a little something extra

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sabbath: Evening

With this chapter we begin the downslope out of the book. It describes ways to create or celebrate Sabbath time by borrowing from various religious and cultural traditions that embrace Sabbath. I believe that Muller's intention is not just to promote those practices, but to stimulate his readers' imaginations to adapt or create their own Sabbath traditions. What you do isn't as important as how it works on you.

He begins with Evening, which is the traditional Sabbath commencement in Judaism. Since I grew up in the RCC, the evening approach is an intriguing novelty for me. Muller describes ritual bathing, lighting candles, sharing a meal, and blessing those gathered, as ways to introduce oneself to Sabbath time.

But the point isn't to be clean or well-lit or well fed, or even to be generous with one's blessings or the grateful recipient of others'. Instead, I think, the point is to adjust one's temperament, feelings and mindset into the Sabbath groove. (I love that word for its dual implication -- the strength of a track that will keep one going in the right direction, and the musical rhythm of an irresistible groove. Groovy...)

In Muller's phrase, this approach "gently alters the quality of our attention."

For my money, this is the best idea in the chapter. It bears repeating.

"Gently alters the quality of our attention."

Over the millennia of human development, lots of different people who have become recognized as spiritual leaders from diverse cultures have articulated this same idea. How you focus on or attend to what's going on around you determines the quality of your spiritual experience.

You can be in the middle of the most beautiful, quiet place, participating in the most moving ritual, but if the quality of your attention is aggressive, or unfocused, or worried, or whatever -- the spiritual experience will be lessened. And you can be in the middle of the most trying circumstances, in great danger or inescapable aggravation, but if the quality of your attention is serene, grateful, generous -- the spiritual experience will be there, under the least hospitable conditions.

Last weekend I attended an event that was essentially a panel discussion about a peace mission in Israel and Palestine. I expected a talking heads event, so imagine my surprise when I arrived and found a band setting up their equipment. Karma 101, originally from San Antonio (hi Cristopher!), had volunteered their time to play. Their music is a challenge to describe, but I'd put it on the border between improv jazz and the massive category of "world music." The interplay between the trumpet player and the amazingly talented random woodwind player was astonishing, and the vocalist's style was noticeably Arabic-influenced. It was a great choice for the evening.

And, it altered the quality of our attention. Or at least, it altered mine. I had been busy that day, with a music rehearsal in the morning (more about the Russian Peasant Extravaganza in a future post, soon) followed by a visit to my friends M* and H* and their brand new baby boy G* in the afternoon. By the time evening came, I'd been in the car too long and felt permanently rushed. The music smoothed that right out of me, leaving my brain stimulated and open, but cleansed of stress. When the panel began, I was more ready to listen than I had been when I entered the room.

And it all happened on a Saturday evening -- so there you have it!

Consciously altering the quality of my attention is the key to my adjustment into the Sabbath groove. The more frequently I do it, the better my life is. There are lots of ways to manage it -- Muller's old technique of "guerrilla blessing" does it well, as does my resolution to sing every day just because it's good for my body and heart -- so whether or not I use his more traditional suggestions from this chapter, I fully embrace the idea they're intended to promote.

Good job, Wayne.

Links will come here to Tripp's and Cristopher's posts when they go up.


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