Recently I took a group of women with me for an overnight road trip to go visit a retired faculty member at her home in the mountains of Maine. Twenty-eight hours of uninterrupted and great conversation, great food, rest, and incredible beauty. No cell phone coverage. No internet. No TV. No need to look at our watches. No household tasks–other than doing dishes and setting the table while we talked. How rare was this sabbath!
Sitting in the living room, we saw two Bald Eagles over the river outside the window. One swooped down and scooped up a fish from the river. We watched as it managed to get over to a log in the river with the fish in its talons, where it could sit patiently until it was ready to eat. I said to the group: “This is better than Nature on PBS.” Really? Nature in real life is better than nature on TV? Imagine that!
But the action of nature outside this window was slow. It required patience, quiet, and observation–attentiveness. How do we cultivate the virtue of attentiveness?
I once took a class to New Zealand for 2 weeks. I felt like my students spent much of their time trying to get on the internet to communicate with friends at home, to post pictures on our blog, and to skype with boyfriends. I went to China the next time I took students abroad. Before I left, I told everyone: For every minute you are on the internet, you are not in China. I established no class blog and no class Facebook page, and we had no cell phone coverage for our North American phones. I told parents that I would send them emails assuring them that we were safe as we traveled, but did not share details of our experiences–I wanted to be fully present where I was. And I wanted their sons and daughters to share their own experiences once they got home.
How do we make sure that we have the patience to take in what is around us? I don’t think it is possible without these times of sabbath.