"may the Lord protect and defend,
may the Lord preserve you from pain,
favor them oh Lord with happiness,
oh hear our Sabbath prayer.
Have you ever had one of those moments when something you've been wrestling with for years, suddenly...and unexpectedly...comes into focus and is as clear as day?
I guess it naturally follows that -- at the end of a week when I had been focusing on the story of Jacob, his wrestle with the angel at Peniel, and his refusal to let go of that struggle until it blessed him -- my week would end with a divine surprise. A surprise so serendipitous, so beautiful and stunning, that it almost took my breath away.
So, here's how it started.
One of our favorite things to do, on the way to church each Sunday, is to listen to Krista Tippett's program, "On Being" which is aired locally on National Public Radio (NPR). The program always seems to be just hitting its stride by the time we arrive at our destination. Which makes leaving the car my own special kind of sacrifice for "church." Simply hearing the first 15 - 20 minutes is enough each week, to just whet my appetite, and then I have to listen to the podcast later in the day.
But this Sunday, leaving the car was particularly difficult. Krista was at Emory University, last October, facilitating an Interfaith dialogue between the Dalai Lama, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of Great Britain, Islamic Scholar Sayyed Nassir, and Katherine Jefferts Schori, presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
It was just promising to be an extraordinary conversation on the topic of happiness, beauty, virtue, blessing, and meditative practices when I had to turn the radio off and go in for the service.
I look forward to sharing more of my of the podcast transcription, in future posts, but it was something Rabbi Sacks said about the importance of celebrating "shabbat" in Judaism, that turned a critical key for me in unlocking the fourth Commandment from the hebrew Decalogue which reads:
"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work.
But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day. Wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it."
Now, I love the Commandments, and have been deeply blessed by earlier insights about each of them as divine promises, rather than Diefic threats. I've loved claiming a sense of "sabbath"...holiness, completeness, satisfaction...about each prayer, inspired action, creative endeavor, divinely directed decision.
But it was Rabbi Sacks answer, to Krista's query about each faith's take on the U. S. Constitution's reference to the "pursuit of happiness," and their culture's approach to generating calmness, which left me speechless later that day as I transcribed the podcast at the kitchen table. His answer came in two stories...yup, stories...my kinda guy. He said:
"Finding happiness doesn't necessarily follow from pursuing it, sometimes the deepest happiness comes when you are least expecting it.
"There is a wonderful story about an 18th century Rabbi, Ravi Isaac of Bertechev, who looking at people rushing to and fro in the town square, and he wonders why they are all running so frenetically. And he stops one and he says, "Why are you running?" And the man says, "I am running to make a living." and the Rabbi says to him, "How come you are so sure that the living is in front of you, and that you have to run catch it up. Maybe it is behind you, and you've got to stop and let it catch up with you?"
"Now, which bits of contemporary culture do we need to stop, in order that our blessings can catch up with us? For us, it is a practice called the Sabbath. The Sabbath is when we slow down enough to celebrate the things that are important, but not urgent.
"Once I took the chief childcare specialist in Great Britain to an orthodox school on a Friday, and the children were learning about preparing for the Sabbath. Little five year old boys and girls practicing the blessing of the candles, the Shabbat meal, the other children. And she was fascinated, she has never seen anything like this, and so she asked one of the little five year old boys, "What don't you like about the Sabbath? And he replied, "You can't watch television, it's terrible."
"Then she asked him, "What do you like most about the Sabbath?" And he said, "It's the one time time when daddy doesn't have to rush away."
"Sometimes we don't need to pursue happiness, we just need to pause and let it catch up with us."
See what I mean? I think Rabbi Sacks is a storyteller much like Jesus was.
And these stories have helped me discover another wonderful reason for a devoted "sabbath" practice, whether it is exercised on a weekly, daily, or hourly basis. It is a practice that allows me to slow down enough, to let my blessings catch up with me. And since I don't believe that blessings are either in front of, or behind us...taunting us to hurry up, or begging us to look backwards...but as omnipresent as God Himself, it is the practice of stopping that matters in actually feeling the soft-winged presence of those blessings. To let them gather, from every direction, and rest on our hearts and lives. Blessings that gather like doves on a still branch, or butterflies on a motionless blade of grass.
Each of the other participants, in this paradigm-shifitng interfaith conversation, went on to share insights about the "sabbath" practices they embrace in their own faith-traditions. And I hope to write more about those in coming posts, but Rabbi Sacks stories were just too wonderful to keep to myself tonight.
I am loving this wonderful, new "take" on the practice of the Fourth Commandment. And what a perfect opportunity for practicing the gift of blessing others. For expanding the reach of our prayers, while centering ourselves in the spiritual stillness of the sabbath space. May your Sabbath be a blessing...and may you be blessed.
always with Love,
Here is a link to the "Sabbath Prayer," from Fiddler on the Roof. May the Lord bless, and keep you, and yours, and all.