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A Break In Our Routine: New York as a Sabbath Rest

Central Park Zoo

So, if you host a retreat center in the hills and forests of New Hampshire, where do you go when you want a break? Answer: New York!

And I’m not referring to the Catskills or Adirondacks, either.

Jill and I spent the past weekend visiting our younger son who lives in Queens and works at the Bronx Zoo. (Yes, he really does have a cool job, especially if you like apes.)

It was exhilarating to leave behind the restful quiet of Forest Haven for the noise, dirt and borderline chaos of New York City. Hogg Hill Road gave way to the 7 Train, Grand Central Station, and Union Square. Quiet, simple, home-cooked meals gave way to an East Village Tibetan restaurant one night and then to a raucous Mexican place on the Upper West Side the next. Listening to books on tape in the car gave way to listening to a terrific salsa band in Grand Central Station and a great hip-hop group in the Union Square Station.

The cool thing about all this is that I’ve come back to Forest Haven rested and refreshed. Could this have been some sort of weird Sabbath rest, or did I inhale some sort of spiritual craziness in Central Park? I believe it’s the former—I experienced a “Sabbath” rest, at least of sorts. Though the phrase “of sorts” needs to be emphasized, our weekend away from peace and quiet served to refresh us, and I think our experience illustrates something essential about Sabbaths, retreats, and other sorts of spiritual (or non-spiritual) getaways.

In short, our high-energy getaway from rural New Hampshire’s peace and quiet was a radical break in our routine. For three days, we had no guests, no responsibilities, and no opportunity to do “useful” work. We didn’t have to worry about what bugs were eating our garden, or whether the local bear had returned for another visit. We may have gone from quietness to craziness, but because the craziness was not our craziness, it served as a nice break our normal quietness (and craziness too).

All of this is to say that getting away from one’s normal routine, taking some sort of Sabbath in other words, is a spiritually and mentally healthy thing to do. To get away and get out of one’s normal life enables one to re-enter it refreshed. Your normal life doesn’t change because you go away—ours didn’t—but you do, and that’s how we make progress in our normal life—that’s how we grow. A problem looks different when you leave it behind for a few days; so do difficult people and impossible situations.

For most people, going to a place like New York isn’t the ideal place for rest. It works for us only because we have more quiet than we know what to do with—it’s our normal life, for which, Thank you, Lord! However, New York probably won’t work for you—especially if you live in New York. For most folks, what is lacking is what we have plenty of—peace and quiet.

Forest Haven is here to be “New York” for you—a place to get away. Only here, there are no rumble of subway trains, no crowded train stations, and no semi-gridlocked streets. The nights are lit up by the moon and stars alone. And, you don’t have to go to the Bronx Zoo to see a bear. Here, they come to visit you—at least occasionally.

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