presence, and availability.” We need time away from our work.

The question to ask yourself is: are you wasting time deliberately? Or are you simply allowing hours to fritter away by wasting time poorly?

I wish I could say that for me it was always the former. But I know that there are times when it is the latter.

Honoring the Sabbath

Commenting on the Sabbath, Rabbi Jacob Neusner said, “Not working on the Sabbath stands for more than nitpicking ritual. It is a way of imitating God.” Therefore, he suggests that keeping the Sabbath is not just about not doing something, but of celebrating creation.

As I read that line I thought about the episode in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus is in the synagogue on the Sabbath. One of those listening to him teaching was a man with a withered hand. The scribes and Pharisees carefully watch Jesus to see if he would cure the man in violation of the prohibition against working on the Sabbath. Jesus asks the man to stand in front of them and says to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”

That episode helps us to pose the right question, I think. Using Rabbi Nedusner’s language, the question is: does this act honor the Sabbath? Does it imitate God? Does it celebrate creation?

Honoring the Sabbath does not demand that we do nothing, although our Sabbath may surely involve rest. It does require that we lock ourselves indoors, although we may choose to spend some special time at home with our familes. It does require that we keep the day holy, that we do something to celebrate creation.

Lord of the Sabbath

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus is admonished by the Pharisees when they see his disciples picking heads of grain and eating them on the Sabbath. Jesus responds by telling them that “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Like the Pharisees, we periodically need reminders of what it means to truly honor the Sabbath. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus give the Sabbath new meaning for Christians. Pope Benedict XVI observed that “living in accordance with the Lord’s Day” (to use St. Ignatius’ phrase) means “living in awareness of the liberation brought by Christ and making our lives a constant self-offering to God, so that his victory may be fully revealed to all humanity through a profoundly renewed existence.”

One problem with rules like the Pharisees imposed is that they focused simply on rules that treated the Sabbath differently, for saying certain things could or could not be done on the Sabbath. Although, I don’t want to minimize the importance of setting aside the Sabbath as a special day (and I’ve posted on other occasions about doing so), Pope Benedict reminds us that the Sabbath is “defined by something more than the simple suspension of one’s ordinary activities.” Instead, “living in accordance with the Lord’s Day…emphasizes that this holy day becomes paradigmatic for every other day of the week.”

For Christians, every day is the Lord’s Day.

Sabbath

Sabbath. Day of rest. Day “sanctified to the Lord.” (Exodus) The Lord’s Day. In a first Mass reading earlier this week (Friday), we heard God’s explanation to Moses of keeping holy the Sabbath.

Lamentably, I fear too many of us have lost a sense of Sabbath. Sunday, the day on which we as Christians celebrate the Lord’s Day, is often anything but a day of rest. We use is as a day to catch-up – perhaps to get the grocery shopping done that did not get done on Saturday, to finish up the week’s laundry, to pay the bills. (In the case of this Sabbath, we were up before 4:00 a.m. this morning to get my daughter out the door for her departure on a parish youth mission trip.)

It is true that many people do not have the option to have Sunday free from work. My father was New York City police officer and it was a rare Sunday that he didn’t have to work. The same is true for fire fighters, hospital personnel etc.

But many of us do have a choice and we often fail to use that choice to sanctify the day to God. We fit Mass in and then go about the chores we have assigned for the day.

Pope Benedict XVI has said that “to lose a sense of Sunday as the Lord’s Day, a day to be sanctified, is sympotomatic of the loss of an authentic sense of Christian freedom, the freedom of the children of God.” He callsed Sunday “the primordial holy day, when all believers, wherever they are found, can become heralds and guardians of the true meaning of time. It gives rise to the Christian meaning of life and a new way of experiencingt time, relationships, work, life and death.”

It would be worthwhile to look at how we spend our Sabbath and consider whether we might benefit from some change in how we do so.