A few years ago, when I was studying Judaism, my friend Mary invited me to share Sabbath with her family. I joined them at a table full of delicious food, lit by candles, and I heard her prayer in Hebrew inviting God’s presence, taking a moment to be thankful for the resting place.
Sipping wine and eating delicious vegetarian dishes, we spoke in the sacred space created by community. Sabbath was never something I acknowledged before: it was simply another day to get things done, another day to work on all the things I had laid to the side during the hectic week.
This year my word for the year (in lieu of resolutions) was “present.” Being present is an exercise in slowing down, in being still, in creating a sacred space in the here and now. Being present is prelude and overture of Sabbath.
I was reading about the Sabbath year in Judaism. The Hebrew word used, “shmita” , means literally “release.” Today, I find that symbolic and comforting. To think that every 7th year, God asked the Jews to release – to take a year and just watch life grow around them (without making it happen). Take a year to walk through fields overgrown with wildflowers and weeds and enjoy the beauty of nature. Take a year to sit with your family in a sacred space surrounded by community and eat the fruit of what you have already struggled to produce.
In many ways, this year is my Sabbath year. Certainly, when I chose the word “present” I wasn’t thinking of Sabbath. I wasn’t thinking of rest or release. I was just thinking of intentionally uniting my heart and my body, in one place, in one space of time. But being present has taught me about rest. And it fills me with gratitude when I think about the “release” part of Sabbath.
I have spent my life struggling – I’m fairly certain I struggled coming into the world and, as my grandmother told me, “If there’s more than one way to do something, you can bet we’ll choose the harder way.” Harder felt like penance. It felt like earning what I have. It felt like worthiness to me.
But today I’m learning what it means to let go. Today I’m walking into a year of Sabbath release. Today I’m surrounding myself with the family I chose, and with lighted candles and sing-song prayers, I am making this table a sacred space. It seems like I’m the last to realize that the candles and the food and the muted laughter fill this place with magic and holiness.
My Sabbath involves more than rest (for a moment, on idle, ready to go again at any moment). My Sabbath involves release: release of the reins, release of the expectations, release of the struggle to be worthy. My Sabbath table holds the goodness of work I’ve done and the promise of future success, but in this moment, I rest and I release the plans and projects and fears and busy-ness. I’m so thankful for this community, and for the community I have surrounded myself with on this Sabbath year. I’m so grateful, and in being grateful, I am present.