May 2024
Leaves from My Notebook
Elaine Greensmith Jordan

At Rest

Some call it “sevening” — taking a day of rest on the seventh day of the week. It’s a time, I’ve learned, to be in quiet and ponder whatever appears in our consciousness. I think sevening is different from meditating; it’s more like a time of respite from all that reality presents. It doesn’t require discipline, just calm and rest.

I know that resting is a privilege and many have no chance to enjoy it, no place to be alone, no opportunity to savor, and still I advocate for it. The practice of taking a special time to rest has been part of the human story for eons. I wish all peoples could take a sevening, especially refugees on their way to the border, caregivers exhausted from their tasks, homeless people looking for a place to sleep, and the pickers digging in junk for sustenance — the too-many lost and tired to list here.

In the Jewish and Christian traditions Sabbath rest is a necessary time to remember who we are and want to be, to think about God. “Be still and know . . ..” For some, it’s a time to dream or hope, envision a reality beyond the present. Contemplatives seem to treasure the time alone as nourishment for their spirits. Reward comes with a stopping of movement in favor of stillness.

Many numbers and symbols connect with sevening. The number seven has been part of sacred traditions for centuries. Saints write that seven is an unfinished spiral, though that notion mystifies me. In medieval alchemy seven is the gateway between earth and heaven — another mystery. Some consider seven to be the number of reincarnation, of renewal. Much of this I don’t understand, but find intriguing.

I was introduced to Sabbath rest in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books about her life on the prairie. On Sundays the children of the family were made to clean up, go to church, and then sit quietly for the rest of the day! As a fourth-grader I was shocked by such a thing — and I’ve not forgotten it. Back then I thought it a dumb idea, of course, but now I wonder whether it was such a dumb idea for the frontier mother who didn’t have to cook that day, or mind the animals, or sew and clean. On the Sabbath the father didn’t have to plow, harvest or build. Sevening had merit for tired bones.

Those Ingalls children on the prairie had to learn stillness, letting it interrupt their daily lives of chores and play. I think their enforced quiet would have been the beginning of an inner life for them. It was the same for me, a gregarious, noisy child. I needed to learn to be alone and at rest. We didn’t rest in our family. It was important to be productive, to work and earn. It took measles, chicken pox and asthma to teach me to pause, rest and read.

A friend and kayak on Watson Lake, early morning.

Over time I became a constant reader who coveted time alone. We had a porch swing that was perfect for staring out at the world and reading. I loved being there and was often scolded for my lack of busyness — for not practicing the piano or helping in the kitchen. Stolen times of quiet were essential, and I think my first experiences of sevening.

We need a chance to enter another place, to drift away, to leave obligations and sit apart — inhaling new breath, viewing new sparks, hearing new sounds. For some, rituals like the Passover table, church worship and quiet retreats can provide that essential rest. These rituals offer a time to turn from experience and move our thoughts beyond work and duty, into a place separate from understanding, from the daily, from the usual furniture of existence.

Many in Prescott take their sevenings outdoors, meandering or hiking, enjoying the silence of wooded places. I don’t seek the quiet of the natural world. For me, respite comes in empty interiors — a library, a church or a studio. I can wander into a deserted public place or silent theater and feel restored. Those settings bring me back to myself, alive to the present and somehow renewed.

I’ve a friend who’s lately been taken with haiku poetry, and that led her to a book of Japanese drawings and paintings. In these prints human life and activity take place only at the edges of the pictures, leaving wide spaces empty of motion — a stillness of clouds, mountains and water. These beautiful pictures remind me that our reality is a mix of the known and unknown, of music and silence, of color and emptiness, work and rest. To be in both places is where we live.

In pale moonlight

The wisteria’s scent

Comes from far away.

— Y. Bosun

Elaine Jordan, author of Mrs. Ogg Played the Harp, is a local editor who’s lived in Prescott for thirty years.