Creating Sabbath

creative simplicity

When I was growing up, Sundays were church days for my family. We'd get up in the morning—later than on school days, but somehow, it still felt early—and elbow one another out of the way of the bathroom mirror for primping and toothbrushing. Then, we'd pack into the car and head to Sunday school and worship services. Afterwards, we'd grumble about the sermon running long and pile into the car again with hungry bellies. We usually had lunch out at some sort of "family restaurant" (bonus points if they served raspberry iced tea and had a free salad bar) and then went home for naps and homework. At the time, I didn't give much thought to what a Sabbath could be or should be. For us, it included a lot of eating, a little resting and praying, and a good dose of getting in each others' way. Sometimes I wondered what other kids did on Sunday mornings, but mostly I didn't question the shape of my week.

Fast forward through college and graduate school, and my Sabbath doesn't happen on Sundays anymore. After converting to Judaism, I began observing the Jewish Sabbath ("Shabbat"), which takes place from Sundown on Friday to Sundown on Saturday. My Sabbath not only takes place on a different day of the week, but the characteristics of the day itself are a little different too. While there are many different ways to observe Shabbat, mine centers around a festive evening meal on Friday and includes a lot of reading and resting on Saturday.

Perhaps one of the most curious differences between my childhood Sabbath and my current practice is that I no longer use phones, computers, or transportation during the "Sabbath" portion of my weekend. This probably sounds odd. And to be honest, I've never really come up with a satisfying explanation or justification of this practice. There are as many reasons for rituals as there are people who practice them, and perhaps more.

But soon after Shabbat took hold of my Friday nights and Saturdays—at first out of curiosity and then, perhaps, out of inertia—it became a nonnegotiable. It's a strange thing, to commit to doing almost nothing for a whole night and day each week. It's just a bit too long, actually, so that by Saturday evening I'm often a little restless, bored, or uncomfortable, more than ready to return to my regularly scheduled programming.

But at the busiest and most stressful moments during the week, I find that I try to conjure up something of the essence of the most recent Shabbat. It has something to do with quiet and stillness and do-nothing time. Ironically, my do-nothing time is often my most creative thinking time. While I'm not-writing, I can't help but conjure up a million different ideas to write about. Given this extra breathing room, my mind starts to play. Sure enough, I forget most of my "brilliant" ideas by Sunday morning, or as soon as I'm poised at the desk and ready to type my little heart out. But at least I know they're there, somewhere beneath the surface of daily life.

These days, I don't have to wonder what other kids do on Sunday mornings, but I do wonder a lot about how others practice "Sabbath." When and how do you like to rest? What's the shape of your weekend? Whether you've taken a sabbatical year or found ways to incorporate stillness into each day, I'd love to know, what does "Sabbath" mean to you?