On Sleeping Trees and Sabbath-Keeping

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Last week I read an article about a study that indicates trees may actually sleep at night. Scientists have discovered that from about two hours after sunset to right before sunrise, a sample of trees studied drooped their branches and leaves about four inches in a posture of rest.

The researchers hypothesize that this droop is either caused by a loss of water pressure inside the trees due to the absence of photosynthesis at night (turgor pressure), or they speculate, trees may have a natural circadian rhythm—just as humans do. That means, the tree was designed to need rest.

Apparently, and this is something I’ve not given much thought to but it makes perfect sense, circadian rhythms in plant life are well documented and known. But until recently, we haven’t had the technology to study a plant as large as a tree.

Why does it surprise me that science is discovering how much of creation has a built in need for rest?  I read about the drooping trees at a time when I am struggling to find more rest in my life. This morning, to remind myself how I have managed this in the past, I re-read the chapter on Sabbath from my book Playdates with God. I thought I’d share a tiny portion of that chapter here—a gift reminder for me and for you.

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I remember long afternoons under the shade of the apple tree—cooling our tongues with the juice of green apples, drifting in and out as the sun played chiaroscuro over eyelids. And I remember the scent of summer rain through open windows as my little brother and I lay whispering on my bed—waiting for our bodies and minds to drift into our afternoon nap.

Rest.

As I gently touch these memories with the finger of my heart, a pit of longing wells up inside of me and I wonder, when did I forget the way the slowing down leads me into the arms of the Father?

My Jewish friends would not be surprised at this tender ache that pulses inside of me. “You are missing the keeping of Sabbath,” one tells me. “Your life is too busy. How can you hear the voice of God amidst all that noise?” He believes this longing for rest is built deep into my spirit; he believes God put it there. Indeed, Judith Shulevitz in her book The Sabbath World, tells us, “[A]t the core of Sabbath lies an unassuageable longing…”

It is a longing, she goes on to say, for something that is unattainable. For, in this fallen world we live in exile—separated from a perfect union with God or with one another. Yet, in Sabbath-keeping we experience a foretaste of God’s kingdom to come.

…  And so I began to sit with the longing. I started small—Sabbath moments. With each setting sun I would gather a bit of the day together at its edges and be still. Light a candle, play some music, contemplate beauty, and meditate on the pure and lovely things in my life.

These moments took me back under the apple tree—looking up through the branches at the clouds moving slowly across the sky. And I felt the promise of new life; the hunger was sated for just those short moments.

The rabbis speak of the additional soul that is granted on the eve of the Sabbath—the neshamah yeterah. In his beautiful book The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel says, “Neshamah yeterah means additional spirit. It is usually translated ‘additional soul’…Some thinkers took the term neshamah yeterah as a figurative expression for increased spirituality or ease and comfort. Others believed that an actual spiritual entity, a second soul, becomes embodied in man on the seventh day…”

This is a soul which is all perfection, he says, and when the Sabbath day is over, this soul ascends once again into the heavens from which it came.

I do not know about such things. But when I remember those Sabbath moments from my youth—and when I capture them now in this old skin—I am tempted to receive this rich lore into my heart. For, those moments are counted the sweetest in my mind and are perhaps the closest to perfection I will ever come.

**This excerpt is reprinted with the permission of Leafwood Publishers, an imprint of Abilene Christian University Press.

Playdates with God: Yes to Sabbath Moments

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My playdates have been small lately, but rich. So many things tie me to the house—this ever-busy calendar of ours. This is the in-between time, the time of waiting for summer’s exhale when the earth and I can breathe a deep sigh.

For Father’s Day last year, the boys bought their dad a hammock and isn’t that just perfect? It’s where Bonnie and I have been grabbing our dates with the Father lately. Every afternoon or early evening we recline under the Maple tree, listen to the meadow grasses offer a shooshing to the wind, and memorize the way light falls through reaching branches.

Bonnie stretches out beneath the cupping cloth; she finds a stick to chew or digs for grubs in the grass. And I just listen. The sounds the ear tunes out in the course of a day amaze. It is more than birdsong; there is the steady ticking of metal on wood as the wiry fence gives sway, the sounds of distant traffic, the bark of a dog, squee of a young child … and if I listen closely, I can hear the buzzing of my friends the honeybees.

When I was a girl, this was what summer looked like. Exhausted by the spending of all those long, hot days, my sister and I would rest on our backs in the high grass, stare up into the sky, and study the clouds. This was true extravagance, I know, and how my heart longs for that kind of freedom once again.

In his book My Bright Abyss, poet and essayist Christian Wiman says, “To be innocent is to retain that space in your heart that once heard a still, small voice saying not your name so much as your nature, and the wherewithal to say again and forever your wordless but lucid, your untriumphant but absolute, yes.”

This is what the Sabbath moment restores to me. Innocence. A naming of my true nature. Space to say yes to a God who is always asking.

Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

Laura Boggess

Freedom: Some Thoughts on the Jumping Tandem Retreat

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I notice anew that this is the season the Maples let go of their seeds. When we walk lately, it is in a whirling, twirling ticker-tape of spinning helicopter seeds. Bonnie tries to catch them in her mouth and I cannot shake the feeling of a parade. Somehow the walk becomes a celebration.

I’m still thinking about the Jumping Tandem Retreat. Before I flew to Nebraska, I spent a few days weeding out my flowers, mulching over wild violets and honeysuckle, planting the garden, dreaming of color. The lilac bush was in full bloom, leaving the air heavy with its heady scent. And I was tired.

I landed in Nebraska to open arms, strong and tender shoulders, and grace. Words cannot capture the sound of a room full of women lifting their voices in praise; words cannot capture the way tears cleanse, how a slow-spreading smile lights up a face.

We are made to be in the presence of one another.

We began with the story of brokenness. Our first keynote speaker was a Willow, bending before us, giving herself in offering and making the space we shared an altar. Grace. Her name is Grace. And she is beautiful.

The first workshop I attended was called “The Art of Truth Telling: How Grace Unmakes Bitter Fruit.” Listening to Alia Joy speak of meeting God in suffering was the best place to start. She spoke of how the hard circumstances strip you bare, leave nothing but honesty and an acute awareness of God with us. She said she felt ill-prepared, due to more unforeseen circumstances, but this is a safe place to fail, she said. She didn’t.

My Bible study sisters and I have been reading Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel. This morning I read this:

In Christ Jesus the freedom from fear empowers us to let go of the desire to appear good, so that we can move freely in the mystery of who we are.”

Yes. This is grace. This is what I felt at the retreat: freedom to move freely in the mystery I am.

I listened to Kim Hyland, that Winsome Woman, speak about freedom. About how a quest for perfection can suffocate a life. I listened to her and loved her and felt a love for every woman who is doing the best she can in this broken world.

Dr. Helen Fagan shared her story in the second keynote. This woman’s heart is so brave and beautiful. “We grow the most when we are around people who are different than us,” she said. And her story is one of constantly growing, always seeking truth, endless curiosity.

I listened to the poet John Blase speak about “Bearing the Burden of Nouns,” his good words transcending poetry and encompassing all of life—gently prodding me to tend the nouns in my life better. I would pay John to read me poetry all the daylong.

And then there was Michelle, whose humility and grace and self-deprecating humor moved us all to such a warm place of communion I thought my heart might swell out of my chest.

Words cannot capture, friends.

I returned home under moonlight to find the lilac blooms on the wane and I told my boys all the stories I gathered in my head with words, all the stories gathered in my heart.

“Don’t you love God’s people?” I said to them. “Don’t you just?”

The Maple seeds spin and blow in the breeze and this aging woman feels the freedom of a new sowing; and everything old is new again.

Move freely in the Mystery, Beloved. There is always grace.