Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Time of Respite

I have been teaching long enough to be able to guess when the students will not know a particular word that I might use.  For example, using the term, respite, in the title of this inspirational piece would be something many of the students in a typical classroom would not know.  And if they do not know the term, they would not use it.  Not knowing the term I understand.  Once upon a time, none of us had language.  All the words we know and use we had to learn.

What I don’t understand in so many students in my classroom is their lack of curiosity.  It strikes me as quite sad when folks still so young don’t seem curious.  Of course, they may be curious in other arenas in life.  But I suspect curiosity is a fairly broad trait.  If I am not curious in one area, I think it is likely my “curiosity quotient” is pretty low across the board.  I know part of my function as a teacher is to raise that curiosity quotient---to elevate their potentiality.  That is a key to learning.

I also realize there are limits.  Every human being has limits.  I am not talking in this instance about physical and mental limitations.  Of course, we do not all have the same IQ.  And we all will not be skilled enough to be professional players or make it in the most famous symphony orchestras.  I am talking more about limits that routinely come to us regardless of IQ or physical prowess.

I am talking about the limits that come when we simply get tired.  Or I think about the limit that comes from concentrating too long.  When we hit these kinds of limits, we know we need a respite.  Respite means a period of rest or relief.  A time of respite is a temporary time away or time off.  A respite is different than quitting something.  A respite is an interval.  We know that we will go back; we will re-engage and go at it again.  In theological terms a respite is a sabbatical.

We know athletes, who are training hard, need a day off.  They need a respite from their training.  It is healthy.  But we also know those athletes often find it difficult to take the respite.  They are so used to pushing it, they find it hard to back off.  I think the same must be true for workaholics.  Any sane person knows that a workaholic needs a respite.  But like the skilled athlete, that person also has a hard time with respites.

If we practice some kind of spiritual discipline, the same need for a respite follows.  That is exactly why the Genesis story of creation stuck the Sabbath into the week.  The respite of Sabbath-time moderates the creativity of ordinary time.  Embracing a time of respite is interruptive---in the best sense of the word.  Even if we are doing great things, we need a time of respite.  The same need of a time of respite holds even if we are having the time of our life---the most fun you can imagine. 

Having said that, I think it is difficult for many people to take a time of respite.  Many of us are trapped by our routine.  We are frozen in our ordinariness.  To take a time of respite is usually energizing.  A time of respite offers a chance for a different focus.  A time of respite creates an opportunity for some freedom.  It is a time of freedom from what we normally do.  It is freedom from routine. But again, like the athlete or the workaholic, taking that time of respite is often quite hard to do.  Why is this so?

Let me offer a couple reasons that come out of my own experience.  Sometimes we are so identified by what we do, it feels risky to take a respite.  Oddly enough, our identity is at stake.  Some of us identify who we are by what we do.  We can imagine that folks who are retired are not trapped by this problem.  However, I find many people who are retired identify themselves that way:  I am retired; I am no longer a worker!

Another reason people fail to take a respite is they trade one form of routine for another.  Our technological era offers many mind-numbing alternatives to a true respite.  Television is a favorite.  I might want a respite from a taxing job or demanding routine.  But then I might settle into a stretch of tv watching that offers little respite.  Watching tv is not usually restorative to the soul.  It is like junk food.  It is not usually soulful.  Particularly I like to think about a time of respite as a soulful time. 

I know what is soulful for myself.  Reading a good book can be very soulful.  I know some time by myself is a respite from being with people much of the day.  Exercise has been a valuable form of taking a respite.  I never think about going for a run or a walk as saving my soul, but I actually think it is!

Deep conversation, especially with friends, I find very soulful.  I have learned that being in nature is restorative to my soul.  I love to step into an early morning and be absorbed by the beauty of nature.  We all know what a beautiful sunrise or sunset can do for the soul.  It is a time of respite for the dreariness of our lives.  An amazing moon also does the trick for me.

I know what the word, respite, means.  But that does not mean I act on it.  Lord let me be more sensitive to my own needs---my need to take time for respite.

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