Shabbat Shalom Week 8: Are You SURE This Is Spiritual?

Ironically, deciding to keep Shabbat strictly has made Friday into the most stressful day of the week in my house. It’s because we’re still new at it, surely. We’ll find a rhythm eventually. But for now, for my partner and me, Friday is spent frantically banging out the last of our week’s work, trying to finish as early as possible so we can do all the food shopping, cooking, cleaning, shaving, online communicating and so forth that we have to have done before the sun goes down.

This morning, I thought three cups of coffee were a good idea. I don’t really drink coffee anymore, but I had a very full plate of work and thought the jumpstart would help. Some advice: never attempt 30 minutes of śamatha meditation after three cups of coffee. I shot off that cushion like a Delta IV Heavy and plowed through my morning prayers as fast as I could, which was not very fast because Hanukkah adds a bunch of stuff to the morning service. So my morning spiritual practices were totally stressful. Clearly the perfect way to get ready for work.

I write this to you just after 12:00 noon. My shoulders, back, wrists, and eyes are all aching me after blasting through the work thing I should have started yesterday. There are lots of things I should have done yesterday. I should have done the grocery shopping after work, for example. I should have written this post last night, maybe. But then I would’ve had to do everything for Thursday on Wednesday, and so on and so on.

I thought Shabbat was supposed to be about resting, not collapsing in exhaustion after compressing all that day’s work into the day before. What kind of spiritual practice is this?

Well, I have half an idea. I think the practice of Shabbat is just starting to work on me, but it’s doing so in a subtle way. Stage 1 of changing my life with Shabbat was the wave of relief I first felt after turning off my Internet connections and closing my office door to go light candles. I am now in stage 2. Stage 2 is the wave of panic caused by not having ““everything”” done with Shabbat looming. That panic is an urgent signal that, if I’m going to keep observing Shabbat, something about my life has to change.

It’s that change that will start to confer the real spiritual benefits of Shabbat practice. Shabbat has made my old lifestyle unsustainable. It has highlighted all the laxity and procrastination and time-wasting that allows this last-minute pile of stuff to form. If I want to enter Shabbat peacefully each week, I’ll have to tighten things up the rest of the week. That will require some serious growth.

I hope your week is ending on a peaceful note. May the promise of a peaceful time ahead inspire us all to work hard for it.

Shabbat shalom (and happy Hannukah!),
Jon