The Sabbath of Sabbaths (and a winner!)

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Last night at sundown, Jews around the world ushered in Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement. In Leviticus 16:29, God mandated this holy day on the tenth day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar as the day of atonement for sins. Yom Kippur is called the Sabbath of Sabbaths because Leviticus 23:27 decrees it as a strict day of rest.

When I realized the significance of the day, I called one of my Jewish friends and asked if he would take me to Temple with him. “Oh, Laura,” he said. “You don’t want to go to that service. It’s soo long. And it’s all in Hebrew. You’ll be bored to tears.”

So I started reading more about Yom Kippur, falling down so many happy little rabbit trails, delighting in feeding an endless curiosity about the roots of my faith. Jewish traditions are fascinating.

I learned that, according to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah, which is the first day of the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar and considered the start of the Jewish New Year, God writes names into the Book of Life and waits until Yom Kippur to “seal” a fate of life or death. There is a ten-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, known as The Days of Awe, in which individuals seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and people, and try to influence the sealing of their fate. This is done through prayer (of repentance), fasting, and giving to charity.

The span of the twenty-five hours of Yom Kippur, from sundown on Tuesday to Sundown on Wednesday, are set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt. At the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes that they have been forgiven by God.

As I read about the traditions of Yom Kippur, I couldn’t let go of the idea of attending the service. I found a reformed Jewish congregation nearby and called their office (surely this service would be in English?). I told the nice man who answered the phone that I was interested in attending their Yom Kippur service that evening but I am not Jewish. Is that something he would recommend?

“I want to say that anyone is welcome to come to any service at any time,” he said, and I heard a cautionary note in his voice. “But generally we recommend to people who are visiting to come to our Friday Shabbat services. A Rosh Hashanah or a Yom Kippur service would tend to run very long and could be a bit overwhelming. But you are welcome to come any time.”

I acceded defeat.

So I finished up my workday and drove on home, where I read more about the traditions associated with Yom Kippur.

  1. No eating or drinking
  2. No wearing leather shoes
  3. No bathing or washing
  4. No perfumes or lotions
  5. No marital relations

It is customary to wear white on Yom Kippur, which symbolizes purity and reminds that our sins shall be made as white as snow. Some people wear a kittel, the white robe in which the dead are buried.

I could go on and on.

I spent some time in prayer, repenting personally and for my community. And when my husband came home from work, we took a long walk in the last receding light of day. The falling sun bathed everything in amber and I felt my soul shift into a holy place. I imagined Jesus in the synagogue with his family—Jesus the boy, Jesus the young man, Jesus my Lord—ushering in Yom Kippur with prayer and song. I felt a rush of gratitude that my salvation rests in his hands, not my own. I felt a rush of gratitude that all these rules have been replaced by grace.

And this morning when I awakened, still flush with the love of this high holy day, even though I couldn’t make this a strict day of rest, I felt rest in my heart. And I remembered what Mark Buchanan said in a panel discussion with Ann Voskamp and Dr. Bruce Hindmarsh: Sabbath is a heart attitude.

And this makes me smile.

Shelly Miller’s new book Rhythms of Rest is all about how Sabbath is a heart attitude. I’m glad to give a copy of her lovely book (along with a couple others in the bundle) to:  Sharon O.! Yay! Congratulations, Sharon. You can email me your snail at laraj@suddenlink.net and I’ll get these out to you ASAP!

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Exile

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This morning I awakened in the kind of pain that makes it difficult to move. I knew what it was, knew what was needed, and so for the second time in ten years, I called in to work to let them know I would be staying home today. I’ve been resting, using ice, and stretching. I am doing better—still moving gingerly, but better. My friend Shelly says that if we neglect our Sabbath time, sometimes we will enter into a time of forced Sabbath. I must admit this feels good—to stay in my PJs late into the morning, listen to my body and heed its call.

The truth is, work has been hard lately. Just yesterday I suffered a bit of disillusion after an exchange with some of my colleagues. Sometimes a system can feel too big to change unless we work together, and often the people we serve take the brunt of this kind of stagnation. Sometimes a system can feel so big that individuals get caught up in their own agendas and resist working together for change because it might require much. I feel myself being pulled toward this way. Yesterday, in a very small way, I felt like Jeremiah—my voice falling on empty ears. It was a hard place to be and I didn’t like it. So, this morning I am resting my tender heart, collecting the manna of this moment.

Eugene Peterson defines exile as “being where we don’t want to be with people we don’t want to be with.” Of course, he was speaking of the Jewish exiles in Babylon at first, but he is skillful to draw a quick parallel to our lives today. That’s how I felt yesterday. Like I was in exile.

When the Israelites are in Babylon, Jeremiah sends them a letter from Jerusalem. “Build houses and make yourselves at home,” he says. “Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country. Marry and have children. … Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare. Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.”

“The aim of a person of faith,” says Peterson, “is not to be as comfortable as possible but to live as deeply and thoroughly as possible—to deal with the reality of life, discover truth, create beauty, act out love.”

Today it feels like I am hiding from the reality of life. But tomorrow? I pray I will be able to jump back in, to “discover truth, create beauty, act out love.” I will continue in this discovery of what it means to belong to God in this place I do not want to be.

Exile.

 

West Virginia Morning: Gathering Light

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The summer storms these past few days have left us waterlogged and droopy. This morning the air is heavy with moisture and the Queen Anne’s Lace in the meadow collects the memory of rain. I tiptoe through the sodden grass in flip-flops, try not to disturb the family of House Wrens in the nesting box. The day begins with thousands of drops of light, dripping from leaf and bole. The grass is littered with yellow leaves from the Walnut tree, tiny boats sailing this wet land. I watch a baby rabbit disappear through a door of bending grasses.

It’s been a while since I’ve welcomed morning this way.

I feel my spirit quicken within me; my eyes begin to open fully. So many days lately I’ve been sleepwalking through life. Too many things on the to-do list and there is never enough time. I’ve let that list become too big again, gotten lost in the checking off the items. This is a danger I live with constantly: I lose myself easily.

But this morning I promise to only lose myself in beauty, get lost in time. At first if feels like swimming underwater, awkward, muted. But my body remembers quickly. It just takes practice. Practice. Yesterday I listened to an audio book by Clarissa Pinkola Estés—that esteemed cantadora who woos my heart with story. She talked about that word, practice. She said how sad it is that it has come to mean “to do the same thing over and over” in our world. She shared an old Latin word that is a synonym for “practice.” This word means, “to sing aloud in order to remain close to.”

éYes. That’s my kind of practice.

I begin to hum quietly as I search for light.

Welcome, Morning, I sing. Welcome.

On Sleeping Trees and Sabbath-Keeping

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Last week I read an article about a study that indicates trees may actually sleep at night. Scientists have discovered that from about two hours after sunset to right before sunrise, a sample of trees studied drooped their branches and leaves about four inches in a posture of rest.

The researchers hypothesize that this droop is either caused by a loss of water pressure inside the trees due to the absence of photosynthesis at night (turgor pressure), or they speculate, trees may have a natural circadian rhythm—just as humans do. That means, the tree was designed to need rest.

Apparently, and this is something I’ve not given much thought to but it makes perfect sense, circadian rhythms in plant life are well documented and known. But until recently, we haven’t had the technology to study a plant as large as a tree.

Why does it surprise me that science is discovering how much of creation has a built in need for rest?  I read about the drooping trees at a time when I am struggling to find more rest in my life. This morning, to remind myself how I have managed this in the past, I re-read the chapter on Sabbath from my book Playdates with God. I thought I’d share a tiny portion of that chapter here—a gift reminder for me and for you.

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I remember long afternoons under the shade of the apple tree—cooling our tongues with the juice of green apples, drifting in and out as the sun played chiaroscuro over eyelids. And I remember the scent of summer rain through open windows as my little brother and I lay whispering on my bed—waiting for our bodies and minds to drift into our afternoon nap.

Rest.

As I gently touch these memories with the finger of my heart, a pit of longing wells up inside of me and I wonder, when did I forget the way the slowing down leads me into the arms of the Father?

My Jewish friends would not be surprised at this tender ache that pulses inside of me. “You are missing the keeping of Sabbath,” one tells me. “Your life is too busy. How can you hear the voice of God amidst all that noise?” He believes this longing for rest is built deep into my spirit; he believes God put it there. Indeed, Judith Shulevitz in her book The Sabbath World, tells us, “[A]t the core of Sabbath lies an unassuageable longing…”

It is a longing, she goes on to say, for something that is unattainable. For, in this fallen world we live in exile—separated from a perfect union with God or with one another. Yet, in Sabbath-keeping we experience a foretaste of God’s kingdom to come.

…  And so I began to sit with the longing. I started small—Sabbath moments. With each setting sun I would gather a bit of the day together at its edges and be still. Light a candle, play some music, contemplate beauty, and meditate on the pure and lovely things in my life.

These moments took me back under the apple tree—looking up through the branches at the clouds moving slowly across the sky. And I felt the promise of new life; the hunger was sated for just those short moments.

The rabbis speak of the additional soul that is granted on the eve of the Sabbath—the neshamah yeterah. In his beautiful book The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel says, “Neshamah yeterah means additional spirit. It is usually translated ‘additional soul’…Some thinkers took the term neshamah yeterah as a figurative expression for increased spirituality or ease and comfort. Others believed that an actual spiritual entity, a second soul, becomes embodied in man on the seventh day…”

This is a soul which is all perfection, he says, and when the Sabbath day is over, this soul ascends once again into the heavens from which it came.

I do not know about such things. But when I remember those Sabbath moments from my youth—and when I capture them now in this old skin—I am tempted to receive this rich lore into my heart. For, those moments are counted the sweetest in my mind and are perhaps the closest to perfection I will ever come.

**This excerpt is reprinted with the permission of Leafwood Publishers, an imprint of Abilene Christian University Press.

Playdates with God: Sabbath Slowing

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I’ve been finding my play dates in books lately, letting summer storms and busy days rush over and past me unawares. For me, a good book has always been a way to savor time, something I am finding an urgent need to do these days. As we prepare Teddy to head off to school, I am alternately seized with nostalgia, excitement, and often fear. I have been praying through the Psalms this summer, finding comfort in the kinship of all those ups and downs.

Since I injured my foot, I’ve struggled to get back to running. If you’ve read my book, you know how my runs nourish me, open my eyes to beauty, and soothe my mind. It’s been slow healing, with a lot of ice and ibuprofen. In the mean time, I’ve traded the more vigorous pounding of the run for the gentler step of walking. The slower pace has been a treasured gift and I find I long for more hours in the day to simply walk—one more mile, one more country hollow, past one more barn. There is so much to see, so much beauty that we race past every day.

Knowing about my hungry eyes, a friend recommended the book A Philosophy of Walking to me not long ago and I have recently dipped into its pages. The author takes a look at the walking life of some of our most influential writers and philosophers, but also reflects on the value of walking as a way to slow so that we may see.

The illusion of speed is the belief that it saves time. It looks simple at first sight: finish something in two hours instead of three, gain an hour. It’s an abstract calculation, though, done as if each hour of the day were like an hour on the clock, absolutely equal.
But haste and speed accelerate time, which passes more quickly, and two hours of hurry shorten a day. Every minute is torn apart by being segmented, stuffed to bursting. You can pile a mountain of things into an hour. Days of slow walking are very long: they make you live longer, because you have allowed every hour, every minute, every second to breathe, to deepen, instead of filling them up by straining the joints. Hurrying means doing several things at once, and quickly: this; then that; and then something else. Whey you hurry, time is filled to bursting, like a badly-arranged drawer in which you have stuffed different things without any attempt at order.
Slowness means cleaving perfectly to time, so closely that the seconds fall one by one, drop by drop like the steady dripping of a tap on stone … ”~Frédéric Gros, A Philosophy of Walking

Don’t I know that each moment is not absolutely equal? Haven’t I felt the way the kairos time—the holy time—slips into the regular ticking away of the chronos time? When the sun falls just so over the meadow, or my son looks into my eyes and sees me for once, or my husband reaches unthinkingly for my hand … these are the moments when the ticking of time becomes the steady dripping of a top on stone, the moments when time stands still.

According to Greek mythology, Kairos was the youngest son of the god Zeus. He is often portrayed as having wings on his feet, showing how quickly he rushes by. Ancient artwork also gives Kairos hair on his face but not on his head. This symbolizes that he must be grasped as he is approaching, because once he has passed, the opportunity is gone.”~Laura Boggess (that’s me!) in Playdates with God

The only way to grab the kairos moments is to always be open to them. Walking does this for me. As does running. And reading. These are ways to turn my entire being toward God, to listen with my whole self. Sabbath moments.

What works for you in this way?

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

Laura Boggess