A practice that's most commonly associated with recent spiritual awakenings is that of seeking times of silence in our lives. It's hard to hear the Spirit with all the noise around us. So, many Christians have learned to take some small part of each day and set it aside for silence. This means shutting off the beeper, turning off the TV and radio and the phone, and closing the door. Or, it means walking off to the beach or garden or mountain, as Jesus Himself did, and not doing anything but leaving yourself open to the Lord.
This time set aside for silence during the day is often called 'quiet time'. It's usually done first thing in the morning, but some people have been able to use their train or bus ride to work for it, or perhaps they slip off to a neglected cubbyhole of their workplace during coffee break or lunch. (I myself can't do that; I'm still too easily distracted.) Quiet time, as with other devotional activities, can help give some divine rhythm to the daily routine. (As you start practicing quiet time, you're likely to learn the difference between real and imagined emergencies.)
That takes care of outside noise. But what about the inner noise? Our own mind is constantly thinking about what to do, what's going to happen, what others are thinking, and what we aspire to or lust after. That sort of stuff is also noise, at least to our spirit. To turn that off, the ancients did something very simple: they breathed. That is, they breathed through their nose, slowly, deeply, using their diaphragm, focusing their mind on the act of breathing. The body reacts to this sort of breathing by relaxing. Muscle tension fades away, and blood pressure drops. The mind reacts, too. As your body relaxes, your thoughts focus down on the one bodily action you can't shut off. This leaves more of your mind free to hear God whispering to you.
Many Christians who use quiet time lead into it with a certain kind of noise: praise or intercessory prayer (prayer that asks for our needs and for the needs of others). Most of us find it easier to be quiet once we take off the weight of our burdens for those we love and lay them before God. But others, especially those of a 'contemplative' approach, find that to be too 'noisy'. The first thing they do is listen to God in silence, and then lead out of it with intercessions. Whatever order you find useful, trust that God will receive your prayers and will speak to you in the silence.
Quiet time is more than just a daily appointment with God. It's more like a visit with your closest friend. It's especially important for those of us who've made our lives in such a way that we'd make God get an appointment to speak to us. Good relationships need the time. They can't live as just another item on the agenda, yet they are lost if time isn't specifically set aside for them.
If quiet time is a daily spiritual need, then there may be times when a longer stretch of solitude may be needed. For that, there is the 'retreat'. This is done by going to a specific place away from where you live and work, away from hobbies and duties, families and habits, media and pressures. It can be done totally alone, or with just a spiritual director or sponsor, or with a small group of people with which you have a common purpose or bond. It works because it thoroughly separates you from life as you know it for more than just a few minutes a day. This gives you a chance to step outside of your entire way of life for a little while and see it from a different angle. The retreat time can help you get back in touch with parts of yourself that had been bypassed in daily life for the sake of efficiency or to avoid the pain. It can be a time of extended discussion with God, of throwing forth thoughts and feelings, working things out, being still and waiting on the Lord. A retreat may well refresh you with quiet rest, but if that's all the 'retreat' is, then it's just another vacation. The spiritual retreat is time spent with God.
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy", goes one of the Ten Commandments. The sabbath is one day every week, a time set aside for not working, but resting, and for attending to one's faith in God. But we don't keep the Sabbath, not on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or any day, despite what our traditions taught us. Many of us "take a day off from work", but that's not what a sabbath is about. Indeed, many of us are so poor that we're desperately working to pay for food or shelter. Even if we do take off from employment, how different is the day to us? We talk in a steady flow of words, we constantly seek entertainment, or action. Anything but silence. We're not prayerful. We're not mindful -- not of nature, not of city life around us, not of each other. And not of God. In our daily living in this world, we can get tricked into measuring our own value and those around us by what we accomplish, either in quality or quantity. But neither quality nor quantity are the measure of a person. We are measured by a different stick, the one a loving God uses for God's children. Sabbath is not a time for running away, but for regaining perspective, and taking the time for worship of the One on whom our value depends, and being with others who are doing the same thing.
But how does one keep a Sabbath? Some hints :
- Turn off your beeper. Take the mobile phone out of your purse or off your belt. Use your car as little as you can get away with, getting rid of those piddly car trips for little things, especially when you can do the task by walking or biking. And (biting the hand that feeds me) keep your computer off as much as you can. This will give you the time and freedom to be a carbon-based life form among other carbon-based life forms. This all by itself will cause the day to seem like something special.
- If you're a business person or are in charge of some ongoing activity, start keeping Sabbath by way of the art of delegation. Entrust others who do not observe sabbath (or do so on a different day) with the work that needs to be done on the Sabbath. And, while you can't account for everything, plan ahead so that as little as possible is left to do that can't be done the next day.
- DO NOT USE THE SABBATH TO PLAN AHEAD FOR THE UPCOMING WEEK. (This is one of the top temptations for people of today's world.) The world will still be there tomorrow, God will still be in charge of it, and you still won't be.
- Spend some time worshipping God with others. (I know some of you cringe at this, but for the most part this means going to church.) Sing. Study. Pray. Laugh. And spend at least some of your time doing the things that help to keep the faithful flock faithful and strong.
- Let go of the angers you've piled up over the week. Including the ones that crop up on the Sabbath, as they inevitably do. And practice praying about anything you're worried about. Trust God to deal with it all.
- If you have a family, spend the rest of your time with them, with ample one-on-ones and full-family group activities. They are God's greatest gift to you aside from life itself, so be God's great gift for them. Discover what they're thinking and feeling. Maybe you can be with your parents or grandparents, honoring them as God commanded.
- Or perhaps you're single. Make visits to friends, and plan to spend time with them. Invite people over for a dinner or barbecue or a sports get-together or a jam session. (But be easy on the brew, please.)
- If you have that someone special, do something special with him/her. Building love is the holiest of tasks.
- Say Hi! to someone you don't know, and have a chat with them.
- Do something good for someone else. Preferably someone you don't want to do good for.
- Relax. Sit by the pool, or on the porch. Take a nap. Read a good book or watch a video, especially one which will help enrich or build your faith. Maybe take a stroll, to nowhere in particular. Sabbath is a day of rest, so why do you do so little actual resting?
The Sabbath was not meant for running away. Human needs still happen around us on the Sabbath. God may have rested in creating the world, but the world does not rest. (Perhaps that might explain the law of entropy (in physics), in which all things tend toward inertia or inactivity: the world's merely getting tired from having no rest.) Some Pharisees were watching Jesus closely to see whether Jesus would heal a leper on the Sabbath. He did, of course. When confronted with the man's need, He had to act, somehow. It would have been unGodly not to heal the man. Those Pharisees who were there at the scene thought otherwise, even though some teachers in their own part of the Jewish tradition held that there was no day that was wrong for doing good if the opportunity presented itself. They showed a loss of perspective and a hardness of heart. Let us be as Jesus in practicing the Sabbath, not as those Pharisees found in Mark 3.
The way to keep on keeping the sabbath is to make it a habit or ritual, to make it a norm that you just do each week, in which everything else can wait. At least part of it can be alone as an extended quiet time. If you can set it up this way keep at least part of the sabbath along with someone else who is keeping the sabbath - maybe a friend, a spouse, a son or daughter or parent. Different phases, different people throughout the day, but keep the sabbath all day. You may find it best to start the day at sunset and end it the next sunset, as the ancients did.
Within the basic framework of sabbath-keeping, you are free to design your own way of doing it, the how and what, and the whens within the day. You may find some of how others keep sabbath sound good, but when you try them, you discover it's not for you. Here's another way the silence helps: you can tune into yourself better when you're not constantly talking, so you can better recognize how you fit with the sabbath practice. However you do it, understand that God really is telling you to keep the Sabbath. It's one of the Ten Commandments -- it's that important!
Here's a blog post from Matthew Sleeth. on the Sabbath, from a Christian view.