A Guide for Sabbath time whilst here at Orama
With thanks and acknowledgement to the monks of New Clairvaux Abbey, Vina, California.
Sometimes we are prompted to attend a Christian event where there is a program or theme, key note speakers and perhaps other participants with whom we share and can discuss the experience. The rhythms, shared worship times and speaker content influence the process of our experience. Then again…we might experience a gentle invitation from God to step aside from the intensity of that type of event, or to step aside from the busyness of daily life.
For those of us who are used to being busy, or used to receiving input from others, a time alone can be a bit disconcerting. We can find ourselves asking “what shall I do?” or “how shall I spend my time?”
Your being in this place at this time is not an accident. God has called you here and your response has been to take time out of your busy life to give yourself completely to God, to take time to be silent and to listen to the gentle whisper of God within you.
You may have come here with another or others. While it is important to be present to others, it is equally important that we be present to God. At the outset of this retreat or Sabbath time it is wise to discuss expectations with those who have travelled with you. Perhaps discuss the importance of taking some time each day to be alone and then agreeing on which times of day that this will be. You may even find that over the length of your stay, you are spending more and more time alone and in silence with God.
What follows are some guidelines that have helped others, they are not rules. They are simply suggestions that may help you to experience a God-directed retreat more fully, to deepen your union with God, to feel God’s presence and to know and encounter the depth of God’s love.
Being Still and Silent
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters. Psalm 23:2
The first and probably most important guideline is to be still and silent for we are unlikely to hear God’s voice if we are busy thinking and talking. At Orama we use the idea of imagining that our concerns are boats- floating past on a canal- we can let them float on by just for a little while. Or you may like to speak about those concerns with God.
After settling in, then it is wise to find some place where you can be totally alone and undisturbed. The sort of place is not important: it can be a quiet bench by the sea, or a rock along the coast or high on the ridge, or even your own room. The important thing is that it be free of distractions and where you feel comfortable. Having found the place, close your eyes, take several deep breaths, calm yourself and imagine God sitting beside you, welcoming you home and inviting you to share all the things that you find troubling: the pressures of job, finances, relationships, etc. Imagine conversing with God and release it all, just as you would do with your most trusted friend.
When you have exhausted the list of all your anxieties, place everything in God’s hands and ask for the grace to be fully present to God’s voice in you. Again, take more deep breaths and feel God’s reassurance and understanding. Know with all your heart that God is present with you, sustaining and guiding you.
Deciding on times each day to engage in this form of quiet prayer will set the foundation for your Sabbath time. Sometimes you may feel that nothing is happening- but it is. This is the great mystery of centered prayer. Simply by taking the time to be still, emptying your mind of all thought, and being present to God, God heals our wounded hearts, nourishes our souls and directs us to where we ought to be and to what we are to do.
Guided by God’s light in you, you may be directed to a certain book, or to writing your thoughts and feelings, talking with an Orama staff member or friend that you happened to meet, walking on the property or taking a well-needed sleep. Whatever it is you feel drawn to, know that it is God who is directing you. As Scripture tells us:
Be still and know that I am God.
The second traditional practice that may be of help is Lectio Divina which literally means divine reading. A more accurate description of this practice, however, is listening to “the word which comes from the mouth of God.” The way that the Orama community speaks of this habit is that “we chew the cud” of God’s holy word.
We begin by seeking out a quiet place that is free from distractions, or by having a communal quiet time. Take a few moments to be still, calming the restlessness that comes with the day’s many activities, and finally, raising your heart and mind to God in prayer. This prayer is not so much one of praying that God becomes present to us (for God is present to all people at all time) rather it is a prayer where we seek the grace to become fully present to God.
Once fully centered in God, choose a reading from Scripture, perhaps from the readings for the day, or some other reading of a spiritual nature. This reading is approached more with the heart than with the head and is generally no longer than a chapter. More often, however, it is limited to a page, a paragraph, or even a single phrase.
What follows is meditatio, or inner listening. This allows God’s word to sink deeply into the heart where it can speak to us personally. It is a time for being not thinking. Rather than engaging in analytical reflection, we simply invite God’s word to form in our heart as we are at this moment in life.
If you remain centered in God peacefully, you may find that you are drawn into a deeper union with God, a state of contemplatio or contemplation…a state without thought or word, a state of being totally united with God’s presence within. Rest in this place if you find it.
My beloved is mine and I am beloved.
A third practice that may be helpful to your relationship and encounter with God is that of manual labour. Orama has been built on the work of thousands of volunteers, who have met God in this way.
This has both a practical and spiritual dimension. From a practical vantage point, a community can only function efficiently when every member is contributing to its daily demands. Like every household, there are a great many tasks that need our attention: preparing food, washing dishes, weeding gardens, mowing lawns, cleaning floors and windows, repairing machinery, etc. Speak to one of the Orama staff about a suitable task for you to do during your stay with us.
All this quite necessary activity can easily become nothing more than a business enterprise if it is not infused with the Spirit of God. It is God’s presence in every activity that makes the labour holy. It is in the Spirit of God that we seek to approach every task, whether it be enjoyable and fulfilling work or downright distasteful. The disposition to love can make the experience of manual labour so different from the everyday view of work. In the final analysis then, manual labour is a labour of love. Rooted in God’s love for us, we undertake a rhythm of work and rest which shares in the creative work of God and allows us to serve one another.
With a disposition to love
we care for all people -
in this community, on this island,
and in all the world.