CC Issue 01 / Theology / Faith

Sabbath: Saying No

I’ve been making my way through a book of spiritual practices, An Altar in the World, by Barbara Brown Taylor. It’s best read a piece at a time, with some space for reflection. As I am usually one to devour a book I enjoy, this slow-paced reading is a new discipline for me. I just finished the chapter called “The Practice of Saying No (Sabbath).” As Taylor explains, the word “no” is difficult. I find it difficult to say “no” when I think that my “no” might cause disappointment. I find it difficult to say “no” to things like more work or more time spent with people when others around me are saying “yes.”

Such as, “Yes, I’ll come in to work on the weekend,” or “Yes, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing even though I’m exhausted.” I’ve seen a coffee mug that says it best: Sleep is for the weak. Rest is for those who aren’t strong enough to push through.

When I stopped to read the chapter on Sabbath, I had just admitted to someone that I was exhausted and needed a break. I chose to go for a walk instead of pushing through my fatigue and frustration. I took the book along for a bit of spiritual sustenance.  Why do I find that choice significant? Well, no sooner had I made it then I felt the burden of “doing” lift off my shoulders, replaced with the joy of just being. Then I read this prayer for the Sabbath, quoted by Taylor: “What was but moments ago the substance of our life has become memory; what we did must now be woven into what we are. On this day we shall not do, but be.” There is a time to push through the things that make you tired-this is work. And then there is a time to cease and admit that we are finite creatures-and then, hopefully, be refreshed in the presence of the Infinite.

I can’t say that I am an expert in Sabbath-keeping. But reading this chapter in the context of that moment helped me see that I have the capacity for Sabbath–I can say “no.” Often, I feel inferior to others who are busy, go-getters, in-demand.  It’s attractive to be needed. But the price of all that “yes” is that you forget the word “no”-it is swallowed up by that other beast-obligation. Taylor suggests this exercise for those who find Sabbath-keeping a difficult task: “Make two lists on one piece of paper. On one side of the paper, list all of the things you know give you life that you never take time to do. Then, on the other side, make a list of all the reasons why you think it is impossible for you to do those things…keep the list where you can see it. Also, promise not to shush your heart when it howls for the list it wants.”

So what’s on your list? How do you keep Sabbath?

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