Sabbath keeping is a wonderful way to hold space for the sacred. Within a period of Sabbath, we can use any number of practices to cultivate our awareness of the presence of God. Recently I was blessed to have twenty-four hours to myself, and I wanted to practice a Sabbath from Friday evening to Saturday evening. Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s book, The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness, which our contemplative groups studied, had a chapter on keeping Sabbath. I felt challenged to spend the whole time in actual Sabbath.
But on that Friday evening I made the mistake of deciding to watch a movie. I actually believed I would see it first and then meditate for the rest of the evening. Six hours later I had watched a stream of back-to-back movies out of compulsion. The image of turning off the television and meditating came repeatedly, like something in me knew what I really longed for. But the screen held power over my original intention. I ended the evening feeling defeated, and set my intention again to use my Saturday as an actual Sabbath.
I awakened and began the day with eating meditation for breakfast, meaning I did nothing else but taste the food. Then I drew with colored pencils, filling in the tiny spaces of a giant picture of a tree in a book called Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book by Johanna Basford. Then I practiced walking meditation around Bayou St. John near our apartments. Walking slowly offered the opportunity to catch the glistening diamonds in the grass as morning dew sparkled, to feel cool breezes on my face, and to hear a wide variety of sounds, from bird song, to the water lapping against the shore, to the conversation of couples who passed. I was awake, and present, and blessed.
Upon returning to our apartment I engaged in thirty minutes of sitting meditation. By then I was in the rhythm of slowing down and being in my life. The simple presence of God was close at hand, without any dramatic feelings about that. And I remembered what Rabbi Rami had written about learning to trust God throughout the Sabbath, letting God handle the universe while we abstain from doing or accomplishing. I found relief in that, a day for simple being and letting go of any sense of responsibility.
Then I had another opportunity to practice eating meditation with my lunch. There was great pleasure in simply tasting, with nothing else to distract my attention. Then I practiced hatha yoga with the guidance of an online program on mindfulness. I followed the instruction of letting my body guide me in which postures to adopt, and how long to hold each one. Those gentle movements were nourishing, stretching without straining, and they held my attention for most of an hour.
The closing hours of daylight seemed to call for additional walking meditation around the apartment, slowly walking again to feel the footfall and practice mindfulness. Then I shifted back to sitting meditation for thirty minutes, and concluded the day with loving-kindness meditation. My form of practice was to use a phrase which arose in me two years ago: “I fill my heart with loving-kindness to dissolve the suffering in me.” After repeating the phrase silently for some time, a kind of mantra prayer in rhythm with my breath, I shifted to focusing on my wife, my son, and friends who came to mind. With each of them the phrase ended with “to dissolve the suffering in __________,” and I would silently repeat their name.
Spending a Saturday as an actual Sabbath was an unusual gift. After failing on my Friday evening, I was blessed to “succeed” in experiencing a day of Sabbath. I wondered why I have rarely really honored a full day of Sabbath. I wondered about a culture that thinks one day is too long–that really thinks five minutes is too long to give for simple being in God’s presence. And I wondered if I would find a way to practice Sabbath on the following weekend.