Nate’s post on the Sabbath returns me to some thoughts on the Sabbath I’ve been kicking around for a while. Earlier this fall, as I was looking for music for my ward choir to do, I considered Healey Willan’s setting of “O Quanta Qualia.” The text is as follows:
Oh, what their joys and their glories must be,
Those endless sabbaths the blessed ones see,
Crown for the valiant, to weary ones rest,
God shall be all and in all ever blest.
There, where no trouble distraction can bring,
We the sweet anthems of Zion shall sing,
While for thy grace, Lord, their voices of praise
Thy blessed people shall evermore raise.
While a heaven devoted mostly to choir practices would be appealing to me, it seems like a decidedly un-Mormon conception of heaven, and, by extension of the Sabbath. So I’ve been wondering what difference it makes to our thinking about the Sabbath if we don’t conceive of it as a foretaste of heavenly rest. It seems, in practice, that Mormons believe in a working Sabbath, just as in a working heaven: we may abstain from paid labor, but we work pretty hard on Sunday anyway. God’s rest on the seventh day must have been something different than mere passive abstinence from work, and yet it seems unlikely to me that doing church work, and church-y work like geneaology and visiting the sick is enough of a rest to make for a meaningful Sabbath. We shouldn’t just have different tasks on the Sabbath; there should be some sense of respite from our task-oriented lives.
That said, I confess that, like Nate, I am a professional Sabbath breaker. My daily round of tasks–caring for children, cooking meals, cleaning up spills and all of the other detritus of family life–really doesn’t change much on Sundays. There are not many tasks I can leave undone on Sunday. It is hard for me to enter into anything that feels like Sabbath rest in the middle of my messy house with my unruly children (and grumpy husband who has to get up early for meetings and miss lunch for more meetings). Mostly my solution is to feel put upon and complain a lot.
Then recently, I read a sermon by Maxine Silverman. If you’ve read this far, you won’t mind a longish quotation, I hope:
All week, but especially on Friday as Sabbath approaches, I run around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off, trying to finish up the work, hurrying, hurrying. But on Friday afternoon, …just before I light the candles, I take off my watch and step out of time, as though my work were done. Enough, it’s time to stop. And the blessing of it is, for me, it’s not my decision. It’s a mitzvah, a commandment, and that makes it easier for women and other compulsives, whose work has no clear-cut beginning, middle, and end.
Candles, wine–blessings over both–the food, the children. And tomorrow, when I wake up, I will leave my bed unmade. Notice the language is positive, the tone triumphant, rather than the guilt-tinged “I didn’t make my bed.”…the choice of leaving my bed unmade has its roots in childhood, mine, and in my relationship with my mother, who taught me the domestic art of making one’s bed (and lying in it). …I was always the last one up and dressed, the last one at the breakfast table, the last one out the door for school. …I had a hard time making my bed, and I had a hard time with my mother because of it.
…So it is easy to discern, without the help of an analyst, why my first decision about observing Shabbat would be to leave my bed unmade. I love it! Even as I write these words I feel intense pleasure. All week long as soon as I get up, good daughter that I am, I make the bed, but on Shabbat, I rest.
One Sunday as we rushed to get out the door, the boys to school, my husband and I to morning minyan, I realized that I had not mad the bed. Oh well, I thought, just this once I won’t. But habit and Lord knows what else were stronger, and I returned to the bedroom. As I folded the blanket under the mattress, I had an insight so strong I stopped, the mattress lifted up, just stopped. The understanding was so powerful I couldn’t move:
If I observe Shabbat, in part, by leaving my bed unmade, then making it all week is also part of that observance. All week long I make the bed so that leaving it becomes significant, becomes holy, the fulfillment of a commandment.
There is a part of the Shabbat service that talks about ennobling the workweek by resting on Shabbat. I had never understood it before, not really, I had never taken it into my consciousness by taking it into my body. Standing there with the mattress lifted and everyone shouting at me to hurry was a scene from my childhood with a twist. A saving twist of meaning, of reframing, a saving grace.
…I have felt that thoroughly shaken and joyous only a few times in my life, when I fell in love with my husband, when my sons were born, and when my husband surprised me by saying he wanted to convert to Judaism (I fell in love all over again.) So I stood there with that uplifted–and uplifting–mattress. I understood at a level of meaning below language, that when I cease from my work on Shabbat, that “work” means more than earning a living and feeding the family. It means that all the days of the week are lived in anticipation of Shabbat.
I don’t yet know exactly how to translate this insight into my life. And I confess to having no idea of what it means for attorneys and other non-housewives. For now, I have decided I won’t do *any* laundry on Sunday (if you could see my laundry room, you would more fully appreciate the magnitude of this decision!). And I wash and iron everyone’s Sunday clothes first thing on Monday morning, when I have time to reflect, instead of on Saturday night in a panic. It’s a small thing, but then, most of the things that matter are small.