Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Pilgrimage to the Seventh Day

Celebrating cultural highlights of 1951...
Sabbath-blogging, essay 4 of 9 on
The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel

“All our life should be
pilgrimage to
the seventh day…”

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

I’ve chosen Saturday for my Sabbath.  Here’s my reasoning…

Image of the seder table, an initial-word
panel at the beginning of the Haggadah,
liturgical poems and biblical readings
for Passover.  From Spain, circa 1340.
From the British Library Catalogue of
Illuminated Manuscripts.

Abraham Joshua Heschel would began his Sabbaths at sunset on Friday evening and conclude twenty-four hours later at sunset on Saturday.  For him, it wasn’t a matter of choice.  This was how his ancestors celebrated the Sabbath and it was how his contemporary faith community celebrated.  He knew he was part of a vast chorus of Sabbath praise, extending through space and time.  All celebrated Sabbath with him on the seventh day.

I, on the other hand, have a choice.

While I want to nurture the poetry that Heschel found in the Sabbath in my own life, I’m necessarily approaching from a different path.  I’m a Christian, worshipping on Sundays at a Methodist church.  While we Christians give lip service to the Ten Commandments (even sometimes expressing outrage when they’re removed from public buildings), we have a problematic relationship with the fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath.”  Some Christian theologians even say that Jesus negated the need for a Sabbath.  Jesus is our Sabbath, available every day.

Frankly, Heschel’s Sabbath is more appealing.  The idea of every day being Sabbath reminds me of Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004):

Mother:  “Everyone’s special, Dash.” 
Dash (muttering):  “Which is another way of saying no one is.” 

The Incredibles (2004).

Given that I set an alarm clock for work five days a week, I think I’ll join with Heschel on that pilgrimage to a special day.

Heschel observed the Sabbath in the Jewish context of his family and his synagogue.  I don’t have that.  I go to church with my family on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, but it feels very different from the Sabbath as Heschel describes it:  “…the Sabbath was given to us by God for joy, for delight, for rest, and should not be marred by worry or grief.”

Where is this day of joy and delight?  I used to think that American Christians in the Norman Rockwell days observed Sunday as the Sabbath, but a day of blue laws and prohibitions from conventionally fun activities is antithetical to Heschel’s description of Sabbath.  Heschel is not a Jewish Puritan.  For him, the Sabbath is a time for joyful feasting.  The Sabbath is a time for sex.

Here’s the crux of my problem, embedded in a seeming paradox:  Sunday doesn’t work for my Sabbath because I go to church on Sunday.  A meditative service might work fine for me on the Sabbath, but we tend to have services that conclude with a benediction that challenges us to go out into the world and make it better.  That’s a fine benediction in my mind, and I’m not complaining.  I like it.  But that’s a benediction to launch me into my six days of work.  It’s simply not appropriate for the middle of my day of rest!  It’s what I want to hear after the batteries have been recharged.

So, after long thought, I’ve chosen to commit to the Jewish tradition of Sabbath from sunset to sunset, Friday to Saturday evening.  I know I need to make a firm commitment because the rhythmic nature of the Sabbath is important.  I can’t allow it to be shifted by mundane demands.  The world can wait as I take my Sabbath.  I’ll answer the phone calls and emails on Sunday. I’ll go out and change the world after church.

“But the Sabbath as experienced by man cannot survive in exile, a lonely stranger among days of profanity.  It needs the companionship of all other days.  All days of the week must be spiritually consistent with the Day of Days.  All our life should be a pilgrimage to the seventh day;  the thought and appreciation of what this day may bring to us should be ever present in our minds.  For the Sabbath is the counterpoint of living;  the melody sustained throughout all agitations and vicissitudes which menace our conscience;  our awareness of God’s presence in the world.”

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

Two initial-word panels, with the lower one depicting
the Havdalah ceremony, from the Haggadah,
liturgical poems and biblical readings for Passover.
From 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