If you are reading this piece shortly after it was published, gentle reader, it is late Sunday afternoon on the East Coast of the United States, well before sundown. For this scrivener Sunday evening has been, for many years, the worst time of the week: worse than Monday morning, or Wednesdays, or the like, because it marks the end of a relaxing hiatus. This unpleasant feeling does not arise when I am on vacation, for after about a week I am very ready to go back to normal, unlike people who wish they could be on vacation permanently, or for months at a time. I like to have work to do, projects to complete, and a full schedule of events during the week, just so long as I have my Sundays for God, rest, and time with family or a very few close friends.
This idea of Sunday night as the worst night of the week is apparently quite a common phenomenon, according to many psychologists. Clearly many of us find ways to deal with this, otherwise the entire mechanism of commerce, government, education, and so on would grind to a halt. Yet yesterday afternoon’s experience made me consider whether the way to approach the phenomenon is to change the way that one looks at the question of returning to normal, and whether there is a better way of dealing with the understandable shift in emotions that occurs at these points.
Although technically it will not be summer in the Nation’s Capital for ten days yet, this weekend has brought the hottest temperatures of the year so far, easily reaching above 90 F. Yesterday I made the decision to visit my barber in the afternoon, rather than in the cooler hours of the early morning, so that I could stop in for confession afterwards at a nearby church. For my non-Catholic readers who are unfamiliar with the origins of this sacrament, you can read a good summary here.
When it gets very, very hot, as it has been for the past two days, there is nothing like going into a church and sitting down to compose and collect yourself in an examination of conscience, which is what Catholics do before we go into the confessional with the priest. The symbolism and sensory experience of stepping off of a hot city street, full of noise, unpleasant odors, and so on, and into a space that is cool, dark, and quiet, is really a tonic for the body and soul. All of the day’s annoyances, grand or petty as they may be, seem to drop away from you within a few minutes of sitting there, quietly, in God’s presence.
As part of my penance, Father J. told me to go sit quietly for ten minutes in the church, put myself in God’s Presence, and then to try to recall all of the people who had shown me kindness, encouragement, or done something nice for me in passing over the course of the previous week. It took longer than ten minutes, I assure you, and no doubt I did not remember everyone. However I thought of things large and small: a beautiful e-mail I had received from two of my siblings; a long phone call from a distant friend; a kind word from an acquaintance in social media.
While waiting my turn for confession, I took the photo which appears below, and posted it online. A follower of mine later commented that she could sit in the same spot all day long very contentedly, which was amusing because at the time I was sitting there in that tranquil, cool spot, I thought the same. Just sitting there brought to mind Psalm 84, which begins, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts,” and continues later, “better one day in your courts, than a thousand elsewhere.”
The reality of course, is that for most of us this is not a possibility. Few of us are called to the religious life, and even fewer will be able to spend their earthly lives in near-perpetual contemplation of God. For many people the appeal of visiting the religious orders who live in community, or watching films like “Into Great Silence”, is the notion of being able to step away from the world and into God’s Presence on a permanent basis. Yet if you are holding on to this romantic notion of the religious life, where all of the cares and foibles of human beings are completely done away with, you need to let go: putting on a habit does not mean that you are immune from being petty, or mean-spirited, or short-tempered, etc. It does mean however that they work on it more than those of us in the lay community, who can simply move away from or ignore people we do not get along with.
Those in religious life usually have more time to pray than the laity do, and physically reside in a place where they can take themselves away from the surrounding noise of life into a church or chapel at any hour of the day. They can spend time with God in a place designed to worship Him, and in refreshing their souls in His Courts, as the Psalmist writes so joyfully and with such relief. The laity are generally not so fortunate: most of us are not going to be in the position of Lady Marchmain, with a magnificent chapel inside our own home, to which we can retreat whenever we like and do the same.
However that time spent in the stillness of the local church made me think about whether the solution to the “Sunday night blues”, if we are to put it that way, is not in trying to distract yourself with what is on television, or in staying out late with other people, or the like, even though these things may not necessarily be bad in themselves. Perhaps the way to address the issue is to simply stop, as sundown nears, and use that time for good.
If we pass those remaining minutes of daylight quietly with God, so that the night to come – whether it is spent alone or in company – will already be a transition into the next day, rather than clinging onto the past, I suspect we will hear more of what He has to say to us. It may not be possible to head back to church to be able to do so, as much as it might be nice to sit in God’s House while the sun goes down, but that does not mean we cannot find some place in our home or neighborhood to do nearly the same thing.
Whether you go to your room and close the door, or go sit outside in a quiet spot in your yard or in a park, you can still choose to say, “I am giving this back to You, to say thanks,” rather than clinging to every last moment of the break you have been given. That may prove to be the best way to mark that transition from one part of the week to the next, for those of us are not in religious life. And for my part, I certainly intend to give it a try!