For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘Receiving the Day

Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time, by Dorothy C. Bass as part of the Practices of Faith Series. Jossey-Bass, 2000, 142 pp.

This was exactly the right book at exactly the right time. I have owned it since 2004 (according to the inscription from my mother). At that time, we had both been doing a lot of reading about the practice of keeping Sabbath, and sharing our favorite books. For some reason, I never got around to reading this one until now. As I began my sabbatical, I desperately needed a resource to help me slow down and be present to this time. Far more than a guidebook to Sabbath-keeping, Dorothy Bass devotes much of this book to simply exploring and explaining how to receive time as a gift, rather than spending our lives judiciously spending, managing or using it.

In the spirit of the book, I did not allow myself to consume it in one day, but divided it up and read it over the course of four days. I wanted to be able to spend time reflecting on each section, instead of just assimilating information. Although it could be read in one sitting or one day, I recommend against it. The book deserves a slow reading.

In sum, Bass attempts to reposition our relationship with time from use to gift.

What we really need is time of a different quality. We need the kind of time that is measured in a yearly round of feasts and fasts, in a life span that begins when a newborn is placed in her parents’ arms, and a day that ends and begins anew as a line of darkness creeps across the edge of the earth. (3)

She then goes on to explore Christian practices that help us cultivate this different kind of time. She examines practices to welcome the day (like morning and evening prayer), to mark the week (keeping a Sabbath day in ways familiar and new), and to follow the rhythm of the Christian year, which enables us to keep company with God’s actions in the past and God’s promises for the future.

I have already written about how this book has impacted my sabbatical journey by helping me to let go of my to-do lists for the remainder of sabbatical. There is another practice Bass suggests that I have already incorporated into my daily life. As we contemplate each day as a gift, she tells the story of a mother who asks her children every night, “Where did you see God today?” That is everything I wish to reclaim in my spiritual life, everything I wish to learn and see in this sabbatical time—the ability to see God in every day, and take time to name it and give thanks for it. Yet it took Bass’ book to give me the right question to ask, and a framework for asking it. Starting three days ago, I began a new journal. Every night, I ask myself the question: “Where did you see God today?” and write it down in a little notebook by my bedside. It is already starting to attune me more deeply to the God-moments of each day, and the practice of writing them down gives me a chance to reflect on them. I can keep prayerfully meditating on God’s presence in the day as I drift off to sleep.

The challenge will come when I complete sabbatical and return to “regular life.” But this practice is one I hope to hold on to, and I hope it will hold me in a spirit of holy time, receiving the working days as easily as the resting ones.

If you struggle to find God in the everyday, if you feel like your life is living you rather than you living your life, if the time is moving too quickly or just seems too full, read this book, and read it slowly. And try out a practice or two to appreciate the gift of time and receive the day.

But when our emphasis on using time displaces our awareness of time as gift, we find that we are not so much using time as permitting time to use us… We forget how to luxuriate in time that is not filled with tasks. We delude ourselves into believing that if we can just get everything done, if we can only tie up all the loose ends, if we can even once get ahead of the crush, we will prove our worth and establish ourselves in safety. (Receiving the Day, by Dorothy C. Bass, pp. 2-3)

What my Google Calendar usually looks like.

J made fun of me the other day, when he discovered me making a to-do list. “You’re on sabbatical,” he guffawed, “and you’re still making lists!” In my own defense, I have officially stopped using a calendar during sabbatical. And the list was mostly about preparations for B’s birthday party and follow-ups to Christmas (like thank you notes and such). But it also included my to-do list for sabbatical-related tasks for the day: write that review, finish this book, write the other blog post, make bread, shop for trip.

In reality, I just didn’t know how to live without a list. I have a special note pad for that purpose at work, updated weekly (or more, if it’s particularly full). I make a home list every weekend that combines all the household tasks that need doing (laundry, dishes, vacuuming) and all the “just-for-me” things I want to accomplish (paint toenails, finish book, exercise). The lists offer a sense of control over time and its use, and a delightful reward as each task is accomplished and crossed out.

For the first week of my sabbatical time at home, I felt each day like the hours were too fleeting, that I hadn’t had enough time to do what I’d hoped, that I needed more time to get time to relax, that I wasn’t able to calm my mind and heart enough to feel like I was on sabbatical. Even though I was accomplishing most of what was on my list every day, I never felt any sense of spaciousness for the Spirit. “Pray” just doesn’t work as a task on a list.

I turned to Dorothy Bass’ book, hoping it would steer me into Sabbath space. In the opening chapter, she talks about the danger of datebooks and to-do lists.

The flat pages of a datebook can become a template not simply for organizing time but for visualizing what time is: a sequence of little boxes, each waiting to be filled. As the owner of this time, I imagine, my role is to look down on these boxes from above and determine what goes where. (1-2)

I love this image. For me, it has been like the act of writing and completing to-do lists is written into my body.

That is exactly how I have been treating time, even on sabbatical. I had so many hours between dropping B off at school and picking him up, and I was going to accomplish a certain number of things appropriate to the time allotted. I was seeing sabbatical as time to undertake a different series of tasks. They were tasks of choice and pleasure, like reading and writing and praying and exercising, but tasks nonetheless. I had a limited number of hours and weeks to accomplish them. Consequently, I was frustrated whenever anything took longer than expected, or when family life encroached on “me time,” or because sabbatical time didn’t feel any more special than regular time.

Finally, yesterday, I tossed to to-do list. I can already feel a difference in my spirit, and my attentiveness to the Spirit. While I still have things I want to do, I am no longer driven by the desire to complete them. Instead, I am starting to see those items as things I want to attend to, to give focus and energy to in the course of this day. It’s not about a task that needs completion, but about paying attention to certain things that will give meaning to the gift of this time I have been given. The value and meaning of a given day does not come from what I am able to accomplish in it—the value of a given day comes from God, and its meaning is found in the moments of life it holds, no matter what does or does not get completed.

This is the true purpose of Sabbath, whether a day or a series of weeks on sabbatical—to rediscover the gift of time, to let go of trying to “earn the air we breathe,” (Bass, 3) to know God’s love for us does not depend on how much we accomplish, and to receive each day as it comes. It is a lesson I am still learning, and one that I pray will continue to give shape to this sabbatical time and, more importantly, to the time beyond sabbatical. The to-do lists will return of necessity, but I can work to prevent them from wielding the power of judgment over the value of a day, or the value of me.

About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

Helpful Hint

If you only want to read regular posts, click the menu for Just Reflections. If you only want to read book reviews, click the menu for Just Book Reviews.



Member & Certified Reviewer

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,660 other followers

%d bloggers like this: