Sit and be still
until in the time
of no rain you hear
beneath the dry wind’s
commotion in the trees
the sound of flowing
water among the rocks,
a stream unheard before,
and you are where
breathing is prayer.
– Wendell Berry, from the poem Sabbaths 2001
In my house, Sundays were far from restful. Early Sunday morning, everyone was scrambling to get ready. I can’t find my other sock! My pantyhose have a run in them! Did you brush your teeth? Do you have your Bible? I think my dad, being the pastor, usually left for church before my mom, brother, and I did. We always made it on time somehow. I was usually the only kid in my Sunday School class since our church was tiny. There was a handful of kids in children’s church. Afterwards, we would run upstairs and find our parents in the foyer right outside the sanctuary and try to score some attention from the adults.
Once home, Mom always cooked a big Sunday lunch (she must have been exhausted) and then we had just a couple of hours of down time. My dad used to stretch out on the living room floor and doze off while watching football. Then we went through it all again for Sunday night service. This time, I had to sit in big church, on a pew close to the front with my little brother, while my mom played the piano and my dad preached. Every now and then I would wear my mom down enough that she’d let me draw or color during church, but most of the time I just sat there and tried to pay attention.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t until my parents became missionaries to Thailand that our Sundays slowed down a little. There was no Sunday night service at our Thai church, mostly because no one was going to fight that horrendous traffic twice in one day. Every week there was a meal after the service; we broke bread together. Youth group met on Sunday afternoons, which meant my parents and brother went on home, and I got to ride the bus home by myself later. I relished my blooming independence.
Our youth group time was pretty typical: Bible study, praise choruses, games, and prayer. But then our fun would extend into the late afternoon, whether it was lounging on the couches and goofing off at church or walking down the street to the mall for somtam and sticky rice. Those long, enjoyable hours encased me into my friends’ hearts and them into mine. Despite my long nose, white face, and accent, they loved me.
Sundays were no longer a must-do for a preacher’s kid. They were a time to worship and rest with my brothers and sisters. In Thailand, you literally call people “brother” and “sister” before their names, so it was a natural camaraderie. I looked forward to Sundays with pleasure; each week I relaxed into freedom of Sabbath-in-community. Thais rarely check watches or care about being punctual, and our Sunday afternoons felt timeless, loosely held, and mysteriously kairos.
America feels so different. We are always rushed, traveling to-and-fro, worrying the time away, trying to meet deadlines. We need to slow down.
I’ve spent the last several months attempting to incorporate stillness and silence into my routine. I can’t say I’ve succeeded yet. The closest I’ve come is my early morning writing hour, which often includes prayer, reading poetry, meditation, and/or silence. My trip to the cabin this summer solidified my desire to bring contemplation and rest into my life. Of the three and a half days I was there, two of those days I did not speak to another human. I felt a little lonely, yes, but the silence was restorative. When I wasn’t busy filling my days with noise and busy-ness, I was much more able to open myself to the healing powers of thought, reflection, and wonder.
I’ve skipped a lot of church this summer. There. I said it.
With that admission comes guilt, but let me tell you something: I don’t regret it.
If Sunday just becomes part of our carousel of busy-ness, then it is not Sabbath. And if Sunday loses its Sabbath, we’re not doing it right.
This summer has been a time of rest, Sundays included. I’ve spent a lot of Sunday mornings with the family, reading, writing, or going outside. The summer days started to string together, repetitions, lots of doing unimportant things – but oh, how important the non-importants are! I push against my guilt for not “getting things done.” I push it away and throw it into the wind. I plant my feet down, deep into the roots of the earth, and I stand still in the presence of silence, soaking up the nutrients and sunlight I need so that I can grow.