Friday, September 13, 2013

Loving and honoring the sabbath in time...

Almost every Friday our small family pauses from the work and busyness of the week to rest.  It is our Sabbath and we mostly honor it by doing almost nothing at all.  One of my mentors in Sabbath-keeping is the late Abraham Joshua Heschel - rabbi and mystic, scholar and ally of Dr. King - wise soul for all who seek the road less traveled.  He once noted that if humankind could learn to practice resting for twenty four hours - trusting creation to God's care for a full day - then perhaps we might also learn to extend that trust into the rest of the week, too.  In this, our very living is reordered to reflect right relations between Creator and created.

The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six

days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world.

Rabbi Heschel notes that Sabbaths are the great cathedrals of his tradition - the Jewish equivalent of sacred architecture - for they offer shelter and guidance to the faithful in ways that cannot be destroyed. To my way of thinking, this is a profoundly counter-culture insight - especially in our obsessive culture of bottom-line thinking and moral utilitarianism.  And so, besides blogging and minor house-keeping, we mostly do nothing on our Sabbath.  And as the poet-prophet Isaiah observed: "Thus sayeth the Lord: in returning (that is repentance or t'shuvah) and rest, you shall be saved (that is, made whole and holy); in quietness and trust, you shall find your strength."  (For more on repentance and turning see http://www. /articles/ journal/tshuvah.htm)

I recall the great grandfather of inter-faith solidarity, Huston Smith, once lamenting that the practice of deep Sabbath had been lost in the Christian world. We have the remnants of this practice in our Sunday worship habits and in some places there are also lingering blue laws. But for the most part, the rest and rhythm of keeping the Sabbath has been lost throughout modern Christianity.  Smith's daughter 
married an Hassid and as he joined their family for the Sabbath he was simultaneously refreshed by the joy and saddened by the loss.  (For more information, see

I was reminded of this oft forgotten but still lingering promise concerning Sabbath blessings last night.  In an extended essay, "A Theology of Liturgy in a New Key," the authors of A Preaching Commentary for the Season of Creation (eds. Norman C. Habel, David Rhoads and H. Paul Santmire) write this about Christian worship:

By drawing us into a reorientation of relationships, worship is meant to give us a taste of new creation - creation redeemed and reconciled. For this brief period of time, we celebrate our communion with God, with each other and with all creation so that we get a glimpse of God's vision for the whole world. We are placed on the trajectory that God is moving along in order to bring creation to fulfillment. We have suspended the claims of the world around us, yet brought that world with us into worship, seen it and ourselves transformed and the re-visioned that world as God's creation. With this experience of transformation, we reenter our ordinary lives as changed people, ready to remake the world as God would have it made anew, in whatever ways, modest or visionary, that the Spirit of the Lord inspires us to follow. (p. 21)

Such is the promise of Sabbath living and observance, yes?  Heschel wrote long before the breakdown, death and emerging renewal of the mainstream church in the US that:

It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion--its message becomes meaningless.

And ain't that the truth?  Pope Francesco I knows that, those in the emerging church movement have some clues, too as do ordinary people at the grassroots level who have quit participating because what once was awesome has now become "irrelevant, dull, oppressive and insipid."  I can't tell you how often I have experienced that truth over the past 40 years.  As Rabbi Heschel concludes:

People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state--it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle.... Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one's actions.

So we'll take the puppy for a long walk this afternoon and laugh as she slowly learns to live more calmly in the real world.  We'll rest and talk and see how the day unfolds without any agenda.  Trusting all the while that not only can God get along perfectly well without us for 24 hours, but that we rest in God's presence.  Like St. Paul said in Romans: We do not live to ourselves and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For it was to this end that Christ died and lived again:  so that he might be the Lord of both the living and the dead.

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