At least once a month, I try to carve out a Sabbath Day. Last Sunday, I wandered into the Cleveland Metroparks within the Erie Drift Plain, the part of Northeastern Ohio where I live. I have wandered there almost daily for 30 years with my dogs (three over the last 25 years) and have had many experiences to share. Fortunately, dogs don’t talk, at least not in our language!
The Erie Drift Plain takes its name from Lake Erie which is approximately 15 miles from this part of the park where I have settled this day. The forests here absorb an abundance of moisture from the lake throughout the year and produce trees and wildflowers not seen throughout the state. So, here I am on the top of a hill ensconced among my towering friends. There are Oaks of all kinds identified by differently shaped acorns, Ohio Buckeyes, American Sycamores, and my beloved Trembling Aspens whose swaying leaves sound and look like garden chimes announcing the coming season of fall. I have my book to read, my binoculars to note the birds, and my tree and wildflower guide. I start by praying my scriptures.
I am situated at a picnic table high on a hill overlooking Shadow Lake, a favorite place for fishermen. I am covered, almost completely by the foliage of trees. I have been here many times. It is my familiar chapel. The sound of a happily barking dog catches my attention and I see below where a young woman is playing with her dog near the lake. My heart suddenly pauses. I do not know why I start to cry but then I realize I had just said goodbye to my companion, my devoted spaniel, whose nose tried to keep the door from closing as I left the house without him.
Finn can no longer take trips with me. His heart has become a flaccid weakened muscle like an engine unable to roar and ignite when the pipes serve the fire charged with energy. He fires slowly. The vet says I should walk him only in the yard. He has congestive heart failure. But he loved these hills and forests. Like the dog running around the lake with a tail wagging like a pinwheel in a windstorm, Finn would take on life and water and trees and the muddy banks with ferocity. He would run to me with a laughing smile and say, “Let’s do it again, M’am. Let’s do it again.” The Japanese have a theory that forest bathing is preventive medicine. This is called shinrin yoku meaning that self sense starts dissolving as you realize you are part of the elements. You present yourself to the forest and lay open your concerns and worries and problems.
I could have laid open many concerns in the forest this day, certainly world issues of great magnitude. But the sudden loneliness of being without a loyal friend, a love not totally understood by many well-intentioned humans, a love slowly moving into death seemed sacred enough to lift to prayer. My self sense needed cleansing and the woman and her dog sparked it inspiring me to let go, to say thank you to God for everything I have been given.
My late friend, Fr. John Haughey, SJ, wrote the finest explanation of the Sabbath I have ever read. Essentially, he argued that yes, we need time to reflect, to brake the runaway train within us, to slow down. But, the Sabbath needs us as well. It needs us to assemble all that is beautiful and meaningful within our souls to share with others. Sabbath time is really alone time for the good of community as well as for yourself. Now digest that if you can! That’s why we worship in common on a designated Sabbath. Citing the scholar Rabbi Abraham Heschel, Fr. Haughey points out that as scripture records all the creations of the first six days as good, the seventh day God made holy. “The Sabbath gives us an opportunity…to raise the good to the level of the holy.” As did the woman with her dog for a ruminating nun on a nearby hillside this past Sunday.
Ask yourself: Do I try and set aside Sabbath time for prayer and reflection?
As our national elections approach in America, we need to put aside some reflection time to pray and work with the process and the results in a caring way for the good of our country and our world.
We can do this my friends and anonymous angels. We can do this.