Stumbling Into my Need for a Better Sabbath

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In third or fourth grade, on “bring your parent to school day”, my mom came and taught my class how to set a table. It wasn’t anything crazy. There weren’t multiple layers of special use forks or plates of varying sizes and functions. It was simply a lesson in basic table setting etiquette, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Start with the plate in the center of the setting. Next, the fork, which goes to the left of the plate. The knife flanks the plate on the right side, cutting edge turned in, and is followed by the spoon. The cup nestles in above the knife and spoon on the upper right side of the plate – not quite touching anything, but pulled in close enough to belong to the setting.

This is the format we followed most days during my growing up years. Plate, cup, fork, knife, spoon. A simple ritual in the rhythm of our day to day.

Yesterday (Sunday) was a feast day in my 40-day fasting journey, an amazing break in the rhythm of fasting that happens every seventh day. To me, it meant one glorious thing. For one beautiful day, I could eat whatever I wanted.

Last Sunday I was shocked by the bounty of a feast day. After four days of millet, bananas, rice, chicken, bread and spinach, I was physically exhausted. Friday and Saturday night I went to bed before nine pm. Then came Sunday.

My food brain went into overdrive. I started with my favorite Bon Appetit  Ham and Cheese waffles with maple syrup. (If you haven’t tried these, set aside a weekend morning, give yourself a pass on how much butter you’ll be consuming, and go wild.)

The rest of the day was a beautiful blur of feta and spinach chicken sausages, veggie hash, sopapillas and sangria and cupcakes. Church felt, for the first time in a long time, celebratory. The amazing friends who came over that night (many who were also fasting/feasting) sat around our big, wide kitchen table and talked over the sounds of our crazy, giggling children running wild through the living room.

Heaven on earth, all of it.

In the natural cycle of spiritual life, there’s this thing called Sabbath. It started as remembrance of God’s day of rest and enjoyment after six days of creating the world. Later on, in the book of Exodus 20, the Isrealites are told to “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God.”

Sounds great, right? A prescribed day of rest.  Except that usually, the idea of a Sabbath is a little like an estranged friend in my vocabulary. Sunday is no different than any other day in terms of mothering work. There are still messes to pick up, diapers to change, squabbles to sort out.

In fact, if I were to be completely honest, Sunday is usually anything but restful. Usually, either Jason or I are playing on worship team at church. The girls are shuttled into nursery and Sunday school. We get home well after nap time was supposed to start, and still haven’t had lunch yet. The house is usually in shambles, and the last thing on my mind is claiming a holy Sabbath.

And yet.

Somewhere, somehow in this journey, I feel myself waiting to lay a better claim to Sunday rest, to the idea of Sabbath or Shabbat. I don’t want my feast day to just pay homage to all the food I can eat, or worse yet, just be a giant day of gluttony before I go back into couscous mode.

Here’s what I’m thinking. I need a better way to observe the idea of a Sabbath feast. So I started digging around the interwebs and, after wading through a lot of interesting sites, found myself pulled up short with these words.

This is a Sabbath reading from Rabbi Naomi Levy. I felt a little creeped out, like this stranger had a glimpse into my kitchen window for a day and then said hey, friend. I wrote something for you.

Regardless of how they reveal all my flaws, these lines are simple and straight, like small arrows pointing the right direction out the back of my pierced and defective heart.

“I love to change the world,
But I rarely appreciate things as they are.
I know how to give,
But I don’t always know how to receive.
I know how to keep busy,
But I don’t often listen.
I look, but I don’t often see.
I yearn to succeed,
But I often forget what is truly important.
Teach me, God, to slow down. May my resting revive me.
May it lead me to wisdom, to holiness
To peace and to You.

– Rabbi Naomi Levy

Next Sunday, I will prepare for Sabbath. It might be simple – a candle on Saturday night and a quiet, purposeful prayer time. An early morning wake up to get ready before the family is up. A meal that’s ready right after we get home from church. A table that’s been set the way I was taught. A nap for every member of the family – not just the four and under crowd. Another candle at the end of the day, another pause to pray, write, or read.

Shabbat shalom. (Hopefully.)

Do you have any Sunday, Sabbath, or Shabbat habits, routines, or practices that you observe? I’d love to hear about them!