While I was traveling through Israel a little over a year ago, I was reading a book entitled Sabbath Keeping, by Lynne M. Baab. Like a rare alignment of stars and planets in the night sky, so was this combination of reading, place and experience. In a nutshell, the underlying idea behind sabbath is freedom and rest. In the book, Baab described her own experience of living in Tel Aviv and learning the rhythm of Sabbath in a culture that observed it. Nearly everything in Israel stops during Shabbat. I witnessed this first hand when my husband and I walked through a usually hopping section of Jerusalem on a Saturday and noticed the ghost town like feel to the plaza. It was very peaceful and quiet. Also witnessed was the beauty of celebration that took place around the table at sundown on Friday night. Families gathered together to share a lingered over meal, complete with blessing and singing. As an outsider to this culture, I felt like I was watching a movie that I longed to enter into. Sabbath was not drudgery, but an embodied choreography of joy.
I was thinking about this today because yesterday my children and I were cleaning. Friends were coming over for dinner and our place felt like a disaster. So we worked all day to get the place ready for company. Rooms were tidied to parent specifications, and even vacuumed. Bathroom floors were scrubbed. Piles were dismantled and put away. Full disclosure: all of us were a little testy so please don’t assume that this was without its challenges. After we finished, however, there was a newfound serenity. My son and I indulged in creative food adventures by making pretzels for the Superbowl today. Then the meal was prepared and, because it was Tikka Masala, the wonderful fragrance filled the house. We had a great time around the table sharing stories and playing games. It felt a bit like the Shabbat meal I had seen in Jerusalem, minus the challah bread and Manischewitz. (We had some Pinot from Trader Joe’s that was surprisingly good.)
All of this story leads to now, Sunday morning, and the space that we have created to enjoy the day. While the day differs from my Jewish friends, it is the day our family observes for worship. All the preparation of yesterday has taken the pressure off for today. Today, we rest. Today there is freedom to absorb and relax. It is nowhere near a Sabbath practice yet, but it is an intentional beginning.