To become something new, we must consciously do something different than we have been doing. That's why we have the Sabbath and rest and leisure.
Two images surround the word Sabbath for me. The first memory lies buried in old poetry, the second in a rabbi whose name I cannot remember.
The first incident happened during my first year of high school, I think. I had somehow stumbled on the works of the French poet Charles Peguy, who wrote, "'I love the one who sleeps,' says God." The words didn't mean much to me at the time; if anything, they seemed a bit silly, or at the very least, confusing. But interestingly enough, those words have stayed with me every year since. Now, decades of monastic life later, I have come to understand the wisdom of them, I have begun to realize their importance. Sleep, I now understand, is a sign of trust. The ability to rest gives the world back to God for a while. Rest, Sabbath, leisure -- all release a part of us that the corsets of time and responsibility every day seek to smother and try to suppress.
The second incident happened during a trip to Jerusalem years later. A local rabbi had joined us for the meal that celebrated the opening of Shabbat. I remember, for obvious reasons, as if it were yesterday, his final example of the perfect Sabbath observance. "You see this?" he said, taking a pen out of his breast pocket and twirling it in his fingers. "I am a writer and on the Sabbath I never allow myself to carry a pen. On the Sabbath I must allow myself to become new again."
In those two moments, I discovered what the psalmist tries to teach us in Psalm 46 -- "Be still and know that I am God." It is more than the simple observation that everyone needs to let go a little, to get rested enough to work harder next week, to change pace from the hectic and the chaotic. It is far beyond the fact that everyone needs a vacation. Oh no, it is much more than that. What the psalm verse teaches us is the simple truth that a soul without a sense of Sabbath is an agitated soul.
Sister Joan Chittister is an internationally known writer and lecturer and the executive director of Benetvision, a resource and research center for contemporary spirituality. To learn more about her, visit www.joanchittister.org.