Career Calling

June 10, 2012

Sabbath, June 10, 2012

Filed under: Sabbath — claycerny @ 9:22 pm
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[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature that explores life beyond career.]

A Sabbath Blessing on Tuesday.

Needless to say I was angry and disappointed at what happened in Wisconsin last week.  After hearing the election results, I shut everything down: Internet, TV, even most of the lights in my apartment.  I went to bed – and picked up Sabbaths by Wendell Berry.

This book helps me keep things in perspective.  I keep it at my bedside along with two books of poetry by Billy Collins, another genius of the everyday and ordinary. While I’ve probably read every poem in the volume two or three times, on this night I found poem V from the 1980 series, which begins:  “Six days of work are spent/To make a Sunday quiet/That Sabbath may return.”  That line caught me.  Sunday in itself is not Sabbath.  It is a place for Sabbath to happen.

Berry says Sabbath comes in “unconcern,” not something we can earn or buy.  It is a restful state of mind, something too uncommon in our over-scheduled, deadline-driven lives.  We lose the day and rest in anger at others or ourselves.  We lose it through vanity that lets us puff up our concerns and self worth.  Or we lose it this way:

The world is lost in loss

Of patience; the old curse

Returns, and is made worse

As newly justified.

We can only have the world, the peace of Sabbath, if we have patience.  But our curse, probably more so now than when this poem was published in the 1980s, is to have forgotten what patience is.  Our curses are productivity, time management, and multitasking.  We get things done and always have more to do.  We justify the curse.

In hopeless fret and fuss,

In rage at worldly plight

Creation is defied,

All order is unpropped,

All light and singing stopped.

Berry has taken us from a day of rest to a dark Hell of chaos without song.  Really, he has not taken us there so much as shown how we damn ourselves to such a place of “worldly plight.”  Sabbath is the place where we know unconcern and patience, a place where we align ourselves with creation and order.

It’s hard to find such a place in a world of smart phones, Internet, on-demand TV, and jobs that ask us to be “flexible” with our lives.  Still, as Berry presents it in his wonderful poem, we are the problem and the solution.  Just as we “fret and fuss,” we can learn to put things in perspective and value our time away from life’s craziness and its superficial demands.  To do this, we have to approach our lives differently, knowing when to have patience, when to leave behind life’s concerns and just live.

Sabbath is not a day.  It is a practice.

Sunday Extra Helpings:

Poetry Foundation’s page on Wendell Berry

A sampling of Berry’s poems from the Poetry Foundation


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