Monday, April 15, 2013

The Sabbath: Eternity Utters a Day



Celebrating cultural highlights of 1951...
Sabbath-blogging, essay 1 of 9 on
The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel




The Sabbath arrives in the world,
scattering a song in the silence of the night:
eternity utters a day.

The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel
Chapter 7:  “Eternity Utters a Day”

Beginning of a liturgical poem for
Shabbat Seqalim, from an illuminated
manuscript from Germany, composed in
the first half of the 14th century.
From the British Library Catalogue
of Illuminated Manuscripts
.
In two days, I begin co-leading a five-session evening course on “Ancient Spiritual Practices” at my home congregation, Haddonfield United Methodist Church.  Session three will be on observance of the Sabbath.  I volunteered to teach this course mainly so I could lead this session.  And—as usual with my teaching—I’m leading it not because I’m an expert but because it forces me to dig deep into a subject that intrigues me.

Last spring, our Senior Pastor George Morris touched on the Sabbath in one of his sermons.  Afterwards, I told him it was a subject that interested me.  In response, he offered me a book from his library.  It was the first fruits of his great library give-away, as he spent the next couple of months divesting himself of his office library as he prepared for retirement.

So my copy of The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel arrived second-hand, previously loved.  It’s a small hardcover edition with wood engravings by Ilya Schor.  The full title is The Sabbath:  Its Meaning for Modern Man.

I read it and loved it. 

But I didn’t start practicing what it preached.  I wasn’t ready.

While I loved Heschel’s philosophic and poetic ideas, the traditional observances didn’t feel right for me—not quite meshing with the dangerous snarl of religious ideas derived from Anabaptism, Methodism, monasticism, aestheticism, existentialism, and methodological naturalism that shape my spiritual life.

Both this blog series and the “Ancient Spiritual Practices” course represent my attempt to smuggle a practice of the Sabbath into my week.  Through these two efforts, I’ve clandestinely recruited a community to hold me accountable to a time of tentative Sabbath experimentation.  It won’t—it can’t—be through anything resembling strict traditional observance.

I just know that I need the poetry of the Sabbath in my life.  I hear an ancient call:

“A thought has blown the market place apart.  There is a song in the wind and joy in the trees.  The Sabbath arrives in the world, scattering a song in the silence of the night:  eternity utters a day.  Where are the words that could compete with such might?”
The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel
Chapter 7:  “Eternity Utters a Day”

A miniature:  Shabbat in the synagogue.
From an Italian Festival Prayer Book, 1466.
British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

Reference Sources

The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel
Sabbath Keeping by Lynne M. Baab
Keeping the Sabbath Wholly by Marva J. Dawn
A Day of Rest: Creating a Spiritual Space in Your Week by Martha Whitmore Hickman

© 2013 Lee Price


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