Work Song of a Hypocrite

24 Feb, 2012

For the past nine months, I have dedicated a great deal of time and energy to promotion Sabbath. I have emphasized this term in my blog, in every dialogue at every church I’ve visited, and in every aspect of my trip. I have championed the value of Sabbath as a practice that both realigns our focus on the divine and repairs our relationship to the planet. Because of those dual benefits, I believe Sabbath is an important part of Christian response to climate change. As I’ve ridden all around the country, I’ve tried to keep Sabbath central to my practices. In the second week of my New Orleans pause, I did not practice what I preached, and I suffered the consequences.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I didn’t go to church. I’m talking about something much deeper than merely attending a service on one day of the week. I lost my connection with the peace of God by drowning it in activity.

When I started planning my trip, the idea to stop in New Orleans came very naturally. The winter months might be rough, and I might need to take a break to let the weather pass by. Coincidentally, that need for a pause corresponded with Mardi Gras, which has important spiritual and cultural implications. I love New Orleans, and I think it has incredible importance in considering our responses to climate change. Plus, I might need a physical rest after all of that cycling. The stop made a lot of sense.

Along the way, I filled up my rest period with things that needed to get done. There were emails, mechanical issues, books to read, and people to call. I wanted to get a good jump on writing some sort of narrative account of the journey thus far. For my sanity, I wanted to soak up life under a roof in one city. Of course, I also wanted to participate in the fullness of Carnival and all its nuanced activities.

All of those desires combined in a disastrous way. I started worrying that I wouldn’t get it all done. I worried that I wouldn’t say everything right. I worried that the time would pass and it would be a long time before I was stopped in one place again.  I worried, and in the worry, there were emails, phone calls, news, internet searches, and a list of errands that seemed unending.

For the first time in years, I stopped sleeping well. I would wake up around 2 or 3am and not return to deep sleep. During the day, I was not concentrating well. I felt nauseous and nervous. There was too much to do, and there was no sign of it ending.

Amidst this frenzy, I realized what I’d done. I had no Sabbath. I had no extended period of rest from work and daily life. I decided to do exactly the opposite of what seemed necessary. I stopped and rested. Yes, there were things that would go undone, but I needed a Sabbath on every level of my being.

The next day, I took a Sabbath day of mindfulness. I employed the practices I’d learned at Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village monastery. Every action was deliberate. When I breathed, I listened to my breath. When I washed a plate, all of my attention went to the plate. When I drank a cup of tea, I rediscovered the simple yet full joy of the entire process from liquid too hot to sip to warm empty cup pressing against my skin. In these practices, I transformed daily action into prayer and rediscovered the miracle of being alive.

For the remainder of my time in New Orleans, I took mindfulness walks around the block. In those walks, I tried to stay conscious of every action. I followed my breath and reflected on each motion of my feet. I took in everything around me. If I started moving too fast, I’d stop and “catch my breath” by listening to the simple pace of my lungs.

Slowly and steadily, I regained my mental and spiritual strength. In the days that followed, I employed these practices through the apparent chaos of Mardi Gras, and I found that I was able to soak up the full joy of Carnival without being overwhelmed by the sensory overload.

The fall after I finished undergrad, I spent a semester in Kenya with NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School). When I got to the rural headquarters of the school at the base of Mount Kenya, I had the sort digestive issues that come along with a shift in diet and country. Within a few days, my body adjusted, and I went about my days performing a variety of physically demanding tasks. For the next few months, our group was primarily in the backcountry. As is often the case in those settings, we dedicated a good deal of time thinking about the food we would eat when we got back to the States. We dreamed of ice cream, tacos, fruit, vegetables, and all sorts of wonders that are a part of urban life in the United States. When I came home and started eating that food, I got sick again. I didn’t realize that there would be an adjustment back to the life I thought was ordinary.

Something similar happened during my break in New Orleans. Daily life for most Americans is more toxic than we might imagine. There are emails and chores and obligations that might not lead to our best way of being. Amidst our routines, we can lose track of what we are doing and how our actions affect others. I am certain that this frenzy is making it nearly impossible for us to relate to climate change. It is also robbing us of the experience of loving life, loving God, and loving our neighbors.

I have been the hypocrite, so it might be hard to hear me. But I have felt a change come in that process, and I know it came through rest and mindfulness. You might find it in a different way, but I am willing to bet you could use some rest. Try to find your Sabbath. Do it in little ways, but try it in bigger ways. Try one day of attentive rest. You’ll love it, and your work and loved ones will surely benefit. Without it, you might find yourself singing a work song so quiet you forget you’re singing.

Until we meet again

More mindfully singing

Than we thought possible.