Speaking with a Jewish friend about the Sabbath, she said its first purpose is to take a break from the money wheel we ride and to give God what is God's due. It's increasingly difficult (seemingly impossible?) for Americans to take a weekly rest from that money wheel, Sunday now just another day for making and/or spending money. Many of us will remember childhood Sundays when stores were closed and family was strengthened.
Sabbatical means creative rest. When I was twenty-five years ordained I arranged for a three month sabbatical to Assisi, Italy. While preparing for the time away I asked my priest-spiritual director what he thought I should do during that time. That I framed the question in terms of do-ing, indicates I was still riding the wheel - if not the money wheel, at least the American busy-wheel. And he said, "Each day find a place to sit: above a valley, in a forest, in a garden, on a mountain, by a stone wall, by a church, near a field...and just sit there...even for hours."
The idea terrified me because I couldn't see how it would be productive. I get it now, that when we sit, attentive, focused and appreciative of what's before us, something happens inside, and we are somehow changed or evolved. I believe it.
Here, Levitan has placed a bunch of white lilacs in a glazed vase for us to look at and enjoy. Thousands of tiny, fragrant, white flowers, joined together in clusters called panicles. The flowers have become a kind of fountain with some green leaves interspersed. There is nothing else around or behind the vase to distract us.
Was it an American who invented the term, multi-tasking? We're not served well spiritually or humanly living that way. "But when you have your cup of tea," the priest said, "just enjoy your cup of tea."
We might resist the temptation to glance quickly at these lilacs and then run away to DO something productive. If we're honest, fair and kind to ourselves, we can take a little sabbatical everyday, if even for some minutes.