Sabbath as Mindfulness Retreat?

Sabbath as Mindfulness Retreat?

Last summer I went on my first 10-Day Silent Retreat. It was a challenging and glorious experience as I joined 40 others laying aside the hurried, pressed madness of daily living to do the simplest of things: watching, listening, hearing, and seeing.

No talking. No looking others in the eye. Only intentional, constant quiet.

By the end of the 10 days, I felt clearer, more energized and hopeful than at most any point in my life before (my good wife Monique’s experience at home with the kids was another story[1]). I walked out of that retreat center feeling a new creature.

All because of stopping.

One of the inevitable questions we discussed in the wake of this experience was this: how can we build more of THIS into our regular family life? There’s only so often someone has the luxury of going for an extended retreat like that. What if we decided to take one day to ‘retreat’ as a family more consistently?

Hmmm…More silence and stillness – and more space. Some slowing down. Once a week…

Sound familiar?

Theoretically, what soccer fans call “stoppage time” is a key part of the Christian blue-print – what we call the “Sabbath.”

Yet there seems to be a major disconnect:  anyone slightly Buddhist knows how essential it is to “retreat! You need to get away from the world.”  And the Christians theoretically are DOING IT…but often superficially or begrudgingly.

Usually, we talk about the Sabbath as a time we can’t do certain things we usually do (things we maybe would like to still be doing).  But I had just returned from voluntarily giving up my day planner, cell phone and 9-5 job (things I usually like to do) – and I felt great!

Hmmm (again)…consciously letting go of ‘usual stuff’ for a period of time – to make time for something deeper.  And then coming away feeling a lot better…??

This didn’t really click for me until we listened to President Nelson’s talk on the Sabbath Day as a “delight” later that fall – and began to hear more and more emphasis from our leaders about making this day something special.

More than a day of not doing things – in so many ways, they were reminding us of all the things we GOT to do on Sunday because we didn’t have to do all that other stuff (we had a great excuse not to…).

And that did it! What if the Sabbath Day could be as refreshing, nourishing and healing as a weekly mindfulness retreat? Could that alone actually be life-changing?

One reason this question intrigued us was how far removed from that possibility our weekly experience was.  It was common at the end of most Sundays for Monique to be more exhausted than after most any other day – since the day became essentially the same Kid Wrestle, but minus the normal weekday kid activities and structure. And for my part, I often ran myself ragged between different callings and people in need. Rather than a “delight,” there were weeks that we admitted dreading the Sabbath.

And yet President Nelson had explained Jesus’ teachings about the Sabbath being made “for man” by saying, “the Sabbath was His gift to us, granting real respite from the rigors of daily life and an opportunity for spiritual and physical renewal.” He later quoting Isaiah’s teaching about how to make the Sabbath a delight to the point that, in the ancient prophet’s words, “Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord” (Isaiah 58:14)

That was not our experience!  So what were we missing?  After another exhausting Sunday, we decided we’d had enough: There’s got to be a better way!  What needs to change for this day to become more like that mindfulness retreat?

My first idea was trying a semi-silent retreat at home where we wouldn’t talk – letting the chatter of the children be the only sound. But we ended up sticking with simpler ideas. Over the next couple of weeks, we explored various adjustments – everything from shutting off devices for at least part of the day, to blocking off more time for just sitting together and talking or reading. The changes were simple.  Overall, we asked ourselves the question President Nelson had raised, “What sign do I want to give to God?”

We decided that we didn’t want to be so BUSY that day that we couldn’t be present to each other – or to God.  And we made changes to remove distractions like internet news, Facebook, e-mail, texting and endless sport updates.

Even more, we tried to replicate some of the things we loved about mindfulness practice – stillness and silence.

And guess what?  It worked! Or better put, silence works.  And stillness too!

In our experience, we found that things settled down in the silence and stillness.  It’s there, when we are present, that we find God…or maybe God finds us?

Even with simple changes, Monique and I have begun to relish and look forward to the Sabbath day again – as one that nourishes our relationships with each other and our God. We’ve begun to feel the rest that the word “Sabbath” itself means in Hebrew.

We’d love to hear about anyone else who has experimented with making your Sabbath more of a ‘retreat’- and a place for silence and stillness…Please share your thoughts below!


[1] After my SILENT retreat, she told me she had been on a 10 day NOISE RETREAT!

3 responses

  1. What an amazing concept! – creating our own still, small place so that we can actually hear that still, small voice! I have heard it said that we Mormons have moved away from our ‘sacred grove’ as a symbol of our worship and have adopted a ‘beehive’ instead. Yes, we are busy bees! And, in many ways, I’m sorry to say, it seems that this may be an illustration of how we as Latter Day Saints emphasize works more than we do grace, at times, trusting in our own efforts to come to God over trusting in His magnificence and generosity of spirit and grace to buoy us up and to sustain us. Though others outside of our faith often look in and judge us as following a prescriptive formula of how we come to God as practicing Mormons, my experience of my faith is quite the opposite – I find enough flexibility as a Mormon in my walk with God, and most of my faith practices quite self-directed, and Sabbath worship is no exception. One example which your blog topic brings to mind is how my wife and I have adopted a practice lately of taking time on Sunday to be silent with one another – to turn off even Sabbath appropriate music and allow our home to be a silent place for a few hours. Many times this quiet reprieve also supports the spirit of fasting and prayer which we do on the first Sunday of the month. When we can do this, it feels like we are fasting from the usual chatter and junk food that the world and our own monkey mind provides in order to enjoy instead a quiet oasis of mental fasting from sound, communication, and chatter. It allows for my mental digestive system to come to a place of rest and feels like the kind of welcomed renewal for which the Sabbath was intentionally designed. I think that sometimes in our church culture we seem to believe that being silent or inactive is unproductive and a waste of valuable time that could otherwise be used toward accomplishing some goal, whether temporal or spiritual. And sometimes this spills into how we spend our time on the Sabbath day. In my mind, this points to what I see as an area of deficit in our menu of what we see as options for acceptable spiritual practices in our faith. It is my feeling that we as Latter-Day Saints could benefit in developing some spiritual practices that support ‘holding the moment’ without going anywhere in a goal-directed way, and to do this with presence and awareness, allowing to arise in this stillness and emptiness whatever God may wish to share with us. No need to be anywhere else than where we are, and with no need to ‘improve each shining moment’.

    These are my thoughts at present on your wonderful blog topic. Thank you for your stimulating ideas, Jacob, and your invitation to engage in the conversation!

    • Your response alone, Mark – is a sermon in itself. An eloquent and moving one too. LOVE LOVE it. Inspired by it. Taught by it…

      Thanks for taking a moment of sharing your insight and heart. Tickled to hear about your incorporation of silence into the Sabbath – and love how you call it fasting from “chatter.” (:

      Three cheers to evolving our spiritual practices – or perhaps simply our language of practice – to help us hold and relish the moment…rather than just ‘improve’ upon it. Appreciations to you. Look forward to seeing you again sometime.

  2. For the past several years, I have been studying Buddhism as a side-interest around the many Mormon texts I have yet to read and want to be familiar with. I have taken up meditation, and find myself agreeing with many (though not all) Buddhist teachings. I am continually astounded at how often I read/hear something from a Buddhist teacher and a voice comes to my mind saying, “You know, you read something like this in the Book of Mormon in [insert scripture reference here]…”

    This truly is a church that embraces all truth wherever it may be found.

    The concept you describe here, about the connection between living in the present moment and making the Sabbath a delight is one that I’d only considered peripherally. It is, however, one that we would benefit very much as a “people” from understanding. Mindful worship of our Heavenly Father, in my mind, has more potential to transform our hearts and our lives than any other thing. In my personal experience, it is in the gap of awareness that the Spirit is found. The stillness there allows His voice to come to us crystal clear. And the gap itself provides us the necessary agency to choose to obey the promptings we find there rather than be caught up in our habitual existence. I have a hunch that if we all practiced such mindful worship, the need for our priesthood leadership to counsel us on whether we should do this or that or the other, would all but disappear, because we would have trained ourselves in the quiet of the soul to hear the voice of our Creator through His Spirit and we would know what to do IN THAT MOMENT to fulfill His will.

    I am grateful that I am not the only one interested in the connections between this thing called Mindfulness and living the life of a disciple. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

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