Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Lent
Friendsday Wednesday is back! For those of you on the #SmartFreedom Challenge, you will enjoy this lovely (and convicting!) post from Miss Robin. For those of you picking up a different penance this Lent, we can all use a reminder about the beauty and intentionality of God's gift to us: the Sabbath! Have a restful, fruitful, and beautiful Lent!
Choose Rest, Choose Joy,
It was the subtitle to the book, Sabbath, that first caught my attention many years ago while I was in the trenches raising four teenagers. Every word in the phrase appealed to my parched spirit: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest. At that time in my life, I surely needed a strong dose of rest and the restoration of my sacred rhythms. The soft cover version of the amazing book was published with a different subtitle: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives. You get the point.
Reading the book was like entering Sabbath.
But who commits to following the Sabbath anymore? Might I remind us all that “Honoring the Sabbath” is the third commandment and that God Himself rested on the seventh day?! Who do we think we are, then—we who live in a culture-gone-mad on distractions, busyness and diversions 24/7? We’ve surely lost our sacred rhythms and the sheer delight of restorative rest and renewal.
This past Saturday in the Mass readings, the prophet Isaiah gave us some helpful advice:
“If you hold back your foot on the sabbath,
from following your own pursuits on My holy day, If you call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, If you honor it by not following your own ways, from seeking your own interests, and speaking your own word, Then you will take delight in the Lord…” Isaiah 58:13-14a
We have to ask ourselves: Do I delight in the Lord? In my life? Am I, then, a delight to others??
Ponder this: For the people of the Bible, and up until about fifty years ago or so, the Sabbath was seen as “a day apart”, one day of the week meant to transform and animate all other days. To honor the Sabbath meant to distance oneself from the everyday concerns of the workday world and to be released from one’s self-imposed constraints—to delight in God, one’s spouse, one’s family and friends, one’s “neighbor”…oneself!
When I was a kid, my family gathered around the dining room table after Church on Sunday. I can still feel the texture of the linen tablecloth and matching napkins and taste my Mamma’s homemade fried chicken and creamy mashed potatoes with the swirls of butter on top! (I never delighted in the green peas!) After dinner, the dishes were cleared and we had lively conversations. This was my time to reveal my weekly grades to my daddy and his time to delight in me! Mostly, our family was together, not isolated by devices. Sunday afternoons sometimes meant family sailboat rides on Lake Pontchartrain. But 8:00 on Sunday nights meant one thing: We all gathered around one screen, the black and white television set in the den to watch Bonanza!
For the Jewish people (remember, Jesus was a Jew), Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday evening with the lighting of the candle by the elder woman in the household, welcoming the beginning of sacred time. In their tradition, everything shuts down for the duration of the sacred Sabbath, so meals and activities have to be planned well in advance. Here’s a more current tradition: As Jewish families gather at dusk to prepare for the Sabbath, a container is placed in the home that collects objects which might provide a distraction. Imagine a bucket full of dozing cell phones, X-boxes, remote controls, and i-pads stored away in your pantry for twenty-four hours! I know. I know it’s radical.
Thirty of our Wisdom students surrender their phones for three priceless days of silence every fall on retreat. They cringe when their phones are returned. They haven’t figured out how not to be enslaved by them. Could a sabbath box be a helpful tool?
Here’s another modern-day idea that I often use at the beginning of a retreat: Worries, relationship tensions, concerns about unfinished projects, unwelcomed fears are jotted down on little slips of paper, and are also placed in the sabbath box. You see, Sabbath is about entrusting God with everything while we take our hands off of the controls. It’s an answer to Jesus’ call, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Mt. 11:28
Jesus also affirmed that the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath, reminding us not to take it all (including ourselves) too seriously!
In Sabbath, the world becomes a place of rest.
Sabbath has become a sacred touchstone in our household. Ours begins on most Saturdays at 4:00 with the anticipated Mass. Easton and I try to plan something fun on Saturday night including quality time with each other, friends, or family. While every other morning is spent in the solitude of personal prayer, Sunday’s are reserved for our “Couples’ Interior Examen”. We pray Lectio Divina with the Sunday Gospel and then, glancing over the week just past, we share with one another what we’re most grateful for, where we most experienced God’s love, our moments of “unfreedom”.
Included in our Examen is the sharing of our needs and wants with one another. This powerful exercise gets us in touch with those all-important spiritual, physical and emotional needs that are most often met connecting deeply—with God, each other, our kids and grandkids, our friends, ourselves.
We also pray for others at this time. If you’ve ever asked me to pray for you, be assured your name has been on my bathroom sink list that gets pulled out to share on Sunday mornings, along with countless needs that hit our hearts each week. We’ve been praying mightily this week for the victims and families in Parkland, FL.
What else might we do on the Sabbath? Well, we restore our sacred rhythms!
Sometimes I connect with the rhythm of nature while digging in my flower garden, aware that my pace has slowed and my focus has sharpened to one weed at a time.
Before Easton sold his motorcycle, our Sundays often took on a ”brisker” rhythm as we skirted the countryside and hunted for breakfast or lunch diners.
Often now, I enter the slowed rhythm of my elderly mom as we visit at her assisted living home and I come away knowing that I helped to restore her sacred need for love and attention, even though she never remembers our previous visit.
There’s a restorative rhythm (I’ll call it sacred) to grilling in the backyard, sharing a glass of bourbon or sipping a cup of tea on Sunday afternoons.
There’s a rhythm to my body’s need for extra sleep on Sunday morning or an afternoon nap, or my soul’s need for extended prayer.
The ideas are endless and very personal to one’s own sacred rhythms.
Here’s what we don’t do on the Sabbath: work or shop! We push back from the chaotic rhythm of our culture to which we are all entrained. The rhythm of our Sunday Sabbath has changed my entire perspective on the work week. When I was meeting the pressing deadline for my second book, I keenly discovered that Mondays and Tuesdays were my most prolific writing days. I had just pressed the re-set button.
Sabbath isn’t limited to Sundays, of course. The fourth Thursday of each month has become for me a monthly sabbath. It’s the one day of the month when I gather with my beloved Theresian community. And even after thirty-four years of those gatherings, it’s a rhythm each member counts on and looks forward to. Most importantly, a yearly sabbath of a silent retreat is a long-awaited rhythm my soul delights in as I spend five or more days of silence and solitude with the Lord! That yearly rhythm restores my soul like nothing else can!
Consider joining me in April for your own silent sabbath!
Go ahead—reclaim the Sabbath this Lent! Be creative! Isn’t Lent itself a sacred rhythm that the Church provides for us each year, a time of fasting from our “own pursuits”? You will be amazed by the Sabbath’s restorative value. Besides, isn’t the deeper call of Lent found in these words by Wayne Muller, author of Sabbath, “The world is in need of the generosity of well-rested people.” So get your rest. The world awaits.
Robin Hebert is a mother of four, stepmother of two, and grandmother of twenty. She is passionate about living a simple, prayerful, balanced lifestyle. When not coordinating marriage ministry at Our Lady of Wisdom in Lafayette, LA, she enjoys sipping bourbon with her husband Easton in their beautiful yard, teaching people about Thérèse, and making the world's best salsa + ginger snap cookies. Robin is past national president of Theresians of the U.S. and has been a member of her Theresian "Open Heart" community for thirty-three years.