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Enjoying a sabbatical, or renewal, is necessary

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Having just returned to Honolulu from a 4 1/2 -month sabbatical – Maryknoll’s word for that is renewal – I have a new appreciation of the word and the concept of the Sabbath.

Joan Chatfield

So many good insights start with an admission of guilt; let me proclaim that my last umpteen years have not been as mindful of the Sabbath as I was as a child. In the New Jersey of my youth, there were no stores open on Sunday except for an occasional mom-and-pop store, where only food was sold. Leave the soap and the magazines on the shelf, thank you!

When I went home in the late ’60s to assist elderly members of my family, the "Sunday No Shop" laws had been repealed. I went on a Sunday afternoon while the elders were napping to buy some "necessaries" replacing items that were long worn out. At supper I announced that we had some new purchases for the kitchen, all washed and ready for use.

My mother then announced, "We have never had an item in this house purchased on Sunday. You can take them back tomorrow."

Of course I couldn’t because the dishpan was already in use, but it made only a surface impression. Many years later I would recount the story but still not keep the spirit of the Sabbath.

Even the practice that Catholics have of the Saturday evening liturgy had an effect on my life. Some Sundays I would be invited to be part of morning ecumenical services but would observe that old Irish greeting, "… and the rest of the day to yourself."

This sabbatical experience re-educated me. I took the time of rest seriously. At the Maryknoll Center in Westchester County, N.Y., the nearby metropolis of the Big Apple is remote. The offices in the center’s main building are not open; the large house, which hums with activity all week is noticeably calm; the quiet is palpable.

It wasn’t just Sunday that needed reorientation in my life. When I returned home, the comment "You look rested" was not only good to hear, it confirmed my new insight. At 77 my double-end-burned candle needed the care that the time away had afforded.

I had to admit that this was my first real vacation. I had gone through the motions of time off during the past decades but always with the pending jobs nagging for attention. I would relax with the group during the waking hours, then work late on a project that was due on my return to the office.

This time I really tried to un-connect. How wise of our religious traditions to recommend, even require, that we take time to rest. It is not only a demand for the body. It is also solace for the soul.

So now I am back. Simply admitting that the temptation to "get back in gear" is real will perhaps help my resolution. My decade or two of activity needs the wisdom of the elders of both my religion and my family and the reminders from my friends.

If you see me harried, say something! I need all the help I can get.

Sister Joan Chatfield, a member of the Maryknoll Sisters religious order, is executive director of the Institute for Religion and Social Change and a participant in several interfaith organizations and activities.


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