Wayne Muller's thesis is that we have lost the tradition of rest in our lives. There is so much emphasis on productivity and multi-tasking that, in general, our lives are filled to overflowing, but we feel exhausted and deprived. Muller offers suggestions for establishing a time of rest and renewal and has insights into the various reasons for a Sabbath. He uses the word Sabbath in the traditional sense as well as to write about the forgotten need for rest. He broadens the definition of Sabbath to include, "anything that preserves a visceral experience of life giving nourishment and rest," expands the concept and allows for chapters regarding rest, rhythm, time, happiness, wisdom, consecration and Sabbath day. Muller provides many practical Sabbath exercises that can take a few minutes or hours but that lead to implementing the practice of rest in our lives.
As most of you who will be reading this already practice contemplative prayer, this book may seem to be "preaching to the choir." However, Muller's thoughtful commentary provides topics for reflection and new insights. In Genesis 2:2, "on the 7th day God finished God's work," is a passage that I have read all my life and not paid attention to the verb "finished" that implies that God did indeed work on the 7th day. Muller explains that the rabbinic tradition teaches that on the 7th day God created menuha – peace, tranquility, healing, and stillness – so that creation was unfinished until God created rest. In the Christian tradition, we rest on the first day in remembrance of Jesus' resurrection. As a child I remember wonderful long Sunday afternoons and evenings of visiting and game playing. All stores were closed and my farmer relatives did only the necessary chores. Mueller reflects on Mary that first Easter morning going early to be near the tomb of Jesus and writes that, "Sabbath implies a willingness to be surprised by unexpected grace," as Mary was at the tomb. (p 37)
As Mueller writes about fear of rest that is truly the fear of emptiness, he uses this poetic language to describe the experience of stillness. "All life has emptiness at its core; it is the quiet hollow reed through which the wind of God blows and makes the music that is our life." (p 51)
In addition, Mueller questions how we evaluate our lives. How do we measure happiness? As he evaluates selling happiness with consumerism, he notes that in many of the ads the people are not working but are resting and enjoying one another's company. Of course, the implied agreement is that if we buy that coffee maker or car we will be having fun and joining this picture of rest time. Mueller writes that, "Sabbath is a time to stop, to refrain from being seduced by our desires. To stop working, stop making money, stop spending money. See what you have….That is, after all, what they are selling you in the picture: people who have stopped. You cannot buy stopped. You simply have to stop." (p 137)
The Way of Enough is an intriguing look at "abundance" which is sought by a lingering fear of scarcity. Mueller makes the point for "sufficiency" which is the experience of satisfaction and well-being." (p 201)
The contemplative goal of resting in God's presence prods me to stay faithful to my daily practice of centering prayer. Indeed, I do find that my body welcomes the quiet time of prayer, but this book encourages me to expand the Sabbath rest into the rhythm of my life beyond the prayer time. The variety of exercises inspires and gives permission for playful rest that restores my soul.
Diane is a presenter of Centering Prayer and member of Minnesota Contemplative Outreach.