I spent most of this week with Baby Girl. She was feverish and fighting an ear infection, the pain of teething and a viral infection that settled in her sweet little mouth in the form of fever blisters. She was discontented regardless of the situation, but intent on communicating her wishes. Only, she didn’t know the words to do that just yet. The one phrase she actually mastered was “No, Mommy!”–something I heard quite frequently during my attempts to comfort her. She was completely unlike herself. My normally smiling and happy-go-lucky daughter was restless and sleepless and often distraught from the pain and discomfort. And, that’s quite a disturbing situation for the Mommy in the equation as well.
During the week, I found that the front porch swing became a great comfort. Something about swinging with a gentle breeze blowing and the somewhat silent scent of nature seemed to settle her down. This child who was pushing against me, crying for some unknown comfort that she couldn’t communicate, resistant to my arms and the rest they might provide finally slowed down with the help of that pendulum motion. She slowly allowed herself to lean against my chest and give way to the need to stop. She finally settled into a relaxed position, her breathing beating a regular rhythm, her hands involuntarily clutching my tee shirt. The posture of rest.
Even when she’s well, Baby Girl often goes through a similar process to reach a similar conclusion. She plays and plays and plays, a constant picture of experimentation and inquisitiveness and busy-body activity. She resists the insistence of nap-time or bedtime until it finally takes over in a sudden pause. When she finally embraces the need to rest, it’s immediate. With pig-tailed doll in hand, knees pulled under and her bottom in the air, she gives in and lets the time to cease take over.
What a blessed relief it is to be given the opportunity to cease! To take the opportunity. To enjoy the opportunity unencumbered by ought tos and should bes. The willingness to finally give up the command of activity, the command of the moment, the command of the day is an undervalued discipline in these times of constant motion.
The concept of shabbat, celebrated as the seventh day of the Jewish calendar, beginning at sundown on Friday, has been commonly construed as a “day of rest.” However, I’ve read where the word is actually translated “to cease.” It’s an interesting and somewhat expanded explanation–imbuing it with much more meaning that a simple nap might provide. In fact, the notion of shabbat is one sort of lost on most of our culture today. Realistically, it’s lost on me almost every week. No kidding. The “act” of ceasing is not usually in my repertoire.
The Jewish faith seems to have revered the command given in Exodus–the blessing–far more than those in modern Christianity. The concepts of sacred and holy are largely lost in the 21st century traditions of Christianity, and perhaps the Sabbath rest can rightly withstand a modernization according to the culture of the day. But, the need for ceasing is still quite relevant. Through the millenia of persecution (given and received) and displacement and replacement, Judaism has managed to retain an appreciation of the sacred and its incorporation into the daily occurence of life. There IS something sacred and awe-inspiring in the normal mundane existence of life. To be given that existence is quite profound in and of itself. I’m convinced that this sacred existence must gain some sort of elaboration through the act of ceasing. After all, God Himself chose to cease. Regardless of whether that “ceasing” is celebrated on Saturday or Sunday and whether the concept of “work” is an activity rigidly defined, shabbat is clearly worth consideration.
The act of ceasing the normal can remind us of the sacred of life. It pushes us to celebrate that which is plain and common. That which we otherwise might not even notice. A shabbat cease from whatever activity that may be clouding our vision or watering down our perspective often refreshes and redeems our view. Somehow the act of standing still brings healing.
As surely as I can look at a feverish and fretful Baby Girl and know that her greatest and most healing action is a nap, I can recognize that often in times of feverish activity and mental engagement, a time to cease is the most healing step for me as well.
Gift Tags are the tiny messages God continues to include with our gifts — 2 little joys of boys and 1 little jewel of a girl, each with open eyes, open ears, open hearts, and much to teach. “Behold children are a gift of the Lord…” (psalm 127:1)