In poker there is a game called “High-Low” that gives two different people a chance to win the pot. Both the person with the highest hand and the person with the lowest hand split the winnings. On rare occasions a person can have both the highest hand and the lowest hand (usually in the form of a 5 high straight, in case you were wondering), and that person rakes in all the chips.
(Okay, I know that a "poker" analogy to talk about sabbath and sabbatical is, well--profane--but that probably says something about me, doesn't it?)
For a while now, my family has been playing a kind of communication game that we call “high-low” at dinner time. Every person has to check in and tell his or her “high” of the day and “low” of the day while we eat together. Those “high-lows” become the center of our sharing of what happened in our days. Very often the “high” is “right now, eating and being together.”
For this first week of my sabbatical, I have been practicing playing “high-low” at the end of my day in prayer. Technically it is called the spiritual discipline of “examen”, an end of the day reflection developed by St. Ignatius.
At the end of the day as I lie in bed, I pray, “Lord, help me look back on this day and see it clearly. Help me to recognize your presence and be honest with my stewardship of this day. Mostly, help me learn more about you and about myself so that I can serve you better tomorrow.”
Then I consider with the Spirit's guidance,
- What were the “consolations” of this day? When was I energized, alive, authentic, real, faithful and responsive to the Spirit? When was I joyful, spontaneous and open to others around me? When did I represent Christ well? When did I love?
- What were the “desolations” of this day? When was I drained and when did the day feel like drudgery? When did I feel angry, resentful, insecure, and defensive? When was I closed off to the Spirit and focused on my flesh? When did I “push” my agenda for the day? When did I cling to my “false self”? When did I fail?
Then I pray prayers of thanks and confession, committing myself into God’s hands for sleeping and the next day. (For a good explanation of "Examen" see this.)
This week has been one of many, many consolations, praise be to God. Even the deep sadness of having to put down Huge was in some ways a deeply holy moment. I was surrounded by my family, our tears mingling together in love for this great dog and our sadness given solace by knowing that we were doing a hard but right thing. To grieve is still to live and one often is most alive when, in the words of Carl Jung, we are “legitimately suffering.” While certainly the “low” part of my week, it was not a spiritual low point and that is worth a great deal more pondering. (Thanks also to all of you who posted comments and sent notes of condolences. It was very sweet. I realized after the fact that I left the comments open on the post about Huge. I guess I needed some "community" support, even unconsciously.)
It has been a joy to spend so much time with my family. We celebrated Mother's day and Beth’s birthday, the kids and I enjoying making Beth the center of our attention, as she so often makes us the center of hers. Brooks’ orchestra played at Knotts Berry Farm and since I was off from work I got to go (He even arranged with his orchestra teacher for himself and two other violins and a viola to play Beth a beautiful rendition of “Happy Birthday”). Ali has a play at school today which I will also get to see and then we plunge into last minute preparations for our trip to Costa Rica.
Another joy has been reading Lauren Winner’s book, Mudhouse Sabbath, this week. It is a fine book on Christian spiritual disciplines drawn from her up-bringing in Orthodox Judaism. I read the first three chapters on Sabbath, Keeping Kosher and Mourning the day after Huge died. I have been aware that so much of the spiritual discipline of our Jewish ancestors really was about paying attention to every detail of life as an opportunity to live faithfully to God. Whether it is in rhythms of days (sabbath), rhythms of life and death (mourning) or even rhythms of fasting and feasting (kosher), as we attend to the rhythm, we find ourselves more aware of the God who is in, every circumstance, high and low, truly present to us.