4.18.2010

Sabbath

Today, my partner and I ran a 12-mile trip around our campus (really, it is 4 laps around the 3-mile campus perimeter). While it was a refreshing run, I wondered about the significance of running on Sunday, one of two traditional Sabbath days in this culturally Judeo-Christian America (yes, I know, America is increasingly diverse--I am only talking broadly). While I generally avoid organized religion for reasons that I have written about earlier, I remain deeply influenced by my Catholic upbringing, and Evangelical Christian high school/college awakening. One of the things that I strive to maintain in my religious exile is a continuity and honoring of choices I made in my earlier life for what I still believe were correct reasons. This continuity is why I still recognize the usefulness of the Christian calendar (after all, it is a pretty rich layering of many, many indigenous traditions within a larger cultural narrative that ultimately helps us understand and align the seasons of the year with the seasons of our lives). I also think that sacrelizing passages in our life (marriage, birth, growing into adulthood) can be a very worthwhile thing. I like the way that religions help us mark the important steps in a journey as a community. I don't think religion has a lock on this, but I do think that over the last several thousand years, the religions that sprang out of nomadic Semitic traditions developed a pretty compelling framework for remembering. After all, who would better know how to carry important things for the journey than people constantly on the move?

Unlike some of these yearly and life-stage markers, I am less sure about how one might usefully apply the lessons of religious traditions to daily and weekly rituals. Things like keeping the daily offices, while beautiful in the abstract, can quickly become dogmatic and tedious in practice. Honoring the Sabbath presents me with a similarly-difficult conundrum. While I can deduce the cultural justifications for keeping one day of seven "fallow" (as well as the parallel injunctions to do this in larger increments of time), they don't really ring as true as, say, the injunction to mark a transition of beliefs with a physical immersion in water. Honoring the Sabbath can mean almost anything if one contemplates it too long. No matter how hard one tries, work will happen (if only because your heart will keep beating and lungs keep inflating and deflating). It seems sort of dogmatic to question, or even define what "keeping something holy" means, but the second you start clearing off space for something, the mind's eye immediately whispers "I'll keep an eye on THAT free time if I ever need it to finish something REALLY important." It just feels important to have a decent idea of what "keeping holy" means and why one might consider a particular course of action important enough to consider it holy.

During the long run--an activity that I think most would not consider an avoidance of work--I wrestled with the horns of whether or not a run could count as both "holy" and "rest." After all, running is one of the most tiring things I do. On the other hand, it is also one of the most self-abnegating habits I keep. It is closer to fasting than anything else I do. To get at this a little more deeply, I considered the possible function of the step back from day-to-day work and accumulation of goals and accomplishments. It seems that the highest function that a day-long meditative pause could take is not to push one more bead to the right on the "I'm holy" abacus; rather, the pause might be an acknowledgement that one does not possess the whole answer to what makes one whole. The run around campus gave me a chance to see the grass greening and daffodils growing (which feels a bit early this year). I got to see a Peregrine falcon alight on a tree with a mouse it had just captured. The run afforded me a sight of the traveling hydraulic dinosaur stadium show setting up for a final performance at the Fargodome. I felt the pain in my knees, smelled the cattle who had recently been sent out of their barns, and heard the geese who are returning in greater numbers. In short, I got to pause from the things that normally occupy my time and connect with the larger reality that is happening right around me. If only for a brief time, my step back allowed me to contemplate my place in my journey not as a "to do" list, but as place where the animals, plants, sights, smells, metaphors, and yes, spirit sustains me.

4 comments:

Sport said...

This writing all the time is going to turn you into a poet or a philosopher (Shelley, I know, would not differentiate). How lovely to see our run described as a prayer, which it always has been for me.

john said...

I love the idea of something so exhausting being both holy and rest. Thanks for sharing the thoughts!
-john

Erik said...

thanks for sharing your blog. It reminded me of a line from the movie "Chariots of Fire" where Eric Liddell (played by Ian Charleson) said: "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure". --erik

Linger said...

Dig it. I still don't fully grasp the power of stepping back from my little 'work world' to appreciate / to "separate" myself from the everyday.

Everytime I reflect and spend time doing a separate activity or being with those that sustain me, I find a new energy and a new passion for what motivates me in the other elements of my life.

Thanks for the reminder!

--Chris Lindgren