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On Faith: A day of spiritual practice can do wonders

May 14, 2011|By The Rev. Deborah Barrett

A day of rest. A day of mindfulness, of slowing down to appreciate life. A "Sabbath."

Regardless of religious background, a day devoted to spirituality — to "be" instead of to "do" — calls for motivation, creativity and planning.

Cell phones, e-mail and texting keep us wired in to the hubbub of work and daily responsibilities, large and small. Tendencies toward workaholism, consumerism, busy-ness and financial insecurities make it harder than ever to carve out "down time" on a regular basis.

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No wonder stress and anger are such common problems.

Most of the world's religious traditions recognize the importance of setting aside time for spiritual practice. In Christian denominations, Sunday is "The Lord's Day" and in earlier times it was devoted to Church, Bible study and family.

When I was growing up in Iowa in the 1950s, stores were not open on Sundays. Taverns closed early at 1 a.m. on Sunday. Following the example of God's work schedule, the seventh day was considered a day of rest.

In Catholic convents, a monthly "Day of Recollection" was a regular retreat day, free from the responsibilities of teaching, nursing or other ministries, to nourish and preserve the spiritual core of religious vocation.

In Orthodox Judaism, no work is done from Sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. The Jewish mystic Abraham Heschel writes, "Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul."

While it is not required, it is a custom in Islam for the remainder of the day to be taken off after the prayer gathering at the mosque on Fridays at noon. In Buddhism, the rainy season was a time to settle into a monastery for intensive months of spiritual practice.

How can the wisdom of taking a day off for spiritual nourishment be adapted to our times and be relevant whether someone is affiliated with a particular religious tradition or not?

The first step is to take responsibility for scheduling and designing a day for spiritual practice. With experience and an attitude of trial and error, the day will become increasingly meaningful. Planning is crucial, whether it is an afternoon, one day a week, once a month or a few times a year.

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