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Sabbath as slowing down

“Slowing down carries with it the risk of boredom, but it also carries the freedom of genuine rest.” — Rachel Young

Photo by Josephine Baran on Unsplash

One of my favorite Sabbath-keeping places is at Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. Just south of downtown Houston, they keep two floors of their convent set aside for the Ruah Spirituality Center – a space open to the public for contemplative prayer retreats. For over 150 years, the sisters have maintained several acres of land in a busy area of the city. The grounds, surrounded by a perimeter of old pine and live oak trees, have a sense of stillness about them, despite the traffic noise. For years, I have come for personal day retreats and overnight centering prayer retreats. But this summer, I took a deeper plunge into the waters of silence and signed up for a week-long retreat based on Ignatius of Loyola’s spiritual exercises.

I arrived at the retreat on a Monday afternoon, feeling the rush and tumble of trying to extricate myself from family and ministry responsibilities. I struggled to settle into the silence – I felt anxious and lonely in my small, simple room. So, I turned to music, putting in my earbuds and listening to The Porter’s Gate 2023 album, “Worship for Workers.” The first song, “Slow Me Down,” became my theme song for the week because it emphasized how true rest requires us to slow down. Lyrics describing life in late-stage capitalism, like “rushing on,” “anxious drive” and “restless grind,” connected to my soul. Sometimes I like “rushing on” — I get an adrenaline boost when I’m multitasking and checking off items on my to-do list. But it does not take long for that multitasking to wear down not only my brain but my body and spirit.

Sometimes I like “rushing on” — I get an adrenaline boost when I’m multitasking and checking off items on my to-do list. But it does not take long for that multitasking to wear down not only my brain but my body and spirit.

I decided before I even knew much about the content of the retreat that I would practice slowing down for the week. I would aim to walk more slowly and eat my meals more mindfully. I would savor my surroundings instead of rushing on to the next thing. Many Ignatian spiritual exercises are based on slowly reading and savoring Scripture, especially from the accounts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. So, I aimed to read more slowly … which may have been the hardest thing for me to do. It took several tries of reading Scripture passages to truly relax my pace.

The key to slowing down for this weeklong sabbath was margin. My schedule was simple and had a life-giving rhythm. I awoke early to walk before the Houston sun made it unbearably hot. I ate 3 meals, swam laps daily in the sisters’ pool, napped and interspersed the rest of the day in prayer and Scripture meditation. Before an early bedtime, I did the stretches assigned by my chiropractor (which I struggle to find time for at home).

Slowing down carries with it the risk of boredom, but it also carries the freedom of genuine rest.

The joy of such a simple schedule indicated to me how I often feel overwhelmed in everyday life. Success in my suburban culture is having too much to do. Dare I say that boredom is a sin in this environment? Parents certainly work very hard to ensure their children are never bored. Even in my family’s attempts to limit our elementary-aged child’s activities, we frequently feel overburdened by the afterschool commitments in an ordinary week. Slowing down carries with it the risk of boredom, but it also carries the freedom of genuine rest. Slowing down our bodies, our minds, and our spirits is needed if we, as whole humans, are going to rest; indeed, if we are to keep the Sabbath truly holy.

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