A Shabbas Table: The Gift of Shabbat

"The Sabbath (in Hebrew, Shabbat, pronounced shah-BAHT--or in some communities, Shabbos, "SHAH-bis")... is portrayed in the Bible as the pinnacle of the creation of the universe, and its observance can be seen as a reminder of the purposefulness of the world and the role of human beings in it."
-- from Primer: Shabbat

I'm not Jewish. Not culturally anyway, ancestrally there are some ties. But in any case, a draw to Judaism has long been inside and in my mid twenties I nearly converted. The very deepest draw I had there was to Shabbat. And ironically the reason I did not convert in the end was... Shabbat. It's a bit of a story.

I "discovered" Shabbat one Saturday in my early twenties. I was walking home from a favorite bookstore one friday, the sun was barely setting as I was walking along a path by a lake, and suddenly it hit me, out of the blue, that this was SHABBAT. I hit me so strongly that I had to sit down right then and there by the water. I felt this indescribable peace as the sun slowly set there by that lake, as Shabbat ushered in. It was a peace like sun on slowly rippling water, like light of a flame heartening the sky's mist, like an angel puting their arms around you and the scent of ocean and roses surrounding you, like the peace of blueness and gentle sky and rain as you are leaning against a warm and strong amber filled tree. Lacking the words, i have to rely upon images like this.

However its described, this "Shabbat peace" followed me home...where I lit two candles, dished up some yummy soup, and started writing stories in my journal with such a sense of protectedness and feeling held. The air had a palpable serenity and nurturance and sanctity, the serenity and nurturance and sanctity of Shabbat. And from then on I kept Shabbat, learning all I could about it.

This led to a serious draw to conversion, and I eventually moved for awhile to New York to study with a wonderful Rabbi. But something happened. My body just hated Manhattan. It was ironic, because my mind truly loved the museums and such, but my body just collapsed. I was sick all the time from the pollution and crowding and chaos, and couldnt find the calm in that storm. So I moved to a smaller suburb, a quieter and Italian Catholic suburb, where my body and spirit were more at ease. And then I started somehow leading this sort of "double life". Friday afternoon through Sunday morning or so I was in Manhattan going to temple and spending Shabbat with friends there, and then on Sunday when I was back home I would find myself at mass in the very traditional Catholic church near the house, one similar to the church I grew up with. And this "double life" went on for months.

Then one day it happened. It was a weekday and I was babysitting a little boy, and I on foot and he in his stroller we found ourselves in that little neighborhood church (luckily it is left open) and I was drawn like a magnet to say a prayer and light a candle. So I was there, on this weekday (not a friday evening), in this little church (not a synagogue), a little child beside me, having just been having a little walk now lighting this candle like so many do.... and suddenly that same peace that I had felt on that first Shabbat years ago on the lake was back.

And something clicked then, at a body level (verbal understanding would only come later, and even then only sort of). A wordless sense that this sacred peace, and feeling "held by heaven", this Shabbat-ness, it was DEEPER than Judaism... including it, but broader. It was about being human and a child of God. One of the incredible beauties of Judaism is that they keep Shabbat with such richness and depth, but Shabbat is part of being a child of God, not just a Jewish child of God. And though it took a while to make the shift, eventually after that experience I decided not to convert.

There is so much about Judaism that I still quite deeply love, but culturally I always knew I was standing outside at a window looking in...when I didnt have to be. Because those candles on the table, those "angels of peace, come in peace", that bonding of family and centrality of God and home, they are for all of us. And we should be snug inside that proverbial home, not just watching outside from a window. Our Blessed Mother herself, after all, lit those Shabbat candles. So even though I am not Jewish, I keep a somewhat traditional Shabbat on Saturdays (beginning sundown Friday), as well as a day of rest and praise on Sundays (beginning sundown Saturday). To the criticism of many I'm sure, but in my heart it truly does feel right for me.

So a Good Shabbas to you, whoever you may be. Be assured that whatever your culture or race or formal creed you are a child of God...and we are all, as children of God, given this incredibly precious gift of Shabbat, if we but turn to Him and open to His Grace...

(Image from Urban Hearth )

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