Wearing White for Easter

They invited us to show up at the church an hour before sunrise, wearing “baptismal white.”

Morning has broken

(Photo credit: Sint-Katelijne-Waver)

Now, I don’t own a lot of white things. When I was a child, my mom would never have bought me white clothing, because she knew life would happen and pure white would become dingy gray. I thought this was one of my mother’s more sensible pieces of advice, along with “Don’t wear high heels; they’ll wreck your back.” We were that kind of family, never striving for picture perfect, knowing that spills and falls would happen and mess us up.

So I borrowed white clothing, and I put it on before leaving for church in the dark. But I won’t lie: on the inside, I felt dingy gray. My Holy Saturday involved some crankiness, quite a bit of asking forgiveness and then doing the same thing again. One likes to go from Holy Week to Easter feeling morally pure and super in touch with Jesus, and instead, I felt tired and discouraged.

We lit the Easter candle with new fire, singing, “Christ alive! Thanks be to God!” We sat in chairs around the baptismal font decked with lilies. We listened to stories from the Hebrew Scriptures, part of the history of God moving in the world, and some of us shared our own stories of how we’d felt God in our lives on Holy Week.

Well, others shared. I listened, squirming in my white, feeling less than spiritual.

We were invited to line up by the font of holy water, cross ourselves with it and repeat our promise to follow Christ. I went to the back of the line, wishing I felt more emotional and excited, like last Easter when I woke with the dawn out of sheer happiness. Instead, I felt something like trepidation as the line crept toward the font. I was baptized the first time at nine, without knowing what I was getting into, mostly because my mom wanted me to. And did I understand this, even now? Could I really promise to follow, knowing how often I tend to get lost?

And the thought came to me, unbidden: Of course you won’t get there all at once. This is a journey, and all you’re doing is promising you’ll set out in the right direction and keep checking your compass.

Of course you’re not ready for this. It’s outrageous. What you’re doing is giving God permission to start a good work in you, and God will not give up on you until that work is finished. God will glue you back together, little clay pot, and not allow you to be smashed forever.

So take that step in the right direction. Surrender to the mustard plant, the wild yeast taking you over, slowly, little by little. Cling to Christ, and let him wash your feet and make you clean again.

Sunrise streamed through the stained glass window and I splashed water on head, heart, and shoulders from left to right, forming the cross on my very body. I felt so far from picture perfect, so sure I would stain the whiteness I wore. And yet I also felt hope creep in, slow and certain as the dawn, as the water that can make anything clean, wear down rock and expose the true heart of the Earth.

“No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present to us: it is the very sign of his presence.”

C.S. Lewis

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Holy Saturday World

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will immediately be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will easily inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will effortlessly be filled.

Yeah, add those to the list of things Jesus never said.

It’s Holy Saturday. Two days ago on Holy Thursday, my church community met together to tell the Passover story and wash each other’s feet. Yesterday we met to read the Passion story and deck the Cross with daffodils. Tomorrow will be a huge celebration, with flowers and dancing and feasting, of his victory over death. But today? Nothing is happening.

That’s exactly how the disciples must have felt on Holy Saturday. They were in the denial stage of grief: I can’t believe he’s gone! I can’t believe he’s not really the Messiah! He didn’t lead us to victory after all! He did so many miracles, he set our hearts on fire, and now he’s gone, and we feel so empty.

I am stuck in Holy Saturday mode on a daily basis way more than I’d like. Even though I know, as the disciples didn’t, that Jesus actually did lead us to victory, from day to day he seems, if not absent, at least sometimes distant. I’m faced with another day which doesn’t seem to bring any changes. I’m staring at the same old temptations at work, the same old relationships often fraught with tension, the same old childhood issues haunting me, the same shadows of war and famine and disaster haunting planet Earth, and it all feels dark and empty.

But – thank God! – my feelings are not a reliable measure of reality. That’s what it means to live in faith: we cling to hope when every sign points to despair. We affirm our relationship with God even when it doesn’t feel exciting or fruitful that day. We wait in patience for the coming celebration, which we know is right around the corner, inevitable as another Easter Sunday.

Our world is full of so many yet-unfulfilled hopes. We still mourn. We still feel humiliated in our meekness. We are still hungry and thirsty for justice. And yet we hope in the promises Jesus made… even though he didn’t promise they’d happen this Saturday.

What’s So Good About This Friday?

Michelangelo-pieta

The first moment I had a clue what the Cross was for, I was in my usual spot in Mrs. Weaver’s English classroom at Cochise Community College: one row back, two spaces from the left. It was Irish Literature class, and we were talking about the gods of Irish mythology, and Mrs. Weaver, knowing my nerdy interest in Ancient Greece, had just called on me to back her up on a scene from Homer’s Iliad.

“Now, Rachel, in the Iliad, the gods don’t concern themselves much with the fate of human beings, do they?”

“No,” I responded immediately. “In fact, at one point, Zeus is feeling sad because he knows his son is about to die in battle, but Hera talks him out of it. She says mortals are doomed to die anyway and he’s better off not getting emotionally involved with them.”

“Right,” she said with satisfaction, turning back to the class. “So you see, this myth is similar in that…”

The discussion went on, but I remember staring at the floor to the left of my desk, daydreaming as I often did in class at seventeen. Huh. Interesting that in both these cultures, there’s a story about why the gods don’t care about us humans. Actually, why would you ever naturally believe a god cared about you? What could a god, who is immortal and can’t feel pain, know about your life? Why would they ever want to know?

And then it hit me. I’d never understood about Jesus. Growing up in the Church, saying all the creeds, listening to the Gospel over and over, my religious education classes, none of it had made the death of Jesus make any sense. God loved me? Sure, okay. Jesus, both divine and human, came to us to reveal how to live? That sounded like a fine plan. But every year when Easter came around, I would wonder, Why did he have to die like that? Why couldn’t he just have gone back to be with God, or even died like a normal person? Why the beatings, the blood, the torturous thirst, the getting nailed to things?

I didn’t get it. And now, somehow, I did get it a little bit: if you believed that Jesus was God (which was still to me just hypothetical), then you could no longer say, ever, that God didn’t care about or understand your suffering. Surely crucifixion was not only one of the most horrifically painful deaths ever, but also one of the most humiliating and dehumanizing. And if God was Jesus, and Jesus went through all that, it proved once and for all that God knew all about suffering. Surely God had empathy for your pain, compassion even for the most horrible experience you would ever go through.  Surely, if you believed that, it would give you a powerful sense that God was with you in your darkest moments.

Now, this is not how the impact of Jesus’ death is usually explained. I’ve discovered many more dimensions of it since then, and no doubt I will discover many more. But that was the thing that grabbed me first, stunned me and spun me around and made me get it after all my years of half-sleeping through sermons. I almost got choked up thinking about it: a god would do that for me? So that I could know I wasn’t alone? So I could know the Creator of the world was not hostile, or even neutral, but loved me enough to get down on my level, wade through all that blood and mud and grime, suffer all those filthy looks and jeers and whispers, to prove it wasn’t the end of the world? I pictured Jesus like a big brother, jumping before me into a lake that looked freezing, murky, teeming with perils, his head rising again to the surface to say, “Come on in. I’ll be in here with you.”

It wasn’t the day I decided to follow Jesus, not even close. I filed out of class somewhat pleased that I’d had an interesting thought. I’d always wanted to understand why people made such a big deal out of the Cross.

I thought that was it. But now I know that’s one of the things that makes Good Friday good. Jesus took what was until that time a horrific symbol of torture and death, a tool to make an example of criminals, and he took it on to show us how much he loves us, how intimately he wants to know us, that he would drink from the very same cup of pain. And also, of course, to show that no matter how horrible that pain, it won’t have the last word.

I’ll always remember that day as the day Jesus got his hooks into me. He must have waited years for it. He got me good.

The Table: A Story Retold

Simon Ushakov's icon of the Mystical Supper.

Icon by Simon Ushakov.

From the humble room came soft sounds of celebration: voices raised in familiar song, prayer, murmured questions and answers, even broken by tender silence. These men were, so very literally, close to Jesus. They had walked the same road; the dust he washed from their feet had brushed his own as well. They called him Teacher; he called them friends. One leaned on him as they reclined at table, close enough to hear a heartbeat. Their hands received broken bread from his still-whole hands. Their fingers mingled in the bowl.

He looked around the room and he loved them, noticed in each individual face the details that have faded from collective memory. He knew what he had seen in them when he called them, and he knew what they would do to him in the next few days. His heart held it all: how they’d slip into sleep while his tears fell like blood, deny knowing him in the flickering light of a pre-sunrise fire, say hello and goodbye with a horrific kiss. And still he loved them.

Their fingers dipped bread into the bowl together. He shared the earthiest of foods with them. He begged them to remain with him. He refused to be anything less than a man, to shield himself from a broken heart. Knowing what fools they were, he trusted these fools. Yes, he called them his friends.

The room was small enough for thirteen and big enough for millions. Whenever I do this – eat, serve, share – I must think of these sinners shoulder to shoulder, invited to share a meal they didn’t deserve. It was so much more than bread and wine. It was forever fullness, unreserved forgiveness, the love in his eyes meeting theirs across the table.

To Jerusalem

So here we are in Holy Week, the time when God put his money where his mouth was, so to speak. How much does God really love us? Enough to accept unjust accusations without a word? Enough to suffer great physical pain, humiliation, and death? Enough to watch his loved ones desert him and forgive his persecutors in the thick of his pain? Enough to absorb all the sins of history in one fragile human body? Enough to fight death to the death so that we might live to the full?

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

I imagine myself at the bottom of that hill to Jerusalem and I cannot fathom climbing up. To walk so knowingly into my own doom, utter desertion and devastation, would take so much more courage than I was born with. And yet this is the journey we all face, a one-way ticket in our hands to death and whatever lies beyond. We can do it with eyes open, or we can drag our feet, half hoping to find an escape route or at least a distraction along the way so we can ignore what lies at the top of the hill.

God, please give me eyes to see and ears to hear what is really important in this short life.

God, please give me the courage to look at my fears straight on and tell my sense of self-preservation, “Out of my way, enemy!”

God, please give me the ability to do what is right in the face of great pain.

God, before I lose my life, give me the grace to give it away so that I may fully live.

Thank you for helping me realize, finally, that I’m not walking up this hill alone.

Holy Week

Hello, everyone. Just wanted to say that since it’s Holy Week, I’m posting extra on the Triduum. In addition to tomorrow’s regularly scheduled post, I’ll have some meditations on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Thanks as always, for reading, whether you are here to celebrate together or just to bless me with respectful listening.

Laying Down Our Lifestyles: Lenten Practice Beyond Lent

Lent

(Photo credit: Fr. Stephen, MSC)

Prayer. Fasting. Giving. Do these traditional actions of Lent make a difference? Are they more than a personal improvement project, or even a way to prepare our hearts for Easter? How can Lent inspire us to love God and our local and global neighbors better? I’d like to explore these questions and invite others to contribute their own answers as well.

Prayer gets a bad rap for being impractical. For years after my conversion, I didn’t spend much time praying, thinking that, as it says in the book of James, it’s hypocritical to pray for someone unless you are also working to provide for their needs. Years later, I have come to realize the place that prayer has in preparing me for good works. I believe, as it says in 1 Corinthians 13, that my noblest actions are worthless without love. And how do I get more love? By connecting with the very Source of love in prayer.

Also, for me, prayer has become an important way of opening my eyes to the world around me. I can pray not only for my family, for my neighbors, but for friends (and strangers) all around the globe. Prayer helps me remember that we are all family, challenges me to keep in mind the joys and sorrows of the whole world. It invites me to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. It invites me to care more deeply about my neighbors and let my caring move me to action.

Likewise, fasting may not seem to make much of a difference on a physical, practical level. However, we can be very practical about it and fast from habits or pleasures we have that can be expensive, like cable or fancy coffee. If we then share the money we save with those to whom it means not just pleasure but sustenance, it can be an excellent spiritual discipline (if it’s done with love, see section above on prayer). Certainly, there is a time and place for celebration, for extravagance; not every luxury can or should be cut from our lives. On the other hand, many of us could live with less. I know I could. Lent is an opportunity to rethink how we spend our time and money and, if necessary, to do some creative redistribution.

Fasting is also yet another way to train oneself toward compassion. I have far to go in this area: if I’m feeling any physical discomfort, I want to escape it or I feel like I deserve to vent. Yet the Greek word for “to feel compassion,” splagchnizomai, literally means to have one’s insides twist. When the Bible says, “Jesus looked at the crowd and was filled with compassion,” it means Jesus felt their pain in his own gut, that’s how much he cared about them. Through fasting, if I fully embrace it, I can teach myself what compassion feels like in my body, what hunger and thirst for righteousness really mean.

Giving is another discipline that allows us to re-examine our lives in the season of Lent and beyond. Most people I know don’t feel like they have enough money, no matter how much or how little they make. And yet, in a global sense, almost everyone I know is rich. Although my wages are well below the American average, I am objectively rich. Unlike many people on our planet, I have never worried about my next meal. I have never had the need for clean water rule my life. I have never been without shelter. I am literate, even college educated. With such advantages, how can I not seek out ways to share them with the many others who lack them?

As the Good Book has it, the greatest act of love is to lay down one’s life for a friend. But I think we need to ask ourselves, we Christians who live in affluence, as Lent draws to a close: One of my current pastors started his first sermon of Lent a few years back with the quote, “Lent is a time to do more joyfully what we should be doing all the time.” Can we lay down our lifestyles, a little bit more each season, for the sake of our brothers and sisters who fight for survival? What can we carry with us, joyfully, from this season into Easter?

Maybe we won’t practice these disciplines quite as strenuously during the rest of the year as we do during Lent, but we will take small steps that seem right to us. Maybe we will feel called to continue what we’ve been doing during Lent and raise the bar for next year. Whatever the case, doing it joyfully is the key. Reflection on what Lent means for our whole lives is a great way to begin, and to end, the Lenten season.

What are your thoughts on how we can joyfully live out the lessons of Lent all year round?

Lenten Reflections 2013

Epitaph on Nikos Kazantzakis' grave. I don't h...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 2005, on a trip to the island of Crete, I visited the grave of the writer Nikos Kazantzakis. I remember his grave being hard to find, for such a famous landmark. Finally my friends and I drew close to it, the shadows growing long by now. Etched on the headstone in gracefully looping Greek were the words Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα. Δε φοβούμαι τίποτα. Είμαι λεύτερος. I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.

Holy Week is fast approaching, and what I’ve learned this Lent is that I’m not yet as free as I want to be.

Maybe it’s actually the lesson of every Lent. Many of us give up something that seems minor and silly, chocolate perhaps, and we’re hit in the gut by how much we long for it. We go without food, a minor inconvenience for those of us who don’t have medical or psychological reasons to abstain, and we are shocked by how much our hunger pangs obsess us. More than that, we realize how numb we are to the things that matter more. We are brought to tears over our caffeine withdrawal, but not by footage of war on the news. We thirst for our tiny pleasures and think we can do without Love itself.

What I gave up this year was Facebook. Sounds like a tiny thing, right? Well, for me it’s a tiny symptom of a much bigger problem: online or off, I live to be liked. I have an approval addiction. If my actions don’t provoke praise, I immediately question their meaning. If I incur even the tiniest criticism, my stomach churns, my muscles involuntarily tense.

And here’s the upshot of all this: when I care so much about what people think, I ignore what God thinks. I thrill to hear a random fellow bus rider say I’m pretty; did I forget I am by definition “fearfully and wonderfully made“? I quickly grow impatient with trying to help someone if I’m not thanked or swiftly shown progress; is that my answer to “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up“?

I am filled with unreasonable hopes and unrealistic fears. There is a lot of “me” in the way of my freedom. And yet I have one hope I know I can count on: that there is a Higher Power than me, that I don’t have to fix my own brokenness. That Jesus will help me empty myself of my ego so I can be filled with love, like he did in his time here on Earth.

I’d like to close with a prayer for freedom for me and for all us approval addicts. Thank you, Cardinal Merry del Val.

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, hear me.
Deliver me from the desire to be esteemed,
From the desire to be loved,
From the desire to be extolled,
From the desire to be honored,
From the desire to be praised,
From the desire to be preferred to others,
From the desire to be consulted,
From the desire to be approved.

Deliver me from the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of being rebuked,
From the fear of being slandered,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected.

O Jesus, grant that I may desire that others may be more loved than I,
That others may be more esteemed than I,
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I decrease,
That others may be chosen and I be set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I, provided that I, too, become as holy as I can.

Did you celebrate Lent this year? What did you learn from your journey?

The Prayer Spiral: A Practice for Looking Outward

I am not a morning person, and generally when I wake up my initial thoughts are about one thing: me. I don’t want to get up. It’s so cold and dark! But I’m also hungry. Well, maybe five more minutes won’t hurt…

For this reason, I’m really thankful for my commute. I’m able to walk to my current workplace, which allows me 20 to 30 minutes of time to wake up, breathe the fresh air, and try to get my head on straight for the day. My commute used to be just another time to reflect on the same endless loop of fears and hopes. And now sometimes it still is, but I’ve gotten smart and consciously started a habit of praying in the morning.

I start out slow, by reciting the two greatest commandments to myself. This is good and simple for my sleepy brain, and like Pavlov’s dog, I now start doing it instantly when I leave the house. I follow it up with the Lord’s Prayer, another easy one. The hard part here is not just saying the words by rote, but really trying to concentrate on the meaning behind them. Sometimes I manage this better than other times, but at the very least, these two prayers are the stretching and warmup part of my morning spiritual workout.

Then I pray the Prayer Spiral, which is one of the best ways I’ve found of getting my morning brain to think about something other than me, me, me. As far as I know, this prayer was developed by one Sr. Shirley, who came to give workshops on Centering Prayer to my church community and threw this in as well. Sr. Shirley, if you ever read this, thank you for the wonderful gifts you gave us, and I hope you don’t mind me sharing my version here!

Sr. Shirley told us that once, someone told her to imagine the love of God as a set of concentric circles rippling out and out and out. She said she saw what they were getting at, but she still didn’t like the mental image of circles because they were “too closed.”  So she developed the Prayer Spiral, something that was completely open-ended. She even made her own set of prayer beads for the Spiral, giving each stop on the outward journey a tangible symbol for her to hold and touch, threaded on a light coil of wire, something to hold in her hand so she could hold on to the prayer better in her mind. If I was crafty like that I’d probably have done it too, but since I’m not, you’ll have to settle for the prayer itself without any cute, colorful prayer beads tutorial. Sorry!

Step 1: Pray for yourself. Sr. Shirley said she knew many of us would probably be shocked by this, and as a nun she took some time to get used to it herself. Yet she emphasized that the more she did it, the more important she found it was. For me, it makes sense, just like putting your own oxygen mask before assisting others, or taking the stick out of your own eye before you try to help someone with the speck in theirs.

Step 2: Special requests and other urgent situations. This is the time to pray for the co-worker who asked for your prayers on this particular day, your grandma’s surgery, a friend of a friend who is obviously having a hard time, the injustices in the world that keep you up at night, etc.

Step 3: Pray for your family and friends. Pretty self-explanatory.

Step 4: Pray for any groups you belong to. Your church or other spiritual community is an obvious one. Others might include the people with whom you work or volunteer, your book group, your high school class, whoever comes to mind. I also like to ask for good leadership and followership within these groups. (As a side note, I just love that the new Pope asked for the prayers of the faithful first thing, because I think we should be praying for our leaders constantly and they need our prayers.)

Step 5: Pray for your nation. Personally, I think it’s best to be a) humble and b) a little bit vague on this one. That is to say, I try not to assume I know what God would consider the perfect solution to any situation in my country and pray for that outcome. Also, while praying for blessings on my country, I also pray for mercy and grace for our mistakes.

Step 6: Pray for all nations, anything that caught your attention in the global headlines this morning, world peace… I’m sure we can all think of quite a few things for this category.

Step 7: Pray for the Earth. I have so much growing to do in this area. As someone who was raised without much consciousness of the cycles of the Earth, much less respect for her, I struggle to see the plants, animals, and land around me as my brothers and sisters in creation, and in fact older brothers and sisters if you go by Genesis. I also like to reflect on the many Psalms that describe the natural world rejoicing with us. What if we took those things seriously?

Step 8: Pray for the Universe. This is the last, unbounded prayer in thanksgiving for God’s great creativity. I pray for the things God has created about whom I have no knowledge whatsoever, whether deep sea creatures that have never seen the sun or possible intelligent life on other planets.

All of these prayers have a value of their own, of course, and they have the added bonus of countering my self-centeredness, reminding me of the interrelatedness of all creation, and maybe even inspiring me to take action and help make my prayers come true. I hope that, if you faithfully practice it, the Prayer Spiral will take you on a similar journey!

The Sabbath Was Made for Me

English: Six Braided Jewish Challah with sesame.

Challah is delicious! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I learned recently that a major study had found out not taking time to relax on weekends was the major predictor of heart attacks in their subjects, I thought, “Wow. Once again, God’s ways are better than we even knew.” I mean, seriously, it’s a little bit odd when you think about it that kosher laws specifically advise avoiding shellfish and pork, the meats most notably harmful to your health if they’re not cooked properly. And now we learn that keeping the Sabbath is good for you, of all things. Sometimes it’s good not to do a freaking thing but connect with God (as you understand God) and your friends and family – what a concept for those of us with the typical Western industrialized lifestyle.

Of course, when Jesus talked about the Sabbath, he mostly talked about not keeping it – at least not as it was understood by many people at that time. What had begun as a way of joyfully imitating God, who scheduled rest into the supreme act of work (i.e. creating the world as we know it), had become a burden to many. Terrified of doing anything that might count as work, they were suspicious even of God-honoring actions, like healing, on that day. Jesus asked them hard questions, like “What is lawful on the Sabbath – to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” He pointed out that inaction has consequences as much as action does, consequences that may not be in line with the heart of the Creator.

But he also said another surprising thing: “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.” That is to say, keeping the Sabbath is literally a constraint, but it’s not meant to constrain. Rather than an occasion of anxious rule-keeping, it should be a time of joy, of enjoying the world just as God did after creating it.

Moreover, observing such a day can be a way to experience time itself differently. This isn’t something I learned from experience, sadly, but from a graphic novel a friend gave me called Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch. Great book about, and I quote the cover, “yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl.” Most of the book is about said troll-fighting, and what it says about Mirka’s complicated relationship with the community of Hereville, but from Page 76 to Page 84, that action-packed narrative stops entirely so Mirka can celebrate Shabbos with her family. “It’s not that Mirka was an especially chassidishe [religiously observant] girl, by Hereville standards,” the narrator explains. “But being raised in Hereville had given Mirka an instinctive knowledge of which things belonged to Shabbos and which where uvdin d’choi [weekday things]. Troll-killing, Mirka understood, was not a Shabbos thing. Once the candles were lit, she would no more have [talked about it] than she would have deliberately sneezed on the khale.”

Well, I’m half-Jewish by birth (a story for another day), but I certainly wasn’t raised in this kind of world. I wonder what it would be like to have my time interrupted by a day that was devoted to rest, praising God, and blessing others. My weekends are usually full of work and play, one intertwined with the other. Sundays are different because I take time out to refresh myself with group worship, and I’m also in the habit of calling my mom on that day, but other than that it’s not much different than any other day off. But there is something in me that longs for that Sabbath experience, a time to put aside the worries and responsibilities of adult life and just connect with God and with people. I long to experience time in a different way sometimes, like the community depicted in Hereville, to leave my weekday worries behind to the extent that they never entered my mind.

I may not observe a regular Sabbath day (yet) but I definitely try to set aside Sabbath moments, so to speak. For the last few years, for instance, I’ve taken Good Friday off of work so I can set it apart to reflect on how, and why, Jesus died. And, on a lighter note, I try to observe Friday nights (ironically, closer to the original Sabbath!) as a night free of work as well. My partner and I put aside the work that follows us home, forget housework, and spend some time just focusing on each other. We often get out of the house to take a walk or visit the art museum in our city, which can help us turn our thoughts to things that are bigger than our everyday worries and stresses.

Taking a real Sabbath is tempting, though. Even though, as Hereville also emphasizes, it takes a lot of work to prepare for a day of true non-work (Cooking extra food! Doing the cleaning early! Pre-setting the table!), the attempt to totally distinguish between work and rest is both a foreign one to me and one that feels inherently sacred. If a basic definition of “holy” is “set apart,” setting apart time to connect fully and purely with God and loved ones is definitely holy. Whether it’s measured in moments or days, I want to strive for that.