By Wayne Muller
Sabbath afternoons are renowned for their ability to evoke unrepentant napping. Throughout Latin America and Europe, the afternoon nap is sacrosanct; in the United States, we are at least allowed to nap on the Sabbath.
For Janet, walking is her Sabbath meditation. This past season, when her husband ran for governor, their lives were perpetually hectic and rushed, with little time to rest. In the midst of the campaign, she dropped me this note:
During these campaign times (the military meaning is no accident) I find that sitting--even if I force myself to sit for thirty minutes--is ineffective. I just wind up tighter and create more lists. In these times, just walking (which after thirty minutes becomes meditative walking) is the most important and renewing act for me. I like the silence, the air, the feel of the ground under my feet, I like not being enclosed, I like the repetetive movement of my legs. After thirty minutes I begin to walk more softly, my thoughts have spun themselves out and I am walking in the space, I feel the air and sun, I smell the piñon and cedar. My legs move with no noticable effort. It is a splendid moment which I carry with me and helps when I step back into the whirlwind.
Although every culture on our planet makes music, each culture seems to invent drums and flutes before anything else. Something about the idea of breath or wind entering a piece of wood and filling it roundly with a vital cry--a sound--has captivated us for millennia. It's like the spirit of life playing through the whole length of a person's body. It's as if we could breathe into the trees and make them speak. We hold a branch in our hands, blow into it, and it groans, it sings.
Robert writes to tell me about his flute, which has become a Sabbath for him:
For Sabbath time, I play the shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) for at least an hour each day. The practice I follow is...bringing one's full attention to each note, rather than cruising through a melody. The music I play comes out of the forests of Japan, from monasteries where monks breathe in the wind-trees-water--birds--animals around them and then breathe them out. In between there is a transformation of presence that is, for me, Beauty itself. It's my friend. We lose ourselves in each other.
For many, music is a language that connects beneath words, deep in the body and heart. For centuries people have used hymns, chants, and sacred melodies to center and attune their souls. One rabbi says that, despite traditional Sabbath prohibitions against using electricity, "I cannot imagine a Sabbath without stereo. I do not believe God would want me to have a Sabbath without Mahler."
Perhaps the most universally popular Sabbath activity involves going out into nature. Strolling, hiking, lying under a tree, feeling the heartbeat of the earth, the rhythms that synchronize the beating of the heart, the breath in the lung.
Joseph, who works very hard, tells me, "The two things I've found most helpful have been times for regular meditation practice and opportunities to play in nature. The first reconnects me with the empty, alive essence of things through the practice of non-doing, and the second helps me feel the vibrant connection of body, mind, and the world. Both are great joys."
...My dear friend Carolyn, every Sunday afternoon, sits quietly and writes letters.
"I have friends I don't get to see, and I love writing letters, the physical touch of pen on paper. I get to spend time with people I love as I think about them, about how they are doing, about what I could share that they would like. It is a little old-fashioned, but that is part of why I like it so much. It connects me to an earlier time, when life was slower, and more thoughtful."
Brenda uses Sabbath afternoons to call friends who live far away. She sets aside time to make long-distance calls, so that she will stay close to those who are separated by miles and time.
"It is one of my favorite times," she says. "I do not want to lose the precious gift of these people in my life just because they are far away."
Some, of course, simply pray. Prayer can be spare, unencumbered. In the Christian tradition, centering prayer uses a single, sacred word as an object of meditation. Following the breath, one returns again and again to the sacred word--perhaps love, or peace, or mercy. Using the breath in silent contemplation, a quiet mindfulness arises. This is true prayerfulness; the mind resting gently in the heart. Sabbath is an especially sweet time for giving thanks; we remember all the blessings, gifts, and fruits of life, and offer a simple word of gratefulness.