Friday, March 19, 2010
Every Wednesday evening this semester I'm sitting at Hartford Seminary in "Holiness in Time and Space: A Jewish Approach to Spirituality." My original intention was connected, in part, to my current work as a program director at a university with a substantive Jewish population. In the back of my mind, the part of me that contemplate(s/d) college and university chaplaincy was seeking to legitimize my own potential service in such a community. What I did not anticipate learning was how to give myself a holy day off....today.
Last week's readings were entirely about the shabbat celebration, the part-family, part-community celebration that begins eighteen minutes before sundown on Friday night and continues until three stars are spotted in the Saturday night sky. From movies and television, the various prohibitions in this time period are fairly well-known--no flipping a light switch, no pressing an elevator button, no carrying, no hammering to conclude a household project, no writing, and so on. What the readings introduced me to, though, was the profound, beautiful purpose for the day and these prohibitions. Shabbat is not so much a day of rest, but rather a day to cease from creative labors (the exhortation to make love on Friday nights seems a bit curious as this is certainly creative labor!)--it is a day of peace and tranquility created intentionally by God on the seventh day of the mythical creation story. Shabbat is a day to literally "try on" eternity, trusting that the undone work does not even require your mental attention, much less your active effort. In eternity, the work of God is already completed--and we are invited in small doses to step into the bliss of this longed-for reality.
While my own explanation here does not do justice to the beautiful books we read for the class, I take pleasure in knowing that as I type there are hundreds of thousands of people around the world sitting with candles lit, blessing their children, and singing the songs of peace and joy that they intend to sing for all eternity. When I decided to take the day off today to join Matt and the kids (who were home from school for a teachers' professional day), I decided to create my own purpose-filled prohibitions--no checking work email, no contemplating work or what I would need to do on Monday, no worrisome thoughts. While our day can hardly compare with the traditional shabbat celebration, we did fill it with rituals of pleasure for our family--a long morning hike in the hills of Connecticut, a visit to the CT Science Center, and an evening of breaking bread and drinking wine with good friends and their children. On this last day of winter, we rejoiced in wearing short sleeves and turning a bit pink in the sun from too much outdoor exposure. It was heavenly--truly a taste of what is to come.
...and to know that tomorrow is Saturday? Another day off? And then Sunday to follow? Ahhhhh....the simple pleasures in life are overflowing as fast as the river is overflowing its banks in these rain-filled weeks. Let the flood plains be prepared to catch and hold this goodness!