Worship Script 8
Worship Script (8 of 9)
Not Your Grandmother’s Sabbath
By Orlanda Brugnola
Here find a house of welcoming
Here find vision and hope
Here be received as you truly are
Unique and beautiful
Your journey acknowledged
Your love honored
Let us rejoice together
HYMN #12 O Life That Maketh All Things New
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
Excerpt from Embezzling One’s Life from No Other Gods: The Politics of the Ten Commandments by Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons
The commandment is clear that we cannot cheat and recruit any surrogates for productivity -our children, our employees, animals, or even foreign visitors. Sabbath is for everyone. This is why Sabbath observance is a spiritual practice: it takes discipline, ironically, to enter into undisciplined, formless time. It takes courage to assert and reassert our freedom. And it takes compassion to extend that freedom to others in our lives.
HYMN #123 Spirit of Life
STORY FOR ALL AGES
A Story from “Sabbath Rules”, excerpts from No Other Gods: The Politics of the Ten Commandments by Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons
A congregant, Joy, tells a story of what happened when she and her husband Joe decided that the Sabbath rules they had follows their whole lives were unnecessarily strict. As she tells it, the beginning of the end of her Sabbath practice came one Sunday when she realized they were out of cinnamon. Her Moron faith taught that you don’t go shopping on Sundays, but she needed cinnamon for the special meal she was preparing for her family. It was a key ingredient. So she discussed it with her husband and they decided they would go for just this once and just buy the cinnamon and nothing else. They would still stay internally in the spirit of Sabbath the whole time. So they went out and bought the cinnamon. And nothing terrible happened, no one got struck by lightning and they had their meal.
The next week it was cheese, “It would be so nice to have some cheese to go with dinner tonight; let’s go out and just get some cheese. Nothing else.” While there were at the store, they picked up some bread too. To go with the cheese. Again, no lightning. The next Sunday, it was , “Well, while we’re here at the store we might as well just zip around and do a little shopping for the week, just a quick one to get us through since we’re out of a bunch of stuff.” You can imagine how it progressed, Sunday after Sunday. Food shopping because a regular fixture of the day, then laundry. They told each other, “We’re still keeping the spirit of the Sabbath with our special meal and special Sabbath music.”
Joe was fighting a deadline one Sunday and needed to o just a little work. Joy decided, “If he’s working . . . I might as well get something done too.” Now they were both working and shopping and running errands on Sundays. Their special dinners fell away and the special music fell away. And petty soon Sunday became, in Joy’s words, “just another day.” And it was right around the time, when they noticed that they were experiencing their lifetime peak of Sunday-night activity. They to coast to the end of their Sabbath feeling rested and center. Now they were gettings things done of Sundays but they had never felt more stressed. By Sunday night they were tired fighting with each other, overwhelmed. For the first time in their lives, they felt like they could hardly face the week ahead.
Hindu Prayer, Translated by Abhi Janamanch, Adapted.
May good befall all.
May there be peace for all.
May all be fit for excellence.
May all experience the holy.
May all be happy.
May all be healthy.
May all experience what is good.
May no one suffer.
CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN
Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives. As you do, you may briefly share what it is. We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.
Not Your Grandmother’s Sabbath, by Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons, First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn, NY
The beginning of the end of Joy Gabriel’s Sabbath practice came the Sunday that she realized she was out of cinnamon. Her Mormon faith taught that you don’t go shopping on the Sabbath but she needed just a little cinnamon for the special Sabbath meal she was preparing for her family. So she discussed it with her husband Joe and they decided that they would go just this once and just buy the cinnamon and nothing else. They would still stay internally in the spirit of the Sabbath the whole time. So they went out and bought the cinnamon and nothing terrible happened, no one got struck by lightening, and they had their nice meal with cinnamon all together.
Joy is a member of our community here at First U and I share this story with her permission. She has happy memories of Sabbath with her family growing up. They went to church in the morning, baked cookies in the afternoon, listened to special music, made dinner all together and then spent hours at the table, just hanging out talking and being silly and laughing. Sunday nights they would all pile onto their parents’ bed and watch G rated movies. When she left home, Joy missed those family Sundays. But as she grew older she moved away from Mormonism and some of the Sabbath rules started to feel less important. Hence the cinnamon incident.
The next week, it was cheese. “It would be so nice to have some cheese to go with dinner tonight, let’s go out and just get some cheese. Nothing else.” While they were at the store, they picked up some bread too. To go with the cheese. Again, no lightening. The next Sunday, it was, “Well, while we’re here at the store we might as well just zip around and do a little shopping for the week, just a quick one to get us through since we’re out of a bunch of stuff.” And so it progressed, Sunday after Sunday. Food shopping became a regular fixture of the day, then laundry. “Who’s really going to know or care what we do on Sunday, anyway?” they asked themselves. “And we’re still keeping the spirit of the Sabbath with our special meal and special Sabbath music.”
Well, Joe was fighting a deadline one Sunday and needed to do just a little work. Joy decided, “Well, if he’s working I might as well get something done too.” Now they were both working and shopping and running errands on Sundays. Their special dinners fell away and the special music fell away. And pretty soon Sunday became, in Joy’s words, “just another day.” And it was right around that time when they noticed that they had peak Sunday night anxiety in their lives. Yes, they were getting more done on Sundays – way more done – but they had never felt more stressed. By Sunday night they were tired, fighting with each other, overwhelmed. For the first time in their lives, they felt like they could hardly face the week ahead.
When we hear the word Sabbath, especially in Brooklyn, it tends to conjure up images of hospital elevators you don’t want to get stuck on because they stop at every floor, Chassidic Jews walking to and from services in big, furry hats, and, tragically, the fire sparked from a Sabbath hotplate in Midwood last year that killed seven children. Or maybe our minds go to a more WASPy Puritanical Sabbath – no dancing, no alcohol, Blue Laws, children sitting in church for long hours on hard wooden pews listening to the deadly white male minister drone on and on and on.
But there is a movement now among some progressive religious people to reclaim and redeploy Sabbath practice. My family and I are part of this movement and I know some of you are as well. Now, this is not your grandmother’s Sabbath. It looks and feels different from its religious antecedents. But we share a recognition that our world desperately needs a “pause” button. And not just any pause button, but a spiritually charged, heart-opening space that’s set apart from our regular lives. We need sacred time. We need time outside of the cycle of work and consumerism. We need unplugged time. We need time alone and we need time together. We need time to dream and think and pray and meditate. We need time to play. We need time in nature – to sit under a tree, to build a snowman, to take a walk by the river. Time to really talk with each other.
“And where exactly is all this non-work time supposed to come from?” you might well ask. In the normal way of thinking in this culture, there is no time for such languidness. This is doubly so if you follow the lead of the medieval rabbis and include in the concept of “work,” not just work for pay, but any participation in the cycle of consumerism… basically dealing with our stuff, buying more stuff, and getting stuff done. We are all so busy that seven days a week doesn’t feel like remotely enough. Even those of us fortunate enough to have the economic means to take a day off each week generally can’t or won’t. We’re always behind schedule, always plugged in, trying to catch up, multi-tasking. And when we’re too exhausted to go on, our eyes glaze over and we announce to the world, in the words of the old Nirvana song, “Here we are now. Entertain us!” In my observation this is no different if you are a corporate lawyer, an electrician, a schoolteacher, a stay-at-home parent, a student, or a retiree. (Retirees are often the busiest of us all!) No one has time for anything.
This is not all bad. The pace can be exhilarating, it can make us feel successful, it can stave off sadness and loneliness. It can be pleasurable. And we’re never bored. But there’s a problem with allowing this to just be our lives forever more. It’s a little cliché, but it’s cliché because, by all accounts, it’s true: When we’re lying on our deathbeds, the things that are going to matter to us are the time we spent with the people we loved, having loved and prioritized well, having grown into our most authentic selves, our memories of beauty, and those rare, shining moments when we felt spiritually connected to all of life. These are all experiences that are beautifully cultivated by some kind of intentional Sabbath practice and are somewhat difficult to come by without it.
Not impossible. Of course we still spend some time with loved ones even without a Sabbath practice, but as Joy discovered, if we don’t carve out space intentionally, the pressing little things nip at our heels and press in and press in and press in and the intangible things, the spiritual things, the relational things get postponed in an infinite regression. And if we let this happen day after day, year after year, we may reach the end of our lives with a sinking feeling that in some crucial way we missed our lives. We always attended to the urgent but neglected the important. There were spiritual delicacies to be had – relationship and connection and growth and awe and wonder – delicacies that we could have tasted, and we left them on the table.
There’s also a problem that we could call a political problem with constantly either consuming or producing: If you’re constantly either consuming or producing, the secular world of consumption and production is the only world there is. Its values, its goals, its appraisals of success and failure fill the horizon in every direction. The logic of Capitalism becomes our own instinctive logic. It comes to seem reasonable, for example, to weigh corporate interests against the interests of human health and natural ecosystems. What should be outrageous becomes, not only acceptable, but undetectable. They say we don’t know who discovered water, but it definitely was not a fish. When we live entirely within the bubble of our socially constructed world, that world remains invisible to us. Because there is nowhere else.
What Sabbath practice does at its best is it creates “somewhere else.” And from the perspective of that somewhere else, you can look back at your world with a whole new set of eyes. You start to get, deep down, that it doesn’t necessarily have to be the way it is. You start to be able to envision a different world. You already have everything you need; you’re okay just the way you are. You don’t need any products or services to make you whole. This doesn’t happen right away, the first time you try it. Like any spiritual practice, Sabbath practice takes time to yield its fruit. But after a while, week after week, you start to see your own life and the wider world differently, with a breath of freedom that you really can’t imagine without experiencing it.
Okay. So. Enough theory. How do you do it? The basic idea is that you set aside a period of time each week for “feelin’ groovy.” And during that time, you say “yes” to many of the things you usually say “this can wait” to, and you say “this can wait” to many of the things you usually say “yes” to. You make a commitment to abide by special rules during that sacred time. Now, I want to nip something in the bud here, cause I know what some of you are thinking. Some of you are thinking, “I like the idea of Sabbath but I don’t have time and I don’t like rules, so I’m going to just try to do whatever I normally do, but a little more … slowly …and in the spirit of the Sabbath.” I can tell you right now, that will not work. This was what Joy discovered the hard way when she and her husband let the rules slip with the very best of intentions to stay in the spirit of the Sabbath. It didn’t work. In her words, “when we lost the physical space, we lost the mental space.”
Keeping a Sabbath is hard, especially in our culture, especially if you didn’t grow up doing it, especially if you don’t believe that God commanded you to do it. It takes effort to push back against powerful cultural norms. You need to be kind of aggressive in carving out the space for yourself or that space will collapse. This is much more doable if you commit to at least some rules. And it’s much more doable and waymore fun if you do it with others, especially others who share a sense of what you’re doing and why. They could be your family, a small group of friends, or, I would say better yet, a larger spiritual community like this one. Sabbath is best done together.
So here are some suggestions for “yes’s” and “this-can-wait’s” of a Sabbath, based on my own Sabbath practice and that of other progressive religious people today. Some examples of “yes’s” would be: coming to services, cooking and eating meals with friends or family, reading spiritual texts or novels, going for walks, making music, listening to music, dancing, making love, long conversations, making art, praying, meditating, yoga, tai chi, hanging out with children or animals, napping. Some examples of “this can wait’s” during the Sabbath might be: working, watching TV, shopping, doing errands, fixing things, house cleaning, tackling thorny relationship issues, screen time, planning and scheduling for the future.
As far as timing, what I want to suggest is this: for the rest of the program year here at First U – that means through early June – try a Sabbath practice from sunrise to sundown on Sundays. Sounds like a lot, but think about it this way: in the winter it gets dark around 4:30. So by the time you come here to the service, have some soup and sandwich, maybe go to a workshop or class, it’s practically over. Easy. Or just head outside with your family or a few friends or by yourself if you crave solitude. You can also connect up with other people here for an early dinner/ late lunch kind of meal that you cook together. At the Welcome Table downstairs there’s a sheet where you can indicate if you’d like to share Sunday meals in this way with other First U folks. Just go down after the service, add your name, and then Joy Gabriel, whom I’ve talked about in this sermon, will email everyone and get you all in touch with each other.
But she probably won’t do it today. Because that’s an email task that can wait until tomorrow. The very happy ending to the story I’ve told you about Joy and her family is that they are finding their way back to Sabbath practice. Having realized what they lost when they lost their Sabbath, and wanting to offer something beautiful from their own childhoods to their children, they recommitted to each other to carve out this space. They found First U and were thrilled to discover that we are exploring Sabbath practice here. They’ve started planning in advance for Sundays and the reclaimed, unstructured time has been a breath of fresh air for their family. Their kids love it, they love it, and on Sunday nights they all feel rested, centered, and ready to face the week.
I invite each of you to dip your toe in the water of this ancient, modern practice. I and the other staff are happy to talk with you and help you figure out a version that will work for you – something you can stick to but that also stretches you. We want to support you in this. Periodically we’ll have Sabbath Sundays here, like we’re having today. And each week, Garnett and I will send out a suggested Sabbath pathway through your day to take advantage of what we have here at First U and beyond. It is my hope that you will discover great meaning and depth that will last your whole life and that, through this practice, you will be more and more able to imagine the world as it might be. And as far as not having enough time, I promise you that everything that really needs to get done will still get done. As Emerson once said, “Once you make a decision, the whole universe conspires to make it happen.”
HYMN #16 ‘Tis a Gift to Be Simple
by Deena Metzger
There are those who are trying to set fire to the world.
We are in danger.
There is time only to work slowly.
There is no time not to love.