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Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah, U.S.A.
Third week of July, 2017
Monsoon season – thunderstorms and heavy downpours of rain
“Did Jesus have to go to Sunday School and Church?”
A question asked by a child I once knew well.
A child who did not want to be part of his mother’s Sabbath Day rituals.
A child who resented the fact that the ice-cream store was closed on Sundays.
“Why doesn’t Jesus want me to have ice-cream on Sundays?”
The child was not impressed with being told that God rested on the seventh day after creating the universe – therefore Sunday is a day of rest for everybody.
“What’s more restful than eating ice cream? Is God against ice cream?”
You can imagine the relentless dialogue between that child and his defensive mother on the confusing aspects of Biblical theology.
“Why? Why? Why? . . .” the child asked –
“Because, because, because . . .” was all the mother could offer.
That was long-ago – Then.
And this is today – Now.
The man that child became honors the Sabbath Day now and keeps it holy.
Honors it in his own way, and not always as well as he intends.
But he keeps the Sabbath.
His mother would be surprised and nonplussed – as much Now as Then.
That child was me, of course, and so is that man.
Once a week – usually Sunday – I try very hard to put the daily-busy-ness of my life aside, avoid routine and habit, and shape the day in a way that serves sanity, well-being, and a reaffirmation of my Way of Life.
No computer time, no cell phone, no radio, no newspaper, no social engagements.
All of that will be there waiting on Monday.
It’s not that I don’t respect or use those tools – but I don’t need them every day.
Instead, once a week, I get up early, and walk out into the morning to get the news of the day – the sky, the sun, the air, the sounds of birds and insects, and the sound of water splashing in the fountain in my patio.
I listen to music – without words – mostly classical or sitar from India.
I lay out my breakfast as if I was serving a guest.
I am that guest.
And I take my breakfast outside to eat if the weather allows.
I read – mostly poetry or books of wisdom – Epictetus, Lao-Tzu, Rumi, Thoreau.
I shower – outside – and dress for comfort, not appearance.
And then I go out for a walk – not on a trail – but on a path I make myself by hiking cross-country, as if beginning a pilgrimage.
I am not gone long and I don’t go far.
Sometimes I walk the dry creek beds nearby, looking for what the last flood has washed down – smooth stones and sticks and bones and sometimes feathers.
Most of all, I think.
Deliberately try to turn my mind to considering important things..
This sounds like a wise and tranquil plan, but I don’t always manage to do it – because I’m lazy or there is unexpected company or it rains or snows or there is some pressing crisis – like a malfunctioning toilet or a leaking roof.
But the intention is there and I always regret it when I don’t manage to keep the Sabbath Day.
Though I do this in my own way, without benefit of church or specific religious considerations, I know that I am not alone in needing and observing the Sabbath.
This is an ancient and world-wide custom.
The Muslims do it on Fridays.
The Jews do it on Saturdays.
The Christians do it on Sundays.
And the Buddhists do it based on the phases of the moon.
Whatever it may mean to whoever observes the Sabbath, it is a conscious effort to cleanse the well-springs of Being – to seek inner calm – to not lose focus on what’s really essential to the flourishing life.
This desire to step aside and revive one’s mind and spirit comes to mind this week as we marked the 200th birthday of a man who first shaped my thinking about observing the Sabbath.
In my freshman year at college – when I was 17 years old – a professor gave me a small book and said “Read this, and when you are ready to talk about it, come see me in my office.”
The book was Walden. The author was Henry David Thoreau.
He was born 200 years ago in Concord, Massachusetts on July 12, 1817.
I read that book – talked for hours about it with my college professor.
Simply said, Thoreau’s writing changed the course of my life, and has remained seminal in my thinking to this day.
This past week I re-read Walden once again.
Henry did not become a hermit recluse.
He went into the nearby forest and built a cabin where he could retreat – to think – to notice the immediate world, and be in touch with himself.
He did not go far – he was so close to town he could smell pies baking.
He was not gone long – he used his cabin for 2 years, 2 months, and 2 days.
He did not shun the human race – he often had visitors.
When he found what he was looking for, he went on with his life – wrote down what he had learned to share with others.
Henry died young at 44 from tuberculosis.
Leaving behind thinking that continues to inspire 200 years later.
He wrote: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover I had not lived.”
It is in that spirit that I observe a Sabbath Day.
I can say that I step aside for a day to stay in touch with my better self, to remind me that I wish to live deliberately, to front the essential facts of my life, and see if I can learn and remember what life has to teach, and not, when I come to die, discover I had not lived.
Thanks Henry. Happy birthday.