A Day of Rest: Creating a Spiritual Space in Your Week

A Day of Rest: Creating a Spiritual Space in Your Week

by Martha W Hickman


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A Day of Rest offers ways you can find time for yourself, your soul, and your family life. Aided by personal stories, anecdotes, inspirational quotes, recommended rituals, and using the weekly tradition of honoring the Sabbath as a day of rest, the author explains uncomplicated ways to reintroduce serenity into your harried life. Finally, this book offers fifty-two innovative ideas—one for each week of the year—to rejuvenate your spirit. From solitude to frolic, from sharing a favorite childhood book with your children to chronicling your own random thoughts, you can develop and adapt these personal rituals to meet your needs and those of your family.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780380797271
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/01/1999
Pages: 144
Product dimensions: 4.97(w) x 6.97(h) x 0.38(d)

About the Author

M A R T H A W . H I C K M A N was the author of more than twenty books, including The Growing Season, Fullness of Time, I Will Not Leave You Desolate, and Such Good People, and the children’s books When Andy’s Father Went to Prison, And God Created Squash, and Eeps Creeps, It’s My Room.

A native of Massachusetts and a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Mount Holyoke, she lived in the South for many years. To her writing she brought the additional perspective of being a wife, mother, grandmother, and sometime editor and teacher. Her work continues to serve as an invaluable source of inspiration well after her passing.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

What's Wrong with This Picture ?

A woman writes in a national magazine of driving across the George Washington Bridge and suddenly being inundated by a flood of tears. The stress of making adequate day care arrangements for her children and transportation arrangements to get them back and forth to school and hiring extra help to fill in the gaps of time when neither the day care provider nor she nor her husband can be with them overshadows the satisfaction and joy she should be taking in a life that is rich and full.

    A psychiatrist suggests that the reason so many people are on drugs to treat psychoneurotic disorders is that we are too busy, our plates are too full.

    A friend says in frustration, "I'm busier now than I was when we had four kids at home—and I'm angry most of the time."

    The chief of the women's health programs at Harvard Medical School's Division of Behavioral Medicine and Mind/Body Medical Institute says stress is the leading health problem facing American women.

    An economist reports that work hours and stress are up and sleep and family time are down for all classes of employed Americans.

    A spokeswoman for a leading fashion designer says of prospective customers, "Their lives are so hectic. They're getting children ready for school, going to work, picking up the kids, getting dinner made, participating in social events in the evening. What women really want is clothes that make life easier." Her prescription? "A medium-thigh-length dress in a bright floralprint. Throw a jacket over it, and head for the office; tie a sweater 'round your shoulders and take the kids out for a movie. Pair the dress with pearls and sexy slingback heels, and evening wear is a cinch. You could literally go from a picnic to a formal restaurant with one great dress." To which my reaction is, Oh, sure. But at least she's got the situation right.

    A National Commission on Civic Renewal has been established to try to find out why Americans are "so cynical, so distraught, so angry, so ticked off about so many things"—a condition alluded to by one member of the commission as "grumpiness.... Some of the grumpiness has to do with the dislocations of the Information Age—not being able to work the VCR, having to change jobs every five years. But more of it comes from the conditions of our family like not being able to take walks after dark and worry about educational standards." A columnist, commenting on the nearly one million dollars awarded this commission, says, "Professional worry about America's soul has become a national pastime."

    And all the time we are being bombarded with messages to acquire more goods (including labor-saving devices and elaborate exercise equipment), take advantage of special money-saving offers for exotic trips, invest in—and learn to use—more sophisticated electronic equipment to put us in touch with more people and more information than we can possibly assimilate.

    We are so used to a constant barrage of stimulus that sometimes we seem to have lost all impulse for quiet. There are people who turn on the television as soon as they wake up and leave it on all day. We retract from such mindlessness. But when was the last time any of us got in the car and did not turn on the radio, let alone that device hazardous to the human ear—the cellular telephone? A writer, in commenting on the changes the electronic age has brought, suggests that with the barrage of competing stimuli we are in danger of losing our sense of self. "And our collective sense of absence, of homelessness, being cut off from something vital, will grow stronger too."

    It isn't only the adults among us who are besieged with too much stimulus, too much to do. Children are programmed into extra courses in gymnastics, languages, music, swimming, karate, science—until they run out of days in the week. These are all valuable in themselves, but where is the leisure of mind to daydream, to dawdle, to wonder "What am I going to do?" When I observe the frenzied pace of many children's lives today, I recall the time my young son, who obviously valued his leisure hours highly, upon being told he'd been invited to a birthday party the following Saturday, said ruefully, "I hate to spoil Saturday with a birthday party." That was the old birthday party. Today's birthday parties are extravaganzas at entertainment complexes, with catered refreshments and programmed games and enough stimulus to last a month. (To be sure, such an arrangement does save busy parents time and stress involved in doing all that at home—and cleaning up after it!)

    Certainly, overload is not everyone's problem. There are probably people who suffer from understimulation, or at least from lack of inner resources to know what to do with long stretches of time. I remember thinking, back in the dim past before "everyone" had television, what a source of refreshment and interest television could be for the aged or ill and how pleased we all were when my mother and father—on the edge of frailty—gave in and bought their first TV set. But if we think of most adult Americans still in the full flush of activity, we would find many more yearning for quiet spaces in their lives than for more activities to fill up empty hours.

    And some people have little choice in regard to overcrowding their lives. Some need to work two jobs to support themselves and their dependents. Some jobs require almost a constant presence—though we would look a long time before we found in today's society acceptance of Andrew Carnegie's demands of his steel mill workers that they work twelve hours a day, seven days a week.

    But for the vast majority of us, we do have some power over our schedules and the degree of busyness we take on. Still, we search for ways to deal with the psychic and physical overload that defines us. With our lives that should be brimming with meaning and satisfaction, we are hungry for a peace we know must be out there, or in there—but we don't seem able to avail ourselves of its healing and refreshment.

    So we work at having "quality time," and we wonder what is the absolute minimum we need to exercise to keep our hearts in good running order (twenty minutes three times a week), and hope that tomorrow—or next week—or next month—the commotion will ease.

    Recognition of the problems of overload has been with us for a number of years. Transcendental Meditation, the Relaxation Response, and other techniques have helped many distraught people recover some sense of perspective—and improve their health. Retreat centers are springing up all over the country—places where people can get away for a day or a week to be able to "recollect in tranquillity" who they are and what they are about.

    In Kentucky the Abbey of Gethsemani (made famous by Thomas Merton), which accepts outside visitors for five-day Monday-through-Friday retreats or weekend respites, is booked for months in advance. A friend takes a week of her precious annual vacation to go to a retreat center where she can read, think, sit in stillness, walk in stillness, be with a resident guide for a period of each day. Then and only then does she feel refreshed and ready to embark on the rest of her vacation—a trip with a friend through scenic New England. Some retreat centers do offer the services of a "spiritual director" to guide the solitary retreatant through the shoals of silence: If you're used to round-the-clock busyness, long stretches of silence can be frightening.

    The tranquillity achieved in such experiences is a precious gift—but soon we are back in the frazzle again, and the mind keeps whirring and, even in moments of respite, can't stop. I remember stepping onto a moving treadmill that was going faster than my steps could keep up with, and my feeling of panic that I was going to fall flat on my face—or even worse, so disorienting was the experience—before I scrambled to get off the device, and then learned how to turn it off.

    Is it worse than it used to be—this sense of rushing through life pell-mell—or of standing dazed in the middle of the road while life rushes by on both sides? Are we just dragging our feet and protesting because change is so threatening? Certainly the advent of the microchip has changed the technicalities of modern life. What does it mean that I can fax messages within minutes to my niece in Indonesia? Or that I can become chummy with strangers across the nation through chat rooms on the Internet? Change the technicalities enough and you change the central perceptions of what life is about.

    Somewhere along the line, according to some analysts, we have moved from being a society of people whose lives are based on the givenness of the communities in which we find ourselves—family, religious community, civic unit—to a society of individuals, defining ourselves by what we produce and what we consume—which leads to all kinds of frenetic striving: If I have no community to help give my life meaning, I have the impossible task of trying to make my mark in life by myself. If I can make these transglobal communications, does it mean I should? If the technology is there and I don't use it, will I be a misfit in my own society? If I do, I add a whole constellation of potential frustrations (as well as some benefits) to my life. But when do I have the leisure to really look at these questions, let alone decide what to do about them?

    So I may swing from avid attention to my work—or guilty neglect of it—to some necessary but sometimes stupefying relief from such a pace and mood, and then back again, and wonder if I have been reading the wrong clues, or when things are going to "settle down" so I can catch my breath.

    We are often a distraught people, wishing for a more pervasive peace, a way of structuring our lives so they don't echo the title of a play of some years back, Stop the World I Want to Get Off! What are we to do?

    The intent of this book is to help us—by stories, examples, suggestions—to avail ourselves of some of the power and life found in the ancient Judeo-Christian—and to some extent Muslim—concept of Sabbath: that ancient programmed rhythm of life designed to keep us steady in the midstream of life without the constant danger of being swept off our feet. Where did it come from? What is its nature, its call to us? How does it feed our hunger? How can it redeem our lives today?

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