This quote from Thomas Merton has been a sacred text for me for most of my life. I have kept it nearby so I remember its wisdom. It has been my encouragement to stay vigilant in my spiritual practice and Sabbath keeping.
“The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist … destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
Merton wrote this over fifty years ago. Can you imagine what he would have thought of life today? He never experienced using his iPhone 6 to check emails while he was on pilgrimage, for example.
Last Friday I met my son for dinner in Los Angeles. I arrived early, so I found a place to park in the neighborhood near our restaurant. As I sat in my car reading, I noticed a young man dressed in a white shirt, black pants and shoes with a yarmulke on his head. Then several more men and women and children emerged from their homes, all dressed and on their way. All around me, the Sabbath was unfolding. It was as beautiful to me as the setting sun. I wanted to go where they were going. I found myself longing for this kind of companionship in my Sabbath keeping. And I felt gratitude for their commitment to this practice, which I believe serves the whole world.
In most of the world, Sabbath keeping has all but disappeared, though we need it more than ever because of the very violence Merton describes. It is the same violence about which God has always known — the violence to our spirit, and to our own capacity for peace and creativity.
Do no work, is the work of the Sabbath, just for one day a week. Even a half day would be good. What about one hour, dedicated to no work, to unhinging from our multiple demands and projects, and to seeing what appears in the opening? How do you care for your own inner capacity for peace and stay tuned to your own inner wisdom? Who are your companions?
Our world needs your peace and your inner wisdom.
A rabbi was asked, “How did the Jewish people do it? How were you able to keep the Sabbath during thousands of years of strife, famine, war and cultural change?” The rabbi replied, “We are able to keep the Sabbath because the Sabbath keeps us.”
Rev. Elizabeth I. Rechter
Executive Director, Stillpoint