As part of this month's spiritual focus on Sabbath-keeping, which is the July chapter of Flunking Sainthood, I've been thinking about what makes for “good shabbos,” as a traditional greeting says.
I get concerned when I hear the Sabbath presented only in negative terms — i.e., what not to do. I hear this approach in church a fair amount, unfortunately. There's a long precedent for this, stretching back to the 39 Prohibitions of Jewish tradition. (Included in the list is “no flaying” of animals' skins. I think most of us are in good shape on that score. I'm not much for flaying on the weekends.)
I prefer to think about the Sabbath in positive terms: these are the things that I get to do on Sunday. And some of them are things that I only get to do on Sunday (nap), which makes them special (nap).
So for what it's worth, here are the practices I usually engage in:
- I begin my Sabbath on Saturday night by turning off my computer. I don't turn it on again until Monday morning, and I try not to cheat and check email or Facebook on my phone. This simple boundary, hands down, has been the single most restful and important Sabbath practice in my life. More even than my second practice . . . .
- I go to church when I am in town. (With all my travel lately, that has not been very often, but in theory . . . .)
- I make my favorite simple lunch of a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. It's tradition, and you don't mess with tradition.
- I read my “Sunday book.” This is a book I keep in my church bag and treat myself to only on Sunday, since I don't have much free time to enjoy it during the week. My rules for what constitutes a Sunday book are pretty flexible, but it needs to be both instructive and inspiring.
- I take an afternoon nap. It feels delicious.
- I try to pray more. Sometimes I do this when walking the dog; I feel more connected to God in nature and through repetitive physical activity.
- I hang out with my family. Sometimes, we have a special family movie on Sunday evenings after dinner. A couple of weeks ago we went for a bike ride on an absolutely sweltering day. Occasionally we will go out for a meal or have friends over to our place.
- I cook a nicer dinner than I would on a weeknight. For some people, cooking moves into the “work” category all too easily, so those people should not feel the need to create a special meal. I do it because I find cooking very peaceful and spiritual.
- I call friends and/or family on the phone.
And . . . that's it. That's the whole day. It's not aggressively religious so much as restful. In fact, it probably sounds downright boring. But it is that “boring” that keeps me going in what is otherwise a crazy life.
Reading over my list, I can see that it's not the same list I would have had a decade ago when my daughter was little. New parents, I think, have the hardest time finding Sabbath rest. You can't say to your toddler, “I'm so sorry, but that poopy diaper of yours will have to wait until Monday. I'm sure you understand.” It's difficult to find deep rest amidst the demands of small children.
But one thing almost anyone can do is a social media-free Sabbath. On Friday we'll have a guest post from MaryAnn McKibben Dana, author of the forthcoming book Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family's Experiment with Holy Time, who will talk specifically about eight ways to detox from technology on the Sabbath.
What do you do on the Sabbath? What has been most resful and spiritual for you?