Monday, January 17, 2011

Shabbat Shalom

After a wonderful lunch with churchmates, I decided to go to campus. Years ago, I had committed to obey (as best I could) the Sabbath (or at least the Christian variant), and so I’ve worked hard to not work hard on Sunday.

It is an incredible feeling. There is lots to do. But none of it can be done on Sunday, and so, for a brief window, I have complete freedom and no responsibility. No nagging, “You should be…”s; no guilt; no fear. Sunday is a fortress, with high walls between it and the catch-up work of Saturday, and the renewed stresses of Monday.

I made it to campus and parked. I walked around, pondering what I would, near the medical school. After a while, my feet were a bit tired, so I rested on a bench. The sun was warm, and I laid back, deep in thought and meditation. Then I realized that my thoughts were drifting away; I was tired.

I grabbed a sleeping pad from my car (Be Prepared is the motto of a Boy Scout, after all) and laid down on it in the grass, the warm afternoon sun shining down on me. It was winter, so it was not so harsh or vertical that I needed shade. Under this warmth, I drifted away into the long-lost land of sleep. I woke up refreshed. I can’t remember the last time I have taken a nap.

I decided to make my way over to Lagunita, a one-time lake with a beautiful trail along the edge of it. Perhaps I could enjoy the sunset from there. I drove to that side of campus, and on the way, noticed a beautiful field, shaded by several old trees. I love trees, especially very old trees, and the sight of these trees over the grasses struck me. I found a place to park and walked through the field of grass, tall and fresh with the recent rains. I wondered at the overlapping shadow of the blades of grass on each other and the orange hue that was falling over them. As I walked, I smiled broadly. The beauty was like water, and I drank it up with a great thirst. If anyone had seen me, they might of though me mad, for as I walked, I laughed out loud. What else could one do before such joy?

I sat down under the spreading oak tree and admired the field. It was beautiful! A chill ran down my spine all the way down my legs. I took a deep breath. Another chill came. My heart was filled with gratitude toward the Creator, this great Artist. My heart was heavy, a strange feeling that had never before come with gratitude (by the way, I’m not quite sure how, neurologically, we can feel a ‘heavy heart,’ though we all have). I have felt my heart heavy with sadness or guilt, but never with gratitude. The field was serene, and I heard nothing but the occasional light rustle of a falling leaf. My hands felt the rugged bark of the tree, and I picked up handfuls of dirt just to know its feel.

Leaving the tree, I looked back at the scene, the same perspective as before but now an hour later; the shadows were changed, the brightness reduced, and every color warmed. A chorus of birds began to sing behind me. Each thing, from the blade of grass to the great oak, was made for Beauty. Old Oak was made to sing worship to his creator in a deep, slow baritone; Madam Bird in her sweet tweet, tweet. The thought of it overwhelmed me. My heart was full of beauty and gratitude. With this final stroke, it overflowed and I cried.

Oh Lord! Why have you loved me so? Why have you given me eyes to see such wonders, fingers to feel the simple beauty? Why have you so flooded the earth with such wonders? Am I a billionaire that I can afford admission to such a scene? Have I done some great deed to be rewarded with such treasure as the Birdsong or the Canticle of the Oak?

Thank you for raining beauty upon all the earth, that any open vessel might catch it. Thank you, Abba, for loving me.

1. 14/14 days; 2. 180/180 minutes; 3. 2/2 weeks


  1. I just came along on this outing with you and it was beautiful. Thank you!

  2. I'm glad of the company, and that some part of that joy might be shared!

    It reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Francis Bacon:

    "This communicating of a man's self to his friend works two contrary effects : for it redoubleth joys, and cutteth griefs in halves. For there is no man that imparteth his joys to his friend, but he joyeth the more ; and no man that imparteth his griefs to his friend, but he grieveth the less."

  3. Hey David!

    Saw this post on your status. Shabbat is great isn't it?...I mean you don't have to ask me twice to not work!

    I was in Jerusalem this past summer and got my first taste of a "real" Shabbat. It is amazing to see how such a big city can turn into such a calming place. Ever since then, I think I really realized what a great thing it was.

    Hope you're well!


  4. It's totally the most awesome command (and I'm pretty sure if a teacher of the law asked Jesus, "Rabbi, what is the most totally awesome command?" He'd agree).

    That's really cool! It's a curious tradition, and there's something to it that I don't yet understand. In the meantime, I'll enjoy it!