Holidays & sabbaths

The sun rising over the fall brassica field.

October arrives this week! Even though the forecast is for warm, sunny weather, we are fully in fall. The rains of the last two weeks are likely to bring on mushrooms in the forest in the coming warmth, so even though the temperature may read “summer,” the effects on the world will be autumnal indeed.

Looking ahead to the usual run of fall and winter holidays, I find myself thinking about the beauties and the challenges of living in such a pluralistic society. I love that there are so many different ways to celebrate this season, all present side-by-side in our country. However, I have also noticed that living in a diverse society without a cohesive, shared culture around celebration can make it hard at times to really find moments to pause in the ways people have in the past. Even on national holidays, many businesses stay open, so that people are almost always working, somewhere.

I remember when we lived at a remote mountain retreat center, there was an intention to create shared pauses in our days — sabbaths when the community as a whole truly stopped work to instead rest and focus on whatever celebration was at hand, whether it was a unique-to-the-place observation (such as the sun finally passing over the top of a peak in the waxing days of late winter) or something familiar to the rest of the world. But, even there, some work had to go on, especially in the kitchen where I worked.

The kitchen staff and I worked all day on Christmas Day to provide a true feast for 150 staff and guests who were in the community that time of year. It was a truly joyful way to celebrate the day, but it was not a rest. I remember that one of the community directors happened to stop by Casey and my little residence late on that day to drop off a gift and noticed our unopened packages under our tree. She later thanked me for working all day so that others could feast — apparently seeing our deferred celebration of Christmas “morning” really brought home to her how some people work so that others could rest and celebrate.

This feels true every day now in our world. Commerce never stops. The news cycle never ceases. If we do not carve out real pauses for ourselves, no one else will. The world wants our attention every minute. It wants us to shop and work and be busy all day, every day.

I’ve already noted this year that this effect seems to have only been exacerbated by more and more of us working and schooling from home. As we’ve lost the physical boundaries between work and home, the temporal boundaries can easily slip too.

Yet, in a year with such a huge emotional load, our bodies, hearts and minds need rest. Every religious tradition that I’ve ever learned about incorporates the notion of “holy” rest — days outside of the normal workload that allow people to gather their thoughts, rest their bodies, reconnect with loved ones, remember the basics of their faith tradition, and find refreshment for the journey.

The world isn’t going to provide such opportunities right now. In the United States, only a few small faith communities strongly promote or mandate intentional sabbaths and pauses. The majority of us need to find our own way to those breaks, both in terms of making the space in our calendars and in figuring out how to pause.

What does this look like in a world where nothing ever stops and everyone seems to be addicted to working? I feel like I’ve been trying to answer this question for myself for years and years. I know the feel in my body and mind that comes from stepping back in a real way. I know that this feeling needs to happen for me to be healthy in mind and body and even for me to really see the Big Picture of my life and the universe. It comes from relaxation, but it’s a relaxation that allows deep breaths and an opening of awareness and perspective. I imagine this is why it’s such a fundamental part of human culture and faith traditions — to be fully human, we need to step back and breathe (or dance, make music, feast). It’s unrealistic to feel that level of relaxation all day, every day; but we do need to seek it out, even when it’s not handed to us on our calendars by our community.

Travel and social gatherings used to be an obvious way for our family to step away from the pressing work of farming and life. One of our favorite ways to retreat was to travel to places that literally forced us to turn off our devices and disconnect. We were saddened to learn this week that the recent wildfires burned many of the places we used to visit on such occasions, including Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center and Breitenbush Hot Springs. These are more hard losses in a hard year and our hearts go out to everyone who is affected by them, especially the people who made these places their homes.

Yet, in the absence of both physical retreats and social gatherings, we still need to be intentional about finding our way to rest in the midst of the muddle of daily life. It seems to me that we can create the circumstances for sabbaths, retreats, and holidays, even at home. Here are ways I see that we can achieve rest and celebration at home:

  • Disconnect for at least an entire day. Turn off the phones (or set to “do not disturb”) and the devices. Ignore media. The world needs us to engaged right now, but we can take a day off. We need to take a day off!
  • Clear the calendar of work. As much as possible, prepare food and do household chores in advance.
  • Spend time outside. Studies have demonstrated that time spent in nature lowers our blood pressure and heart rate and elevates our mood. Combining a day without notifications with time outside can seriously help our stress-response systems take a break!
  • Do something different. The novelty involved in celebrations and travel can help to bring us into the present moment. This can be hard to achieve at home, but it’s not impossible. Just make sure that the seeking of novelty doesn’t end up feeling like work!
  • Be a little bored. Ok, I know that “boredom” has been a problem for many people during the pandemic. But I find that there’s a different between chronic boredom (when life seems to lack flavor) and the momentary boredom of giving myself space to not have to rush into the next thing. Honestly, I often find myself “feeling bored” on vacations in moments when my body tells me that it’s time to do something, and I have to remind it that NO we’re just going to sit here and be still. In this case, the boredom can be a sign that I’m actually resting or being still and paying attention to the world around me. This might not be a need for everyone right now, but I know that many people still feel as harried as ever amidst the pandemic.

Those are some key ingredients I see to finding a pause. I am looking ahead now to our fall to see where I can schedule such days for our family. I’m already looking forward to them!

Will you find pause in this strange fall too? Are there ingredients that I’ve missed in my list? If you have more ideas, please share them with me!

And, enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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