lunch as a spiritual discipline

As I said last week, this post will be the last in my series on establishing a rule of life. I would love your suggestions as to what to write about when I am finished with this series.  In the past I’ve often written more for my own enjoyment than for my readers’.  I don’t want to stop doing the former, but I’d love to be able to do both!

My topic today is the concept of a small, daily “Sabbath” rest.  (I’m putting the term in quotes because, of course, it literally refers to something that happens every seven days.  I’m using it loosely here.)  During my conversation with my co-worker who is an experienced spiritual director (see the post entitled “A Conversation with Purpose”), she asked me how I could incorporate the concept of Sabbath rest into my workday.  I knew the answer immediately: I should start taking a lunch break.

Before I go on, I should clarify that I am blessed to have a salaried academic job with a relatively flexible schedule.  If I wanted to go out to lunch and stay longer than an hour, no one would say anything as long as I didn’t miss a meeting or a class.  But I typically don’t use this privilege.  Most of the time I eat lunch at my desk, attempting to keep working despite the difficulty of typing an email while eating.  I end up getting my keyboard all sticky and not really enjoying my food.  People feel weird when they come to my office to ask a question and see that I’m eating lunch, even when I tell them they shouldn’t feel weird.  More importantly, I don’t have a time built in during the day for refocusing: celebrating the accomplishments of the morning and asking for God’s help with the tasks of the afternoon.

A lunch break is the perfect time for either fellowship or solitude.  Perhaps I could schedule a little of both into my work week–lunch with others on Monday/Wednesday/Friday and lunch alone on Tuesday/Thursday, or something like that.  During the lunches with others, I could be deliberate about getting to know different people from inside and outside my department.  During the solo lunches, I could pray a form of the examen prayer (I mentioned this in my introductory post on crafting a rule of life).  In this type of prayer, I would review the day up to that point, thanking God for blessings, confessing sins, and thinking (not obsessively) about how I could have done things differently, and then I would look ahead to the rest of the day, asking for wisdom and strength for each task.  This need take no longer than five minutes, so I could even do it at the beginning or end of a lunch I’m eating with other people.  I could even include my lunch buddies in the practice, asking them what their high and low points of the day have been thus far.  (Thanks for Alvin Ung, one of the professors of the Taking Your Soul to Work class, for this idea.)

Oddly enough, I think this might be the most difficult to implement of the disciplines I’ve written about so far.  Not for any logistical reason–there are plenty of places to eat lunch in and around my building (including the roof!), and there’s no need to spend money; I can still pack a lunch from home.  The reason this is going to be hard to start practicing is that it will require me to break a well-established habit and to allow myself to feel unproductive for at least half an hour every day.  I think the solution may be simple: I need to put lunch on my calendar, just like I recently started putting “write for 30 min.” on my calendar at the same time every weekday, with excellent results (why do you think I’ve been so prolific on this blog lately?).

I want to thank everyone for the kind, interesting, and helpful comments you’ve made during this series–here on the blog, on Facebook, and by text message and email.  I would love to hear about your own experiences with these practices and other spiritual disciplines you have incorporated into your own life!

Remembering the Sabbath Day

This is the first of my posts describing specific items that will become part of my “rule of life”–see July 15’s post for an introduction.

The spiritual practice that most caught my attention during the class, as both something I’m not currently doing (at least not very well) and something I’d really like to do, was a weekly observance of the Sabbath.  I’m not just talking about going to church on Sunday–I already do that–or about not going into the office on weekends.  Observing the Sabbath means choosing one day per week (it probably will be Sunday for me, but it doesn’t have to be for everyone) to rest in a deliberate manner.

I know; “rest in a deliberate manner” sounds like a contradiction in terms.  But my point is that Sabbath rest is planned and zealously guarded.  It’s not the same as crashing in front of the TV at the end of the day because you’re so tired from work.  Sabbath rest will look very different for different people, but the common factors are that it happens every week (ideally on the same day every week, though I understand that this may not work for people with unpredictable work schedules), it lasts for an entire day (following the Jewish model, it could actually start on the previous evening), and it doesn’t get shoved to the side when life gets busy.  An exceptionally busy person is in exceptionally great need of a Sabbath rest.

The idea of observing Sabbath comes from two biblical passages: the creation in Genesis 1-2, in which God works for six days and then rests on the seventh, and the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, in which God commands his people to keep the seventh day “holy” (i.e., set apart; special).  This command is elaborated on elsewhere in the Jewish law and clarified (never abolished) in the Christian New Testament.  Even people who don’t accept Scripture as authoritative in their lives often understand from experience that a weekly day of rest is physically and mentally restorative–and not merely a luxury, but a necessity to function at full capacity.

As I mentioned before, the actual observance of the Sabbath will look different for different people.  This is the “Sabbath policy” (subject to revision) I plan to put into effect for myself beginning next Sunday:

  1. No checking email
  2. No job-related* work of any kind, including grading (This may motivate me to work more efficiently during the week!)
  3. Perform a short ceremony to mark the beginning and end of the Sabbath.  This will usually be as simple as lighting a candle on Saturday evening and again on Sunday before I go to bed.
  4. Include other people in my Sabbath celebration whenever feasible.  (Note: Solitude is a separate practice, which I’ll write about in a later post.  I included this item because my tendency is to be a hermit on Sundays, but since I’m now treating Sunday as a little holiday, it makes sense to be with other people.)
  5. Increase the quality and (probably) quantity of the time I spend at church.  (Important note: Some people have no need to do the second part of this and should probably spend less time at church–I’m talking about those people who get burned out serving in every ministry.  But I’m not always mentally and spiritually “present” when I’m in church, and I tend to escape as soon as the service is over, so I’m challenging myself to enjoy my church–by that I primarily mean its people.)

I’m looking forward to implementing this first part of my rule of life.  What about you?  Let me know how you observe, or plan to start observing, a weekly Sabbath rest!

*For me, I think it’s okay to do work that has nothing to do with my career, like mowing my lawn or grocery shopping, although I’ll probably try to do those things on Saturday.