Post Author: Morgan Caruthers
As a graduate student, I find myself with very few days where I experience sabbath. When it comes to having assignments or reading to be done, those win out over having a day of rest. At the beginning of this semester I was continually taunted by assignments, work, continuing with the ordination process, and looking for work for when I finish school in May. I found myself being consumed by tasks, stress, and perpetual movement. Knowing I was in need of some form of respite I began to look for ways to slow down during the day and regain perspective.
This need for restoring self and perspective was most evident one Tuesday. In the spring semester this year Tuesdays are the days when I have meetings and work from 8:30 am – 9:00 pm and then I need to find time to read and compose papers for class. There is no question that when it comes to Tuesdays I am driven by my calendar with very little, if any, regard for taking time to slow down. On this particular Tuesday I was asked in my first two meetings if I would stay in Waco and continue the volunteer work I had been working on after I graduate. This was also the day I had a Capstone paper on my Christology due. This day also included me applying for jobs for post-graduation, and none of them were in Waco. On this day, emotions, stress, effort, and energy were tapped out.
Since I had already looked into various ways to have mini sabbaths throughout the week and had remembered the practice of centering prayer, I knew the Wednesday following this chaos-filled day would include a short time of centering prayers. As I went through my usual routine that Wednesday I found myself aching for the time I would be doing centering prayer. Even though I had assignments and tasks for work that needed to be completed, the mental and physical exhaustion won out and for 25 minutes I began to practice centering prayer. I settled in the hammock in the house, lit a candle, had Yo-Yo Ma playing, and I began to repeat my centering phrase: Be still.
I would love to say that it was instantaneously centering. I’d love to say it was 25 minutes of pure stillness with no distractions, but that is not the case. I used most of those 25 minutes repeating my phrase and bringing my mind back from the day’s work or what tomorrow would hold. By the time the 25 minutes were up, I was already critiquing how often I had to use my centering phrase and how I probably did it all wrong. Then I recalled that you are not supposed to judge your centering time but acknowledge the thoughts which come and continue to practice. The oddity of it all though, was even though I was critiquing my experience with this type of prayer I found my body had actually released some of the tension I had stored from the semester thus far. My emotions were leveled out and so was the stress level. So when the next day came, I found my body desiring that stillness and my mind eager to be given the chance to be centered, even if it was interrupted with thoughts of yesterday or tomorrow.
So even though those 25 minutes were not a continual experience of being released from the day and enveloped in prayer, it was an overall experience which offered me a mini sabbath during the day. In some fashion this type of prayer lessened the chaos of meetings, school work, writing an ordination paper, being asked to stay in Waco with no promise of paid work, looking for a church position after May. Those 25 minutes became the time where I was able to breathe a bit easier. It allowed me to step away from the incessant thoughts—”What to do next?”… “You need to get an A”…”Are you going to find a job?”—and gave me space to see the rhythm of life I am in a bit more clearly. Plus, my shoulders were looser than they had been in months.
As this practice of centering prayer continued I criticized myself about how often I would need to say my centering phrase, or if I missed a day, or when I would fall asleep during those 25 minutes. The achiever inside of me wants to be able to say I have this centering prayer thing down and am fabulous at it, but I can’t. What I can say though is this is the first time in a really long time that I have found space to be still and offer a quieted being and silent self to God. I rarely remember to take moments for sabbath, let alone a full day, to restore myself and present myself to God in that way. I seem to find the assignments, to-do lists at work, being at church seminars or worship, or preparing for what’s next to be more important things I can offer God. These are things I can offer God but I need to also remember that offering God silence is just as important, and at time it can be more vital.
Practicing sabbath is just that, a continual effort to practice. I prefer to move quickly in life and find understanding in life when I have life scheduled out day by day, hour by hour. To take those 25 minutes of sabbath means I am not reading for class, meeting the tasks which result in a paycheck, or moving the process along for what comes next in my life. Centering prayer requires me to stop, be patient with myself, breathe and offer that time of silence and breathing as a gift to God, and to myself. It is within those 25 minutes when I remember why I am going to school, working where I am, and preparing for future church work.
Finding those 25 minutes is not easy, but it does come to mind every day and I work to protect those 25 minutes from being replaced with the tasks of life. If I am ever to have a day of Sabbath I will need to find ways to protect that day from meetings, work, assignments, and preparing for the next day, just as I work to protect those few minutes of centering prayer. Through it all I’ve learned I need to be patient with myself and give the opportunity for restoration to happen, however sabbath manifests itself in my life.
Image by: 10kBlessingsofFungShui
Used with permission