a little something extra

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sabbath 11

This week's chapter is called "Let It Be." (And yes, I'm hearing the Beatles inside my head right now... aren't you?)

"Let It Be" is actually one of my favorite Beatles songs, more for the yearning hymn-like melody than for the words, which I don't actually know. Perhaps I should go look them up and see whether they stand up to the tune for me... but on the other hand, I don't really want to know. Finding out that the words aren't great would detract from the song's overall appeal. I think I'll... let it be.

In this chapter, Muller makes a potent argument against the error of putting off rest until one is finished with one's work. First he notes that the Jewish Sabbath is set to begin at sunset. The sunset happens at widely different times of day as the year goes on -- I was especially aware of this during the summers I spent at northern latitudes in Ireland, and the winters I spent at northern latitudes in Minnesota. There's nothing quite like looking out your office window at 4 p.m. and seeing dusk light to point out that this is one time of year... then watching the sun go down at 10:30 p.m. six months later.

But Muller's point is that the Jewish Sabbath doesn't begin "when you're finished with your work on Friday." It doesn't even begin at the end of the *business* day, necessarily. It begins when the sun goes down -- and the timing of sundown doesn't have anything to do with "when we're finished."

He uses this practice as the thin edge of a wedge he then begins to drive in, to try to lever his reader away from the habit of postponing rest until one is finished with one's work. I think of the hundreds of unread plays waiting on my shelves, the essays yet to be written (and deadlines approaching), the research to be done for my next two productions, let alone any gesture I might make towards building freelance opportunities (because yeah, I need more work in my life...) -- it's hard to imagine being Finished with my work, in any permanent sense.

That is actually part of Muller's point, too -- that Finished is an illusion. He sees individual human lives as collections of tiny cycles inside the much larger cycles of families, societies, and even the ecological life of the planet.

I'm not so much in tune with him on that score, but I do concur that putting off rest until one is Finished is a futile effort. I aim to find a balance between finishing actual tasks before I rest -- I won't usually leave my office with a play only partially read, for example -- and resting in good time, leaving the next part of my work for the following day.

As I've been thinking about my responses to the past few chapters, I have felt like I've been too critical of Muller. Critical thinking skills are tools, and like any tools, they can be used for good or ill ends. While I do take some pride in my tools and keep them sharp, I do want to use my powers for good. So, I'm trying to cut Muller more of a break when he fails to read my mind (Really! What's the matter with him?) and take a larger view of what he's writing about. He doesn't have to get it perfectly right, in order to have something worthy to share.

One thing I noticed in this chapter was that as I read, my brain kept saying, "Spoken like a man who works for himself, Wayne." Much of my past and present struggle with rest has had to do with fear of losing a job. Muller doesn't seem to share that worry, so I perceive him as a person who doesn't have to answer to anyone for how much work he accomplishes. It's useful to me to notice how much fear about employment and money affects my decisions -- not just about rest, but about everything. Having gone through the biggest financial scare of my life in the past couple of years, I expect I may feel the reverberations of that fear for some time to come, but I'll feel them less and react to them less if I remain aware of the fear and keep it in realistic perspective.

Muller's exercise for this week is regular prayer -- simple and short, but enacted in a regular rhythm. He uses the Catholic Angelus as his example, a midday pause for a prayer that the faithful were taught to recite silently to themselves at the cue of a ringing churchbell. It is, in some ways, a revision of the exercise from an earlier chapter in which one was to take a mundane cue (ringing phone, or in Cristopher's case the use of a fountain pen) to take three deep breaths.

I object to the exercise because it presumes that there is someone or something there to pray to. (At some point, it would probably be easier going if I reconciled myself to this book's devotional slant. But I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that if I were you, folks.) The exercise excludes, or at minimum, disregards, everyone who doesn't perceive or believe in a someone or something.

Happily, there will be another chapter and another exercise coming next week.

Interestingly, to me at least, the exercise that has stuck with me the most so far is the practice of guerrilla blessing. My time on the highways gives me lots of opportunities to bless other drivers and passengers, but I also frequently bless the people at my gym in the mornings. I need to start doing it with my co-workers, some of whom have tried my always dramatically limited patience in recent weeks, and with the playwrights who send me their work.

Cristopher's posting on this chapter appears here; Tripp's, here. (Tripp, please go look through the comments on Cristopher's post -- there seems to be a question before us.)


At 9:47 PM , Blogger Cristopher said...

this is well written and thoughtful. thank you.

I'm wondering how you can be okay with stealth blessings but not okay with prayer... where does the power come from to bless?

I don't necessarily want to send you (or us) down a rabbit trail, but that was what jumped at me when I read your reflections.

And I think you're right, Muller is self-employed, or at least thinks that way. I find myself mostly self-driven these days; had I picked this up during my experience of working under deadlines and for multiple bosses as a consultant, I might have dismissed Muller out of hand.

At 9:24 AM , Blogger meeegan said...

Quick answer on a Monday morning -- guerrilla blessing is an expression of my own goodwill towards a person or collection of people. There's no necessary third party. It's a lot like wishing someone "Happy Birthday."

At 4:58 AM , Blogger Tripp Hudgins said...

Re: working for himself...yeah, I was thinking the same thing. This reality underscores two things...the stuff you said, and just how "counter cultural" the Sabbath may be. If you rest, you get fired. Most big corporate jobs I have had asked me to take only 30 minutes for lunch...not an hour. There were no other breaks in the day. There seems to be no deus ex machina God. No Sabbath.

Or is it the Protestant Work Ethic rearing its ugly head. "Working for the Kingdom."

I dunno.

But you are right...he cn afford to take a break.G

At 9:36 AM , Blogger meeegan said...

Prompted by your comment, Tripp, I made a quick Google excursion to see whether Muller maintains a website where we might ask him some of the questions that have arisen in our reading and responses so far. I found, which seems to be his main Web presence and even has his calendar of events and appearances, but doesn't have a forum for discussion. Ah well!

At 11:03 AM , Blogger Tripp Hudgins said...

Do you think that we should send him an e-mail about the series? Or should we just let him live in happy ignorance?

At 11:16 AM , Blogger meeegan said...

I'm inclined to table that idea until we've finished our reading. I don't want to have my responses start to change because I think the author might be listening.

But maybe once we're done, the three of us could discuss cluing Muller in.

Or maybe he'll accidentally trip over us as he wanders the Web himself. :-)


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