Worship Script 4
Worship Script (4 of 9)
Sabbath as Relaxation
Enter Into the Quiet by Jay E. Abernathy, Jr.
Let us seek the quiet and the calm
Let us lay aside our loud calling
Let us lay aside our struggle
Speak softly: let us listen to the melodies that recall
Our moments tarry not with us
Let us then seek the dimension that endures
beyond all nowness and hereness
beyond all requirement and all particularity
Let us speak softly that we may hear
Let us enter into the quiet.
HYMN #391 Voice Still and Small
Excerpt from “The Psychoanalysis of Career Choice, Job Performance, and Satisfaction: How to Flourish in the Workplace” by Paul Marcus
Existential psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl noted, “Sunday neurosis [is] that kind of depression which affects people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest.” Such troubling feelings as emptiness boredom apathy cynicism and sense of being without meaningful direction are common manifestations of Sunday neurosis.
Excerpt from “The Mind is Mightier Than the Sword: Enlightening the Mind, Opening the Heart” by Lama Surya Das
I recall taking Kalu Rinpoche to the aquarium in Boston one winter long ago. There were some huge glass walls thick with little fish there. There were thousands of fish in huge tanks. Rinpoche would go up to the glass, and holding his bodhi seed mala beads in hand, say Om Mani Padme Hung again and again. He went up to each fish and individually touched a finger gently to the window near it’s little face to get it’s attention, to make a connection, and said Om Mani Padme Hung. We couldn’t even walk around the aquarium, because he was busy blessing and teaching the fish. He seemed to connect personally with each one. Nor was he the least bit self-conscious about it. It was truly marvelous.
HYMN #1001 Return Again
STORY FOR ALL AGES
The Chair Men by Robert Fulghum
We say the young have much to learn, but I find they know and do things unfamiliar to me, so I am pleased to learn from them when I can. Example: Two young college men asked me for a ride, because they were late to work. Their summer construction job was near my office, so I was glad to oblige. On the way I asked, "Besides working hard and playing hard, what's happening in your lives?"
They exchanged glances. Then one said, "We're eating a chair."
Yes. It seems that their college philosophy teacher gave them an extra-credit assignment: Do something unique and memorable—not dangerous or foolish, but something imaginative, inventive, and instructive. Write it up, and explain what was learned and how it might apply to their philosophy of life.
So. They are eating a chair.
They bought a plain wooden kitchen chair at an unfinished furniture store. Using a wood rasp, they have been shaving away at the chair, mixing the dust into their granola for breakfast, and sprinkling the dust on their salads at dinner. So far they have consumed most of a leg, two rungs, and a back piece. And while they don't want to overdo it, the pace is picking up. Still, the project may not be finished before summer's end, so they may enlist friends, who, it seems, are enthusiastically willing to help eat a chair.
And yes, they consulted a physician to make sure the wood dust was not harmful. And no, it doesn't taste bad—especially if they mix in a little cinnamon at breakfast and a little lemon pepper at dinner. And yes, they have learned a few things along the way.
"Like what?" I asked.
Like how amazing long-term goals can be achieved in incremental stages. Like how something seemingly idiotic affects your thinking about other things you do. For example, they routinely run about fifteen miles a week to stay in shape— around and around a lake. They wondered where fifteen miles a week would take them if they ran in a straight line. So they got a road map and have been marking off the mileage, headed south. They could be in Portland, Oregon, in a couple of weeks. But that's boring, so they have a European map now and are starting out in Vienna headed for Athens. Using guidebooks, they're figuring out what there is to see and do along the way. They're touring the world in their minds.
And, of course, they're very pleased with themselves. They're sure they'll astound the professor when he asks for their report. "We ate a chair."
"It will blow the dude away," said one.
For all the goofiness of the project, these young men are learning patience and perseverance. Some things cannot be had except on a little-at-a-time, keep-the-long-goal-in-mind, stay-focused basis.
Love and friendship are like that. Marriage and parenthood, too. And peace and justice and social change. As wonderfully silly as it seems, eating a chair may lead my young college friends to wisdom and nobler aspirations.
In their foolishness lies the seed o f What-Might-Be, little by little.
Guided Meditation by Stephen W. Dick
There is rarely enough silence in our services.
Perhaps we are too busy for silence.
Perhaps we are afraid of what we might discover.
Today we will give silence its place.
Today our meditation will include several minutes of silence, a luxury in this far from silent world.
Let us pause to listen to the unheard world . . .
Relax into a comfortable position . . .
Breathe in and out very slowly . . .
Quiet yourself and listen to the rhythm of your breath, your heart . . .
Listen to the silence . . .
You will think something . . .
let it pass into you and through you . . .
You will feel something . . .
let it pass into you and through you . . .
Spend some time in the unheard world . . .
(Several minutes of silence)
We begin to return now to the world we usually hear . . .
As you do, try to bring something of that unheard world with you . . .
And, remember to give yourself permission to return to the unheard world. Amen.
CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN
Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives. As you do, you may briefly share what it is. We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.
Relax: the discipline ... Observing a Unitarian Universalist Sabbath, by Amanda Aikman
Are we becoming a nation of cat-vacuumers? I raise this pressing question remembering my neighbor Betty. She had a rambling three-story house filled with knick-knacks. She had a gentle husband, Jay, who mostly stayed out of her way, tending his roses. And she had a cat.
Betty also had some sort of compulsion that made it impossible for her to leave the house in the morning without first dusting or vacuuming every single item in it. This included Reuben. He was a slim, black little fellow whose elegance of gait and demeanor did not betray his humble origins: As a kitten, he had been rescued from a dumpster by Jay, who brought him home in his pocket. Reuben knew he had been rescued from a dumpster. He knew about the world outside Betty and Jay’s house—a harsh reality where there were bad smells, hunger, other cats, and noises even louder than the whine of a vacuum cleaner.
And so every morning, with a martyred expression on his furry face not unlike that of Saint Sebastian in Guido Reni’s famous painting, Reuben would lie on his back and submit to being vacuumed. Betty used the Hoover’s upholstery crevice tool, determined to get every last scrap of fur and dander. Jay would sometimes come by and say (over the noise of the vacuum), “Now, Betty, why do you have to vacuum that poor cat?” Betty didn’t know. She just kept vacuuming. She had to do it before she could feel free to leave the house.
Brothers and sisters, is there something in your life that is the equivalent of cat vacuuming? Something you feel compelled to do, even though it drains your time and energy, even though it makes very little sense—something to which you have bound yourself and from which there is no rest?
Does it sometimes feel as if your entire life is like this—an endless round of work and frantic consumption and leisure that feels suspiciously like work? Is true, healing rest something you are vaguely planning to enjoy . . . one day? Can you even remember the last time you were truly, totally relaxed? Was it days ago? Months?
In the early years of the twentieth century, Sandor Ferenczi, a disciple of Sigmund Freud, noticed a phenomenon he called “Sunday neurosis”: normally healthy professional people would experience mental and physical distress on the Sabbath. Ferenczi theorized that these patients, deprived of their normal busy routine by the advent of Sunday, feared that their usual self-censoring mechanisms would prove inadequate to keep their impulses repressed. They felt out of control—and developed pain or mental anguish to drown out their anxiety.
A hundred years later, we have eliminated the blue laws that restricted the range of things you could do on a Sunday. Now we can work, shop, and engage in all kinds of organized recreation, twenty-four seven. We don’t suffer from Sunday neurosis; most of us never sit still long enough to experience it.
Because we Americans turn even leisure into work, true rest eludes us. Some years back, when sensory deprivation tanks were in vogue, I “floated” a few times as an aid to meditation. I loved the dark tank, the skin-temperature water so saturated with minerals that it felt oily, the effortless floating sensation, the physical and mental refreshment it brought. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that some floaters turned even that deliciously empty time into an opportunity for self-improvement. Once, as I was emerging from the tank, I noticed a small screen on its inside lid. On my way out of the building, I asked what the screen was for. “Oh,” a staffperson said, “some people study videos about how to improve their golf swing while they’re floating.”
The Sabbath comes to us from the Jewish tradition. In the story of creation in Genesis, each of God’s six acts of creation is like an act in a play. And the climax is: God rests. Why would God have thought it so important to rest? Rabbi Elijah of Vilna said that God stopped to show us that what we create becomes meaningful to us only when we stop creating it and start to think about why we did so.
We don’t stop to rest, however. We don’t stop to think about the meaning of what we have created. We don’t stop to consider ourselves and our place in the universe. Judith Shulevitz writes that “the Sabbath, the one day in seven dedicated to rest by divine command, has become the holiday Americans are most likely never to take.”
Longingly, Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote: “When will you ever, Peace, wild wood-dove, shy wings shut, / Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?” Peace does not just come and alight under one’s boughs. If we are relentlessly and unceasingly busy, we can’t even recognize peace. Peace might come and start cooing around our tree, and we might mistake it for boredom or depression. Yet how can we hope to create peace in the world when we don’t experience it in our own bodies, our own souls?
It is extraordinarily difficult to take a real Sabbath, to shut out the myriad voices that berate us for lazily sitting still when we could be earning money, improving ourselves or society, or—our real patriotic duty—shopping. It is difficult. But it can be done. We can set aside time and space, and keep it sacred. We can clear out the underbrush to make space under the tree, and sit there quietly. Then peace can gently come and roost, nurturing us, giving us joy and a sense of reconnection with the holy.
That is why the Sabbath was created: to build that nest for peace. Observant Jews light candles on Friday evening to welcome the Sabbath. Observant Christians may start Sunday with prayer or quiet Bible study. But many nonreligious people, too, have learned how to usher Sabbath into their own lives.
Sharing a meal with loved ones—or preparing a beautiful meal for oneself—is one popular Sabbath activity. A woman who regularly invites friends over to cook with her tells Wayne Muller, author of Sabbath, “It becomes almost sacred, sacramental, the way food and hands and friendship all work together in the warmth of the kitchen.”
The Sabbath does not have to be restricted to one day a week, of course. There should be moments of Sabbath in every day—moments of hallowing the world. Kalu Rinpoche, a Tibetan spiritual leader, visited an aquarium and kept stopping to put his fingers to the glass of each tank, quietly blessing every fish as he walked: “May you be happy. May you be at peace.”
My partner and I spent last Thanksgiving at a lodge on the Olympic Peninsula and went for a long hike one morning. As we set out, we agreed to walk in silence for the first hour. I took a brief detour off the trail, and when I returned to it, Nancy was signaling to me urgently, smiling. There, just off the trail, was a doe, staring calmly at us. We stood silently for a long minute, the two humans and the wild creature, before the doe melted away into the underbrush. If we had been talking, she never would have lingered, and we would have missed that transcendent moment.
Observing the Sabbath, observing a day of mindfulness, taking a real day off, does not require anything extra of us. It does call for the intentional creation of sacred space and time. It takes a little discipline. It also calls us to overcome our fear of what we will find in the silence and the emptiness, our fear of what disaster will strike if the cat remains un-vacuumed.
The most challenging thing about Sabbath is that it is useless. Nothing will get done, not a single item will get checked off any list. Our work is necessary. But Sabbath time offers the priceless gift of balance. We are valued not for what we have done, but simply because we are. During Sabbath time, we reconnect with what is truly valuable: the beauty of the world, the love of God, the miracle of being itself. Sabbath is waiting quietly for us, a haven of calm, a nest of gentleness, a sweet apple on the tree of peace. Let us reach up toward it, and taste it for ourselves.
HYMN #94 What Is This Life
Blessed is the Path by Eric Williams
Blessed is the path on which you travel.
Blessed is the body that carries you upon it.
Blessed is your heart that has heard the call.
Blessed is your mind that discerns the way.
Blessed is the gift that you will receive by going.
Truly blessed is the gift that you will become on the journey.
May you go forth in peace.