For more than a year, the Mennonite Spiritual Directors Network has been posting brief articles about spiritual direction – testimonies that witness to the potential of spiritual direction for encouraging and deepening spiritual growth.
In addition to articles about spiritual direction, the series will also include brief articles about spiritual practices that renew our faith and strengthen us for ministries of love – peacemaking, healing, compassion and service.
Ron Guengerich recently retired after pastoring at Silverwood Mennonite Church, Goshen, Indiana, for seven and a half years. Prior to Silverwood, he pastored at Zion Mennonite, Archbold, Ohio, and Whitestone Mennonite, Hesston, Kansas. Ron earned a Master of Divinity from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and did doctoral work at The University of Michigan in the area of ancient and Biblical studies, specializing in the Old Testament. In addition to enjoying golf, Ron is a bibliophile, a gardener, and more recently, in his Sabbath (retirement) years, is enjoying cooking and baking. He and Ruth are also enjoying traveling to visit their children and grandchildren in Evanston, Illinois, and Socorro, New Mexico.
For me, retirement is an extended sabbatical. I entered retirement with a new appreciation of the warning at railroad crossings: “Stop! Look! And listen!” This simple imperative is helpful for more than getting safely across the railroad tracks.
For over 10 years I have been working at living these three actions hour by hour and minute by minute. As with many things in my life, I became aware of this wisdom long before I put it into practice. In The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Bhuddist monk, introduced me to the practice of mindfulness – staying alert to what is happening in the present moment.
This simple but difficult practice is the pattern of living by which one gives attention to the present moment: what is happening within me as I breathe and smell, touch and move; and what is happening as I notice and appreciate the external world that surrounds me.
One of several worshipful and playful activities for me is “mindful golf.” Harvey Penick, a well-known golf teacher, said this about golf, “Have fun. When I say have fun on the golf course, what I mean is to take pleasure in the game and in your companions and your surroundings … Be aware of the trees and the sky and the feel of the earth under your feet. Listen for the byplay of your companions. Breathe deeply. Forget the stock market. Enjoy yourself fully while you are inside the boundaries of the golf course, a world of its own.” Sunday golf is especially a time of tangible, holy mystery – which I miss so easily because I choose to “give my judgmental, fearful mind” to the last bad shot or the threatening water on the left.
I still find it hard to stop. Stopping, resting, doing nothing, playing seemed so very unproductive and wasteful. In America “doing, producing, activity and speed” are of prime importance. When I am able to practice “stopping, looking, and listening,” I notice that I become more productive, responsive and responsible. How counterintuitive!
Thich Nhat Hanh has taught me the benefits of the moment-by-moment focus on what is happening right now. It feels like I am still a beginner in this practice, but this practice has enriched me in so many ways.
As I notice the life of Jesus and Moses, I become aware of their persistent practice of mindfulness, of “Stop! Look! Listen!”
Across the Scriptures we are invited beyond daily, weekday mindfulness to take one full day – Sabbath – to do nothing but pay attention to the goodness that surrounds us.
It perplexes me that we find it so difficult to fulfill what should be the easiest commandment: “Remember the Sabbath as a day when you, those you love, those who serve you, and even the animals, are given a day to stop” (for the root meaning of the Hebrew word Shabbat is “to stop.”) This is not a day to fill with activities that we haven’t done on the other six days. This is a day to “Stop! Look! Listen!” When we “Stop! Look! and Listen!” we are able to really appreciate the mundane things in our lives, to remember the blessings and benefits we have received, and to become thankful for all the good, undeserved things that surround us.
Only when I “Stop! Look! and Listen” can I worship, give my blessing to others, and be truly thankful. For me Sabbath is truly a holy day, a sacramental day, when I actively rest (and that is not an oxymoron). For one full day I am invited to put all distractions and idolatry aside. (Remembering “Idolatry is simply the devil’s WMDs, weapons of mass distraction.”)
Sabbath is a day to do eucharist, remembering that the root of this word from Greek means “good grace, or giving thanks.” This is a day in which I appreciate creation instead of depreciating it; a day of “tasting and seeing” that God is generous and wonder-ful. It is a day for play, for fun, for delight; a whole day to see the vast storehouse of blessings that God has bestowed on the birds, flowers and upon all humanity.