Monday, March 24, 2008

The Things We Do Not Do

We were invited to a shabbat dinner last Friday night by the parents of one of Thing 1's new friends at school. This was strange for us on a number of fronts. In the first place, Thing 1 has only been in this school since January, and we're just starting to know various parents. In the second place, we don't really do the whole shabbat thing. Oh, we light candles from time to time, and remember to say blessings over wine and bread--on special occasions. But our Friday nights can be as busy and chaotic as any other night. We may be out at a restaurant. We may (if we're lucky), have a babysitter feed the kids so that we can go out to see a movie or something. The fact of Friday night--the fact that it is supposed to be special--passes by without notice most of the time.

The dinner turned out to be absolutely lovely--good food, wonderful company, and easy, friendly conversation all around. The kids all got along and behaved themselves admirably. And while there were some rituals which were odd--they being Conservative Jews and we being Reform, nothing was uncomfortable. Yes, we did ritual handwashing before dinner. Big deal? Hardly.

What was a big deal was the whole thing put together. Taking the time to make and share a large, tasty dinner with family and friends. Taking the time to acknowledge how blessed we are--not only for food and drink, but also for our children (and I mean really acknowledging it: placing our hands upon their heads and wishing them strength, knowledge, and honor). Taking the time to go around the table and share with the group what was best about the week. Taking the time to sit, and be, and share--and not to rush around, always worrying about the Next Thing and barely paying attention to what's in front of you.

These are the things we do not do, as a rule. And we suffer for it. And it makes me wonder: what must it be like to really observe the sabbath, as our forefathers intended it? What must it be like to just STOP? To stop everything. For an entire day. To let time crawl by at its natural pace--to let a day unspool at a normal rhythm, and to breathe in and out with it. To have no agenda for a day other than to live out a day, fully, and to acknowledge its absolutely mundane glory and wonder. To sanctify time.

You can argue that God gave us the sabbath, or that our forefathers were clever enough to create it and label it as God's to ensure its observance. Either way, it's an invention worth noting. Because, left to our own devices, we cannot help but fill our time with business, or at least busy-ness. We do need some sort of external force to cajole us into emptying a period of time, whether it's 20 minutes of meditation or a day of "rest." And it's hard to do by yourself--hard to take the day off work if you know everyone else is open for business--hard to resist the many temptations of Activity if you're the only one resisting.

I think it would be an interesting experiment some weekend. Saturday or Sunday, I don't much care. Twenty-four hours of just being together--playing, reading, going for walks...whatever.

But with trumpet lessons, karate lessons, knitting classes, and religious school, just to name the Fixed Activities, I can't figure out when we'd ever have the time.

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