Yesterday was intertesting.

After many months of thinking about it, and now that my “de-cluttering of the calendar” has opened the door to it, I took my first official, honest-to-goodness, no-compromises Sabbath day yesterday in the first time in — well, more than a decade.

Here’s what I did:

  • Woke up around 8 a.m., made coffee, attended to the cats.
  • Recited Lauds I from the Breviarium Romanum, editio typica MCMLXI — the last fully Latin, traditional version of the Divine Office before the Vatican II liturgical reforms. I’ve got a lovely three-volume set of the 1963 printing, re-set by Barionius Press. I blame Patrick for this situation. 🙂
  • Read the second chapter from Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago (I’m on the first volume of a three-volume unabridged set).
  • Showered, put on a suit, and went to Sacred Heart for the 12:30 Mass — Fr. Sirico celebrated a High Mass for the 2nd cl. feast of Blessed Virgin Mary of the Rosary. (Sacred Heart, every Sunday at 12:30, offers Mass according to the Extraordinary Form, the version using the 1963 edition of the Missale Romanum, which again pre-dates the Vatican II liturgical reforms. Of significance, both the old-style Mass and the old-style Divine Office are still permitted; they’re just not the ordinary forms of those liturgies.)
  • Came home, changed into walking garb.
  • Grabbed quick bite to eat.
  • Went to the north trailhead for Kent Trails, near the old Coca-Cola bottling plant. Went on a 5.23-mile walk with a 16:32 pace (good for 1 hour, 29 minutes on the asphalt trail) and a good heart-rate distribution throughout. So, speed-walk but not a jog.
  • Came home, showered again.
  • Read chapters three through six of Gulag. Enjoyed a pear and a little bag of mixed nuts, and a ton of icy distilled water, as well as some lap time with Fiona d’Cat.
  • Recited Compline.
  • In bed by 10 p.m.

Here’s what I didn’t do:

  • Touch my computer.
  • Use my iPhone or Apple Watch for more than a grand total of five minutes of screen time, cumulatively, for the day. I checked the weather and set UA Record to track my walk and Spotify to play a symphony sampler. That’s it.
  • Worry even a little about what my task list looked like.
  • Chores or errands.

The great thing about yesterday was that it felt like a day. It didn’t fly by. It didn’t drag. It felt deliberate. And refreshing. And peaceful.

I recently watched the four 2018 debates between Jordan B. Peterson and Sam Harris about the utility of religion. I’ll have much more about that, later. For now, one thing that strikes me that Harris and the New Atheists overlook is that religious practices, honed over millennia, remain responsive to the rhythm-and-flow of human needs on a minute level.

Catholics have it on good authority that man wasn’t made for the sabbath, but sabbath for the man. Regardless of your own religious beliefs, there’s an essential kernel of truth there that the atheists and the not-very-observant lose at their peril. So this practice, I think, must now become my norm. Not that I’m complaining!

Oh, and as of this morning, I’m down nine pounds since my birthday. I’ve been tracking my weight since 2013 in MyFitnessPal. I’m now tied with the low point of 2017 — i.e., I’ve not been this “light” in two years, and I felt it in both the suit I wore yesterday as well as my jeans that I wore Saturday. Both cases, I needed to move in a notch on my belt. So, yay.


After returning home this evening from a laborious day at the office, I retired to the verandah to enjoy a cigar (A. Fuente Rosado Gran Reserva R54), a cocktail (a Sazerac — a rye-based drink with bitters, simple syrup and a hint of absinthe) and the current issue of Cigar Aficianado magazine.  While reading the feature interview with Matthew McConaughey, and especially the parts about the launch of his career, a thought occurred to me: The reason I so enjoyed the billowing smoke and sweet beverage and the early-spring sun was because the whole experience was, in a way, sabbath.

Yes, yes. I know; Sabbath — I can hear you say the word with a capital S — is a religious thing. It’s the stuff of Judeo-Christian tradition, whereby people don’t do manual labor on Sunday and … um … like go to church or something. It’s hard to argue with 3,000 years of recorded history.

Yet small-S sabbath is vital for one’s mental health. We all need downtime. We need to take time to escape from the worries and cares of the day to unwind and enjoy the moment. Too many take too few such opportunities, even if briefly.

I burned the candle from both ends in the wild and crazy days of my youth. I’d get up by 7 a.m., go to work, then drive 60 miles south for school, then return. One semester, I made the Grand Rapids-to-Kalamazoo trek twice daily. And through it all, rare was the day I’d be home before midnight. In those days such schedules were routine; I never had any extended and uncommitted time, and even my weekends were filled with work and church volunteering and sundry social events.

Six years ago I kicked that habit and downsized most of my day’s schedule. It took a full three months before I could come home at night and have no commitments and not feel stressed out that I should be doing something. Now I find that if I go too long without a break, I get surly and tired.

We need sabbath. We need periods of rest to recharge our emotional and spiritual batteries. We need to take time to enjoy the small things without the guilt pangs that come from thinking we should be occupied with that huge to-do list. Without real rest, we get stressed to the point when enjoyment of any kind becomes a fleeting thing.

I’ve been tinkering with the idea of taking an entire day each week, perhaps Sunday, to do nothing but vegetate. Read, go for a walk, go out for breakfast, watch the latest delight from Netflix, whatever. Just not anything I must do. That’s why this evening’s 90 minutes of relaxation proved so refreshing, because I had spent most of last weekend writing papers and running errands and otherwise being busy. As a wise philosopher once said, “No downtime and no beer make Homer go … something-something.”

It’s cliche to suggest we all should stop every now and then to smell the roses. Yet without sabbath, we never manage plant the rose bushes in our souls that allow us to enjoy the sweet fragrance in the first place. No one is so busy that he cannot profit from real and regular sabbath and learn to enjoy the moment before the moments worth enjoying become the unplumbed regrets of old age.