I never understood why God gave a shit about our taking a day off, and, even if He did, why He cared what day we took it on. As a child, I knew that many adults just had to work every day to get by and those who could take a day off didn’t have any control over what day it was. That was in the ’50s, when God was always a He, and I lived in a neighborhood of struggling Jewish immigrants. (Yes, young folks, many Jews then lived in small row houses and made a life in the United States by doing the things other immigrants do now.)
I had an Orthodox relative who, after walking home from the synagogue after Saturday services, would stand at the locked door of her home until someone noticed her. That woman’s interpretation of the Sabbath rules prevented her from carrying a key, using a key, ringing a doorbell, knocking on the door, or asking anyone to do a task for her, even a simple one like opening the door. (On the other hand, I once heard a Conservative rabbi, experiencing audio feedback during a Friday night service, say: “May God forgive me. Would someone turned the sound system down?”)
I understand now that many of those rules we might think of as quirky had the purpose of keeping the widespread Jewish community intact. The customs built and maintained the Jewish identity throughout the diaspora.
At the age of 69, and now with a mostly Buddhist belief system, I’m finally beginning to understand the Sabbath. For me, Buddhism has a lot to do with simply stopping and breathing and experiencing the world as it is all the time, so why do we need a special day to do it? Sometimes, experiencing the world as it is can be emotionally draining work. As poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti said many years ago, “even in heaven they don’t sing all the time.”
Writing a daily post for Mel’s Mouth has become a key part of both my spiritual practice and my therapy. The blog is a reflection of my spiritual life, and vice versa. After writing the post for October 7 and then again after yesterday’s, I realized I needed a day to return to what my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh calls the island within. Those posts had taken a lot out of me. So each time I followed the emotionally draining post with one about inward recovery.
This time, my thoughts went to the idea of the Sabbath. Many around the globe can’t afford a day of rest every week, or even every month. But all of us can have a Sabbath moment — a time to stop, breathe, and own the moment. No one can take that moment away from us. The moment before is gone. The one to come is fantasy. Now is what’s real, and it belongs to us.
Copyright 2015 © Mel Harkrader Pine