Saturday, December 02, 2006

Shabbat Shalom

Last night I went to the Shabbat service at a nearby Reformed Jewish synagogue. A UU friend and colleague had been invited to preach, so I went to be part of his claque (not that he needs one). It was a lovely experience.

We got there really early. (Have you noticed how the first-time visitors at church seem to get there either really early or just as the service is starting? This is clearly an interfaith practice.) That gave me plenty of time to Soak It All In before the service began.

The sanctuary was gorgeous. I’m not enough of an expert to describe the architectural style; let’s just say that it was Old. There were stained glass windows (geometric, not representational) on both sides, and also (this is the coolest part) in the ceiling, lit from above. The pews were comfortably cushioned, the carpeting was thick and attractive, the lighting was good, and the whole place was clean, clean, clean.

What I loved best was watching people greet each other. They were so happy to see each other! Lots of hugging and cheek kissing between genders and generations. People were well dressed but not showy. Everyone greeted each other with “Shabbat Shalom,” (May the peace of the Sabbath be with you.)

There was a fixed liturgy which we followed along in the prayer book. The parts written in Hebrew were sung by the cantor (a woman with a lovely, clear, unselfconscious voice, not at all operatic or over-trained, just a great voice). Many in the congregation knew the songs and sang along soto voce, even though there was no musical notation. The rabbi read other parts of the liturgy, and the congregation responded. I actually find a fixed liturgy like that rather boring; I was thinking “Boy, the Rabbi gets off easy—all he has to do is write a sermon, and the rest of the service is already done.”

But I did love the way the service praised the Sabbath itself. There was a song about Queen Sabbath, and a lot about how the Sabbath is a holy time of rest. Of course I know that, but can you imagine one of our services praising Sunday morning? This felt different, as though the Sabbath itself were a worthy object of worship.

Ant that’s the point, of course. Because it is. Just imagine ending your work week with a time for reflection and prayer in a community of people who love you, before going into your weekend of play/chores/whatever. It felt so different from ending one’s weekend with worship on a Sunday.

I remember having a similar feeling one Friday night when visiting a colleague whose partner is Jewish. The candles were lit, the meal (which was completely prepared before sunset) was served and enjoyed, and then the three of us sat around the table and talked for a long time. When I finally left, it was clear that the dishes weren’t going to be washed that night. It was beautiful, communal, and relaxed. I felt that my thirst had been slaked. It was a lovely evening.

In Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Leaving Church, she writes about keeping the Sabbath (once she has stopped being a parish minister) by sitting on her porch and doing nothing. No reading or writing, no prayer, just sitting there. This was a very healing practice for her after a difficult time in her professional life.

I want that, too. I want there to be a regular time in my life when I don’t have to produce anything or be anywhere or meet anyone’s expectations. I just want to be quiet and notice life happening all around me.

I hope I live long enough after I retire that I will be able to do that and realize that I’m doing it.


Blogger Ellis said...

I was at church one day, and I was rather busy. Between worship, coffee hour, another worship, a reception, and a third worship, I was there for eleven hours straight.

I love this kind of stuff, but when I mentioned it to my pastor she said, "So is Saturday your Sabbath, since you're always so busy Sundays?"

I stopped dead. It had never occurred to me that by working os much on Sundays, I was eliminating that chance for rest and contemplation. Now I'm trying to make more of that space in my life.

But the housework needs to be done, the jobs need time and energy, there are relationships to uphold and church to enjoy. So someday--I hope--I['ll have a real Sabbath. Till then I do my best.

10:50 AM  

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