Monday, September 27, 2010

Holidays/Holy Days

Opening Reading

"But there is something in the Jewish Sabbath that is absent from most Christian Sundays: a true cessation from the rhythms of work and world, a time wholly set apart, and, perhaps above all, a sense that the point of Shabbat, the orientation of Shabbat, is toward God.

Pick up any glossy women’s magazine from the last few years and you’ll see what I mean. The Sabbath has come back into fashion, even among the most secular Americans, but the Sabbath we now embrace is a curious one. Articles abound extolling the virtues of treating yourself to a day of rest, a relaxing and leisurely visit to the spa, an extra-long bubble bath, and a glass of Chardonnay. Take a day off; the magazines urge their harried readers. Rest.

There might be something to celebrate in this revival of Sabbath, but it seems to me that there are at least two flaws in the reasoning… We could call the second problem with this current Sabbath vogue the fallacy of the direct object. Whom is the contemporary Sabbath designed to honor? Whom does it benefit? Why, the bubble-bath taker herself of course! The Bible suggests something different. In observing the Sabbath, one is both giving a gift to God and imitating Him. Exodus and Deuteronomy make this clear when they say, “Six days shall you labor and do all your work but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” To the Lord your God.
Lauren Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath, pp 11-12

One of the reasons we are gathering each Tuesday is because it is important to give attention to what matters and to talk about it. It is a form of discipline. Broadening the conversation helps us grow. Our readings this morning reference Shabbat and the Christian Sabbath, both Holy days. It is not a mistake that the authors are Christian women trying hard to carve out sacred space in busy lives. Protestants seems not to do that very well.

Here at MIT we have a particularly difficult time in this regard. We are a place that seldom slows down. I was a bit taken aback the other day when my wife described me as having a very ordered life. By that she meant things were planned out in advance, scheduled. I immediately took offense thus proving her point because I have a very long list of things I do not get done and wish to do. If ordered, I am always behind.

I may be disciplined but I do not always get things done as I would wish and I seldom celebrate holy days. My style is holiday. Your know that the words have the same root and you also know as well the difference between Shabbat and the 4th of July. One celebrates us; the other points to God.

We serve our students best when we model behaviors that point beyond ourselves to the things that shape our lives. N.T. Wright has written:

"We honor and celebrate our complexity and our simplicity by continually doing five things. We tell stories. We act out rituals. We create beauty. We work in communities. We think our beliefs. No doubt you might think of more but that’s enough for the moment. In and through all these things run the threads of love and pain, fear and faith worship and doubt, the quest for justice, the thirst for spirituality, and the promise and problem of human relationship. And if there’s any such thing as “truth,” in an absolute sense, it must relate to, and make sense of, all this and more...
Take away any of these elements, as frequently happens—take away stories, rituals, beauty, work, or belief—and human life is diminished.”

From Simply Christian by N.T. Wright, pp. 49-50.

When you are always in holiday mode, you do not give attention to the substance of life. We fail to tell stories; we may act out rituals, but they are the rituals of self indulgence. Too much booze, to much food, too much sex; beauty is eroded and community destroyed by our self-indulgence. I see it most often in students who do not know that alcohol has more than one purpose, getting wasted.

Holy Days stop us in our tracks and ask of us that we think about what is finally important. I have found it touching to watch the Jimmy Carter family come to grips with their legacy as a political force. When he left the White House, it was clear that Jimmy Carter was wounded by the way things played out. His presidency was in the eyes of many a failed presidency. Carter has come to grips with what he did and did not do and seems now to feel comfortable with what he accomplished. His public wrestling with the past should give us all some comfort as we do the same. And Wright gives us a way of thinking about the process. Let us tell stories, act out rituals, create beauty and work in communities while thinking about our faith. We can never give too much attention to why we do things.

Let me offer a modest suggestion: Let each of us each week or month, tell a story, and make a record of it, that illustrates what we value. Carter spoke into a tape recorder, we may not have that luxury but if we consciously try to illustrate what is important to us over time a picture will emerge of who we are and what we value. The effort will make part of each day holy, and the sum will help us be whole.
Robert M.Randolph
Chaplain to the Institute

Closing Reading

"When I was a junior in high school, my boyfriend Herb played on the varsity basketball team. He was not the star player, however. The star player was a boy named David, who scored so many points during his four-year career that the coach retired his jersey when he graduated. This would have been remarkable under any circumstances, but it was doubly so since David did not play on Friday nights. On Friday nights, David observed the Sabbath with the rest of his family, who generously withdrew when David’s Gentile friends arrived., sweaty and defeated, after Friday night home games.

David would sit there in his kippah, openly delighted with the blow-by-blow description of the game. While the Shabbat candles still flickered….

I still remember the night someone asked David if it did not kill him to have to sit home on Friday nights while his team was getting slaughtered in the high school gymnasium. “No one makes me do this,” he said. “I’m a Jew, and Jews observe the Sabbath.” Six days a week, he said, he loved nothing more than playing basketball and he gladly gave all he had to the game. On the seventh day, he loved being a Jew more than he loved playing basketball, and he just as gladly gave all he had to the Sabbath. Sure, he felt a tug but that was the whole point. Sabbath was his chance to remember what was really real. Once three stars were visible in the Friday night sky, his identity as a Jew was more real to him than his identity as the star of our basketball team.
When I was seventeen years old, I had never heard anyone my age say anything like that before. Thirty-seven years later, I remember that living room as clearly as if I were looking at a photograph of it, with David sitting on the sofa like a rabbi teaching the rest of us the way of life…. Sabbath was not a burden for him… Sabbath was who he was.”
Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church, pp. 136-137.