Room for the Spirit

Last week, workmen installed a new hardwood floor at our house. Preparing for that work looked a lot like moving—books packed away into boxes and furniture carried out. When the room was empty the old carpet looked even worse; this project was long overdue.

Two and a half days of noisy work followed: an electric saw wailing on the front walk, hammers pounding the planks into place, sporadic shots of a nail gun driven by a compressor that reverberated through the entire house. But in the midst of it all was the encouraging scent of fresh lumber and the satisfaction of seeing good work in progress.

Bare Wood Floor

After the oak was stained, the guys brushed the finishing coat over the wood, working their way toward the front door. They stepped backwards onto the porch, leaned in to close the door, and wished us well.

It was quiet. And beautiful.

An empty room with a glowing oak floor has a Zen-like tranquility. Waiting for the finish to dry meant it had to remain bare, and I enjoyed seeing this kind of space in the house. Later, even as I missed the comfort of the room’s furnishings, I was reluctant to move everything back in. The openness invites a sense of expansiveness, of possibility, that I didn’t want to give up.

Not allowing everything to return means making some decisions. It means sorting through shelves and baskets deciding on what’s worth keeping. And it means not letting things pile up once that paring down is done.

But I’ve been here before. And before that. It’s a cycle that continues. But in this case the change started at the foundation, and the decision is not what to carry out but what to bring in. Maybe that will make a difference. I keep having to learn over and over again that changing your space and changing your life seem to go together.

That expanse of uncluttered space, anchored by the warmth of natural wood, made me think of meditation. Maybe it seemed a perfect room for meditation because the open space, both restful and expansive, is like the mental and spiritual uncluttering that happens through meditation and prayer.

It’s also a physical embodiment of what the Sabbath is meant to be—an opening of time for what we value most, a space that allows some perspective on what’s most important. Sacred space and sacred time seem to be two sides of the same coin, and both help make room for the Spirit.

There’s a sense of renewal in transforming this room, just as meditation and prayer renew mind and spirit, as Sabbath renews the week. Creating it gives rise to the question of what is worth allowing into our space, and offers a reminder of how much choice we have in making that decision. It’s a practice worth repeating every week, or even every day.


Remember the Sabbath?

Work and rest serve one another when they’re in the right balance, but finding the perfect equilibrium is an art I have not mastered. The feeling that I’ve done enough and deserve to rest eludes me. The question of what counts as real work, which always shadows a creative effort, makes the issue even more complex.

Yet whatever our work may be, we can’t exhale indefinitely; we have to take a breath. We can’t continue producing without replenishment. But I’d like to have some assurance that I’ve done enough, and that it’s ok to ease up for a while, short of the need to collapse.

The issue of balancing work and rest is ancient. When Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, they were a people misshapen by centuries of slavery. They needed guidance as they learned to structure their lives for themselves. The Sabbath was a gift to them, which established a rhythm of work and rest, material effort and spiritual replenishment. It conveyed the divine message that for this week, you have done enough. It was essential to being healthy and whole, living in relationship with God.

We still need that rhythm. But with no one descending from the mountaintop with stone tablets for our culture to insist that we keep it, it’s up to us to create space for the Sabbath in our lives. Doing that requires some preparation. It means valuing the Sabbath enough to plan ahead for it. I love the idea of keeping a Sabbath, but maybe it could be even more than a Sunday afternoon nap.

The challenge is that working ahead to clear a space takes effort. Cleaning up the house, preparing food ahead of time, getting the essential chores and errands out of the way requires a commitment that’s simply easier not to make. Those are things I might make myself do if company is coming, but I’m less inclined to make the effort for myself.

My brother and sister-in-law are avid football fans, and when their team plays at home they prepare for their weekends in just this way. On Thursday evening after a long day of work, they nonetheless clean their house as they look toward the weekend. They plan for how to feed their guests who come in for the game, and prepare many of the meals and snacks ahead of time. By Friday evening the work is done, and they’re ready to kick back and enjoy the weekend. Visiting them during football season is relaxing and fun. They’re able to be generous hosts while genuinely relaxing and enjoying themselves.

It seems to me that’s a pretty good model for observing the Sabbath. A day to rest and be restored, doing what we truly enjoy, is worth claiming. Perhaps in preparing for the Sabbath we can relish the feeling of having earned it, as well.

Knowing this and making it part of my life are two different things. But I’d like to work on having that kind of balance.

What helps you get the right rhythm of work and restoration?