“Welcome to summer, and its annual invitation to Shabbat, a fundamental concept of the Jewish tradition that emphasizes the importance of a time of rest and reflection, a time of restoration and healing from the bruising we take in the demands of our lives, a time to make room for God and community, and listening to the rhythm of our one, true heartbeat.
Christians inherited the concept of Sabbath from the Jewish tradition, and it is recognized in Islam and other traditions as well. Summer offers many of us a chance to invest in Sabbath time more seriously than just a once a week endeavor. All of us at the School of Theology and Ministry encourage you to find creative ways to do so.
Our hectic times demand that we periodically play a tune at a different tempo than the one we sing day-in and day-out. Frankly, our tempo at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry through the year feels like presto most of the time (168-208 ticks per minute on a metronome), even though we know that in the life of the Spirit it is sometimes important to sing at larghetto (60-66 beats) or largo (40-60 beats). If God is indeed found in the gentle breeze and the whisper, sometimes we need to slow down enough to feel and hear God’s voice.
Unfortunately, in our technology-driven, information saturated, postmodern age, slowing our tempo is often easier said than done.
Taking a break is not something advised; it is something essential for all of us. I had a friend, Rev. Rich Buchheit, who pastored a church in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of St. Louis. Every year Rich took a retreat for a week and a half. He spent the entire first three days sleeping, only rising to go to meals, beginning his prayer and regular meetings with a spiritual director on the morning of the fourth day. The years of a grueling, unending ministry in a violent neighborhood convinced him that entering into God’s rest required for him to first force himself to rest. He was so tired at the end of a year, he noted, that he could not recognize God’s voice if it “bit him on the rear end.”
In the Pacific Northwest, we are blessed with one of the greatest resources for resetting the metronome of our lives – the wonders of Gods’ nature. From the breathtaking vistas of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea, to the majestic heights of Mount Rainier or Mount Baker, to the sacred silence of forests like Hoh National Forest, nature shifts our tempo naturally. If given half a chance, the wonders around us return us to our primal setting, a place with much more room for seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, feeling, and, oh yes, breathing in and out in long breaths more in harmony with the universe from which the Master Conductor formed us.
It is almost impossible to overemphasize how important Shabbat breaks are to the health of our souls.
For more than 100 years, intellectuals trying to understand the challenges of the rapidly changing world brought on by the Industrial Revolution have recognized anxiety as a defining characteristic of the age. Neurologist George Beard saw it clearly as far back as 1881, with his book American Nervousness: Its Causes and Consequences. Others in his generation recognized the symptoms as well, as Tom Lutz has described so well in his book American Nervousness,1903 (Cornell University Press, 1991), which tracks some of Beard’s peers as they wrestled with the meaning of the same observation – people like William James and others who played a role in setting the table for some of the so-called New Age or Emergent Spiritualities that are now so popular.
Lest we think we have overcome the anxiety brought to us in the Industrial Revolution, consider some of the more recent installments on understanding our divided, fragmented and anxious hearts. From Edward Shorter’s, How Everyone Became Depressed: The Rise and Fall of the Nervous Breakdown (Oxford University Press), to Jeffrey Kahn’s, Angst: Origins of Anxiety and Depression (Oxford), to Dana Becker’s One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea (Oxford), we are a people strung as tight as a violin string. Ann Cverkovich, a professor of English and Women’s Studies, has even written an entire book, A Public Feeling (Duke University Press), which explores what she considers the “culture of depression” that constitutes the academic life. That one cuts a little too close to home!
One of the school and university’s foundational Jesuit values is that of being “contemplatives in action”. The value calls us to engage the sacred in the world holistically, working actively towards good, but grounding ourselves in God’s Spirit and intentionality. Loyola Press has a great article that talks about this value alongside others and is accessible online here.
The world’s rapid pace and constant change keep us all on a treadmill through the year. May we put aside our anxious ways this summer and truly enter into Sabbath time.” Dean Mark S. Markuly, PhD
Seattle University, School of Theology and Ministry