Returning Home to the Sacred

Saturday morning.

I wake up leisurely, leaving bed only when my cells feel completely satiated with rest. On weekdays, I typically start my morning with a cup of coffee to rev up my brain for productivity. Not Saturday. Today I check in with myself: what would be delightful to drink? I decide to make matcha green tea with milk and honey – sweet, mellow, restorative. I sit on the couch to drink it. And I breathe.  

For over a decade, I’ve been taking baby steps to incorporate the Jewish concept of Shabbat, the weekly day of rest, into my life.

My family observed a moderate form of Shabbat when I was growing up. This meant eating a special dinner on Friday nights complete with candles, wine, delicious challah bread, and blessings.

In college, I was accepted into the Maimonides Jewish Leadership Fellowship. Fellows attended weekly seminars and three Shabbatons, which were immersive Shabbat learning experiences. For each Shabbaton, I would hurry from campus in Binghamton, New York to drive out to Scranton, Pennsylvania, or Monsey, New York in order to arrive at the home of a traditional Jewish family before sundown. Once the sun set, Shabbat began.

In the biblical story, earth, light, and all living beings were created over the course of six days. On the seventh day, all creation ceased and a full day of rest was observed. On this day, all of that effortful work was honored, and energy was restored to prepare for the next creative cycle. This day of rest was both reflective and restorative.

Upon my arrival at a family’s home, I would receive a warm welcome and was then shown to my room. I would share my room with another visiting Maimonides fellow. I would then set up my belongings around my guest bed and turn off my cell phone, as it is prohibited to use electronic devices on Shabbat. I’d tuck my wallet into my suitcase where it would remain untouched until the following evening, and my notebooks and pens inside my backpack. Exchanging money and writing are also prohibited on Shabbat.

Any activity that could be considered an act of creation or work is prohibited.

I would then join my host family for dinner. Around a white tablecloth with silver candlesticks, we would say blessings, drink wine, and eat challah. After a delicious meal and plenty of conversation, I’d return to my room to chat some more with my roommate du jour and read a novel in bed. I would go to sleep early and wake up late, proceeding to spend Saturday alternating between talking, sharing meals, and reading books until sundown when Shabbat ended and the new week began.

For a college student whose days were filled with studying, partying, and checking Facebook, these Shabbat experiences were profound. They were grounding; they settled my mind and body from their typical whir of activity. They were cleansing; they filled me with rest, home-cooked food, and thoughtful conversation.

Only by experiencing this day of rest did I realize how deeply hungry for it I was. Though I had never observed Shabbat quite like this before, it felt familiar.

It was as if I was returning home.

I vowed that I would incorporate Shabbat into my life, no matter how modern nor how busy my life became. I know how it feels to live in constant distraction. By creating the space for Shabbat, I secure my return home to a richer plane of existence,  

These are the four guidelines I use to protect this space:

Carve out hours – I choose 6pm Friday to 6pm Saturday.

Unplug – I turn off my cell phone. I turn off my laptop. There will be no texting, emailing, googling, nor calling. I cannot overemphasize how much this adds to the whole experience.

Tune inward – This is a day to return within. I shift my attention from the external world to my internal world. I listen to the signals from my mind, heart, and body to determine how to use the time restoratively..

Honor desire –  Sometimes, my body screams to play outside and enjoy sunshine. On cold or rainy days, all I want is to curl up on my couch with a good book and a cup of tea. I’ve hiked and biked for hours, and meditated in sacred spaces. As long as I’m following my instincts for enjoying life, I’m in the right place.

My Shabbats remind me that I am here, a body visiting this earth. They remind me that there is great abundance in being alive and that I must not lose sight of it. They are a day to zoom out beyond the day-to-day rhythms of my routines so that I may reconnect with my larger sense of purpose. They are a day to zoom in, to sharpen my senses for listening to my inner rhythms that can be so easily drowned out by outer noise. In this weekly ritual, I reclaim my route back to the sacred.

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