Fighting compulsions on a Sabbath

Swamp worship photo

Cypress swamp worship is a great way to worship on a Sabbath, out here with the birds and locusts singing the hymns, the wind in the trees speaking of Spirit, and me doing my job: standing in awe. Worship at churches is good, and worship with other people is good. But something kept calling me away from all that today so that I could let go of all responsibilities and experience a true Sabbath.


Fighting compulsions on a Sabbath is no fun. The urge to accomplish something returns every hour. Something powerful in me believes I must always get to work, be productive, maybe even find another way to grow our income as we prepare for eventual retirement. That compulsive force does not remember, or care, that this is a Sabbath. It even pushes me to do little things, like sweeping away more spider webs from the old gazebo at the end of our pier – instead of remaining in awe and stillness, or clipping more vines from our property next door – instead of feeling the breeze and hearing it sing through the treetops.

My compulsions would even settle for turning on the television to watch more hurricane images, so I can “keep up with the latest news,” instead of simply holding all beings in my prayerful heart, especially those in harm’s way.

Here’s the thing: my compulsions do not believe in God. They believe in me and my ultimate power to “do something” about things, to “make things better,” to “fix problems.” My compulsions think there is no one here but me. So they keep calling me to action – which seems more like activity just for the sake of doing something. They say, “Don’t just sit there, do something, anything!”

But I already do things six, or sometimes seven, days a week. I already act, and produce, and accomplish. I want to introduce my compulsions to the concept of another way – a day for Sabbath. I want them to ease up a bit so we can practice turning the universe back over to the Creator, who is not me, for at least a little while. I want to know in my bones that Someone spent billions of years imagining and making the cosmos, without my help. And I want to live like someone who aligns my life with that Creator Spirit, not like someone trying to be the Creator.

Twenty years of daily contemplative practice have not freed me of my compulsions. One starts to wonder if they will ever go away. If they will not, if they are my partners forever, maybe I can help them release their control over me by telling them a short story again and again.

The old-timer from AA responded to the newcomer’s question: “What does AA believe about God?” The Old-timer kept it simple. He said, “We believe two things about God: there is one, and you’re not it!”

So, dear compulsions, whether you know this or not: “There is a God and you’re not it.” And that means I can ease up a little longer on this Sabbath day, and turn the universe over to that God, (at least until sundown). And that includes the meeting I will attend later, where people are gathering in a house to consider how to serve the world through that house.

Maybe I will stroll into that gathering with no agenda, no plan for what “should” happen, and with an open heart, a heart of compassion for a hurting world, and a confident hope that God, not me, can guide the group into wise action when the time is right. Maybe I will keep my Sabbath frame of mind as people share their ideas, and treat the whole experience as another act of worship. My job? Stand in awe, just like I did this morning in cypress swamp worship.


About soulcare4u

I am the author of Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic World, published by Wipf & Stock and available through; and of a blog on, "A Contemplative Path." I serve as the founding spiritual director of The School for Contemplative Living (, adjunct faculty of Loyola University, and as a pastoral counselor and spiritual director in private practice.
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