Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Sabbath is a Queen

Celebrating cultural highlights of 1951...
Sabbath-blogging, essay 8 of 9 on
The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel

“What we are depends on what
the Sabbath is to us.”

The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel
Chapter 10:  “Thou Shalt Covet”

“What we are depends on what the Sabbath is to us.”  What does this mean?

Miniature of a young man roasting the
Passover Lamb, from the Haggadah,
Sephardic rite, published in
Barcelona, Spain, circa 1340.
From the British Library Catalogue of
Illuminated Manuscripts.
Perhaps Abraham Joshua Heschel, writing his first book and intending it for philosophical-minded Orthodox Jewish readers, meant this as a narrow statement for a narrow audience.  But that’s hard for me to believe for Heschel’s vision of the Sabbath is cosmic in scope—as it defines the very nature of space and time, I would think it accommodates all of us who live in space and time.  And therefore, I hope it’s okay to interpret this little sentence as a universal statement, not just for Jews but also applicable to Sabbath-practicing Christians, and even to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, agnostics, and atheists.  Ultimately, we’re all in this space-time boat together.

As Heschel presents in The Sabbath, for six days our identities are strongly shaped, pulled, and informed by the standards of the world:  the work that we do, the money that we make, the reputation that we build.  And then the Sabbath arrives.  On the seventh day, we are asked to abandon all thought of our worldly identity.  We simply are—with that italicized are that Heschel employs to stress his point.

In a famous blog essay, palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware shared about five things people regret when dying.  According to Ware, the dying often regret spending too much time focused on the values of the work week.  They wish they spent more time being true to their inner selves.  Who are we in that final deathbed moment?  Heschel might answer, “What we are depends on what the Sabbath is to us.”  The Sabbath prepares us by a weekly stripping of our professional identity, the masks that we wear at work.  The Sabbath locates our real value elsewhere.

I don’t think we need to faithfully observe the Sabbath to grasp the truth of this.  Exposed before the sum total of the universe, the infinity of time and space, our personal ambitions, successes, and failures are nothing but dust.  If we look at life only from the perspective of the six days, we might be tempted to despair.  It’s easy to see only insignificance.  But Heschel challenges us to adopt a seventh-day perspective.  The Sabbath is a visiting Queen and we are the host, welcoming the Sabbath into our homes.  There is no place for money or personal ambition when the Sabbath is at the door.  Heschel responds with joy and celebration.

That’s the attitude I want in my Sabbath!

As I’ve attempted to begin observing a weekly Sabbath, my main rule has been to exclude all activities connected with personal ambition (and, among other things, that means no blogging on the Sabbath!).  My Sabbath will never be the Orthodox Sabbath that Heschel describes, but I think it shows promise of becoming a meaningful time for me.

There are four books listed as references on the bottom of each of these Sabbath essays.  Compared to Heschel’s profound book of Jewish philosophy, the other three are lightweight fare.  They’re more like “how-to” books, each of them promoting the development of individualized Sabbaths for Christians.  All three of the books share a common approach to cobbling together a Christian Sabbath:  Embrace the core Sabbath ideas (rest, worship, celebrate, feast) but don’t get hung up on the details.

My hope is to find that freedom—that inner liberty—that Heschel loved in the Sabbath.  There is royalty waiting at the door.

“What we are depends on what the Sabbath is to us…  Nothing is as hard to suppress as the will to be a slave to one’s own pettiness.  Gallantly, ceaselessly, quietly, man must fight for inner liberty.”

The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel
Chapter 10:  “Thou Shalt Covet”

A miniature depicting a family at the Seder table
from the Haggadah, Sephardic rite, published in
Barcelona, Spain, circa 1340.
From the 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

No comments:

Post a Comment