As part of Patricia’s “Experiments in Prayer and Meditation” class she has been creating weekly exercises. Next week she’ll be teaching about Sabbath, and offers this exercise to anyone who wants to engage more deeply with a sense of sabbath and rest.
Experiments in Prayer and Meditation
Week 3 Experiment: Rest and Sabbath
This contemplative prayer practice is recommended for the evening. The idea is to practice a deeply honest pouring out to God or letting go of things you are carrying; then practice a receptive state of openness to God; and then create and enjoy a time of deep, holy rest. So the three parts are:
1.Expressive Prayer, Empty Out, Let go of things
2. Receptive Prayer: trusting, listening, available
3. Be in sabbath: Create and explore a place of deep, holy rest
1. Expressive and 2. Receptive Prayer
Find a comfortable, quiet place for prayer, lighting a candle if you wish. Take a few deep breaths and settle in.
Then imagine God in the form of deep, loving compassionate presence. Pour out whatever needs, pains, grief, longings that come up for you,releasing whatever you may be carrying this day.*(See additional clarification below.) Do this for about 5-10 minutes, longer if it feels right to you. When the time is up, or when you feel finished, take a few more breaths, allowing your energy to settle.
Next sit for another 5-10 minutes with an open attentiveness to the possibility that God in the form of loving wisdom, comfort, and support is present. Be relaxed in the idea that divine grace may simply hold you in this time, or some guidance or clarity may stir in your heart. If you begin to get lost in thought, simply remind yourself of your intention: I am open, receptive, and attentive. Be available to the stirring of grace without getting attached to “getting” anything in particular, trusting that just sitting in this open availability has a healing, grounding, and restorative effect.
Take a few minutes to jot down anything about your experience of expressive and receptive prayer that you noticed.
3. Be in Sabbath.
Use the prayer below to bless and begin a time of pure rest and enter sabbath.
After saying the prayer, do only things that feel deeply restful to body, soul, heart, mind, even if that means just going to sleep. . Select whatever activity or non-activity that feels kind and restful, making no judgments about your choices. Make a prayerful, thoughtful discernment about whether to use, or turn off technology. If you choose to use it, be very discerning about what you use it for. Select whatever activity or non-activity that feels kind and restful, making no judgments about your choices. To be in Sabbath is to have space to connect more deeply with God, self, and others. If it helps, you can light candles, dim the lights in the house, or put things out of sight that remind you of tasks that need to be done.
it is night.
The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night after a long day.
What has been done is done.
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.
(Part of Evening Prayer 6
New Zealand Prayer Book, He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa)
* Additional Note about Step 1: Expressive Prayer, Pouring Out: Stuart made an excellent point about the possibility that Step 2 could be intense. Thank you for the great insight, Stuart. So, I’d like to clarify. The primary purpose of Step 2 is to let go, to the best we can, of things that might keep us from being fully open and present for the Receptive part of the prayer, and that might keep us from entering into Sabbath and rest after that. It is not meant as a time to stir up emotions, but rather to let the mind and heart have time to just think and feel freely and to let go of things that may already have been in your mind and heart throughout the day. A way to begin letting go is just to notice and name them and imagine them being heard by divine compassion and solace. Of you might imagine each thought or feeling as a stone that you are placing place in the hands of God, the compassionate listener, or into a basket on an altar. What we are doing to enter rest and Sabbath is not only letting go of outer tasks and busyness, but inner ones as well. Who are you without all your inner and outer tasks, responsibilities, evaluation, planning, feeling?
Readings on Sabbath
I would also like to offer you some further readings on Sabbath that will enrich and enlighten this experiment. I also highly recommend the two books from which these readings come.
From Sabbath, by Wayne Muller
Wayne Muller is a minister, therapist, author, founder of Bread for the Journey, senior scholar at Fetzer Institute.
All Jesus’ teaching seems to hinge on this singular truth concerning the nature of life: it is all right. Do not worry about tomorrow. I have come that you might have life abundantly. Be not afraid. Over and over, in parable, story, and example, he insists that regardless how it goes for us, we are cared for, we are safe, we are all right. There is a light of the world, a kingdom of heaven inside us that will bear us up, regardless of our sorrow, fear, or loss. Do not wait to enjoy the harvest of your life; you are already blessed. The kingdom of God is already here. It is within you and among you.
Like the creator who steps back and sees that it is good, Jesus just as confidently insists we are already whole. Once we become aware of this teaching in the gospels, we find it everywhere. Whoever has eyes, let them see, and ears, let them hear. Do not wait to be joyful; take your portion now, take your rest and savor the delicious fruits of the kingdom. . .
What if, as Thomas Merton insist, we harbor a hidden wholeness? What if, as the Buddhist insist, we are saturated within an eight natural perfection? What if as Jesus insists, we are the light of the world? What if, as God insist, it is already good, very good?
In this light, the Sabbath prescription is a loving reminder to take full advantage of a condition that already exists. At rest, our souls are restored. This is the only commandment that begins with the word “remember,” as if it refers to something we already know, but have forgotten. It is good. It is whole. It is beautiful. In our hurry and worry and acquiring and working, we forget. Rest, take delight in the goodness of creation, and remember how good it is.
In the relentless busyness of modern life, we have lost the rhythm between work and rest.
All life requires a rhythm of rest. There is a rhythm in our waking activity and the body’s need for sleep. There is a rhythm in the way day dissolves into the night, and night into morning. There is a rhythm as the active growth of spring and summer is quieted by the necessary dormancy of fall and winter. There is a tidal rhythm, a deep, eternal conversation between the land and the great sea. In our bodies, the heart perceptibly rests after each life-giving beat; the lungs rest between the exhale and the inhale.
We have lost this essential rhythm. Our culture invariably supposes that action and accomplishment are better than rest, that doing something – anything – is better than doing nothing. . . . Because we do not rest, we lose our way. We miss the compass points that would show us where to go, we bypass the nourishment that would give us succor. We miss the quiet that would give us wisdom. We miss the joy and love born of effortless delight.
p. 6 – 8
Sabbath is a way of being in time where we remember who we are, remember what we know, and taste the gifts of spirit and eternity.
Sabbath honors the necessary wisdom of dormancy. . . A period of rest – in which nutrition and fertility most readily coalesce – is not simply a human psychological convenience; it is a spiritual and biological necessity. A lack of dormancy produces confusion and erosion in the life force.
We, too, must have a period in which we lie fallow, and restore our souls. In Sabbath time we remember to celebrate what is beautiful and sacred. . . It is a time to let our work . . . lie fallow, to be nourished and refreshed. Within this sanctuary, we become available to the insights and blessings of deep mindfulness that arise only in stillness and time. . .
Sabbath is time for sacred rest; It may be a holy day, the seventh day of the week, as in the Jewish tradition, or the first day of the week, as for Christians. But Sabbath time may also be a Sabbath afternoon, a Sabbath hour, a Sabbath walk – indeed, anything that preserves a visceral experience of life-giving nourishment and rest.
Sabbath is more than the absence of work. . . It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true. It is a time consecrated with our attention, our mindfulness, honoring those quiet forces of grace or spirit that sustain or heal us.
While many of us are terribly weary, we have come to associate tremendous guilt and shame with taking time to rest. Sabbath gives us permission; it commands us to stop.
Jesus offered this same beautiful practice to his disciples. Make your home in me, he said, as I make mine in you. The kingdom is within you, he reminded them, alive and miraculous this very moment. I am with you always: when you come to rest, you will feel me. You will remember who you are, that you are the light of the world.
Much of modern life, of course, is specifically designed to seduce our attention away from this inner place of refuge. When we are in the world with eyes wide open, the seductions are insatiable. Hundreds of channels of cable television; telephones with multiple lines and call waiting, mail, email, billboards, news. Every stimulus competes for our attention. . . It’s as if we have inadvertently stumbled into some horrific wonderland.
Sabbath time can be our refuge. During the Sabbath, we set aside a sanctuary in time, disconnect from the frenzy of consumption and accomplishment, and consecrate time as an offering for the healing of all beings.
From The Sabbath, by Abraham Joshua Heschel
Abraham Joshua Heschel, (1907-72) was internationally known as a scholar, author, activist, and theologian. He was Professor of Ethics and Mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments. In a religious experience, for example, it is not a thing that imposes itself on us but a spiritual presence. What is retained in the soul is the moment of insight. . . A moment of insight is a fortune, transporting us beyond the confines of measured time. Spiritual life begins to decay when we fail to sense the grandeur of what is eternal in time.
Labor is a craft, but perfect rest is an art. It is the result of an accord of body, mind, and imagination. To attain a degree of excellence in art, one must accept its discipline. Sabbath is a palace in time which we build. In its atmosphere, a discipline is a reminder of adjacency to eternity.
And the world becomes a place of rest . . .arrives like a guide, and raises our minds above accustomed thoughts. . . It is a moment of resurrection of the dormant spirit in our souls.
p. 75 – 76
To Jewish piety the ultimate human dichotomy is not that of mind and matter but that of the sacred and the profane. We have known profanity too long and have become accustomed to think that the soul is an automation. The law of the Sabbath directs the body and the mind to the dimension of the holy. It tries to teach us that we stand not only in a relation to nature but in a relation also to the creator of nature.
What is the Sabbath? Spirit in the form of time. With our bodies we belong to space; our spirit, in our souls, soar to eternity aspire to the holy. The Sabbath . . . gives us the opportunity to sanctify time, to raise the good to the level of the holy, to behold the holy by abstaining from profanity.
Spirit in the form of time, eternity, is, indeed, an absurdity to all those who think that the spirit is but an idea in the mind, or that God is a thing among other things. Yet those who realize that . . . the spirit is an endless process of which we humbly partake, will understand.