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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Palace in Time

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert with Montana Monardes, Worship Associate, And Erica Shadowsong, Director of Religious Exploration

A Palace in Time

A sermon preached by the Reverend Diane Teichert

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

January 13, 2013


The notion of the sabbath day being like “a palace in time” – which gave me the sermon title and the quotation at the top of your order of service – can be found in the slim volume published in 1951, The Sabbath:  Its Meaning for Modern Man by the revered twentieth century rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.  So many years have passed, I am not sure if the meaning he finds in the sabbath can still be said to be “modern.” But I still find it deeply appealing.

The meaning of the sabbath is not to be found in what we must not do on the sabbath. Its meaning is found in a quality of time that is possible when we are not busy “doing” and are instead more simply “being,” either alone or with others similarly unengaged in the business of doing.

Heschel wrote,

“To the biblical mind… the Sabbath as a day of rest, as a day of abstaining from toil, is not for the purpose of recovering one's lost strength and becoming fit for the forthcoming labor. The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of his work... The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of Sabbath. It is not an interlude but the climax of living.”

He went on,

“Three acts of God denoted the seventh day: He rested, He blessed, and He hallowed the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3). To the prohibition of labor is, therefore, added the blessing of delight and the accent of sanctity. Not only the hands of man celebrate the day; the tongue and the soul keep the Sabbath. One does not talk on it in the same manner in which one talks on weekdays. Even thinking of business or labor should be avoided.

Labor is a craft, but perfect rest is an art. It is the result of an accord of body, mind, and imagination. To attain a degree of excellence in art, one must accept its discipline, one must adjure slothfulness. The seventh day is a palace in time which we build. It is made of soul, of joy and reticence. In its atmosphere, a discipline is a reminder of adjacency to eternity.” (p. 14-15)

Do you feel like time is something you build? For most of us, time is something to be spent, like money. Think about it:  we ask, “How did you spend your time? Did you spend it wisely?” Time to most of us is like a possession, something that we have or (more likely) do not have. We say, “I don’t have time to do this” and it is more-often-than-not that which we long to do that we do not have time to do. Correction: that we do not FEEL we have time to do. Surely, I didn’t have time to take a bicycle ride yesterday when I got home from the UU Legislative Ministry of Maryland annual meeting in Annapolis, because there was sermon writing left to do. But how much better the writing went because I did take that ride!

Oops, did you catch me, thinking that the purpose of that bit of sabbath-like time spent bicycling on an unseasonably warm January day was to rejuvenate myself for the work of sermon-writing? Heschel says the purpose of taking a sabbath is not to make our work go better. The sabbath is not the means to a productive end, it is an end in itself. Its purpose lies in the quality of time we build. It’s like a palace we build for ourselves, by which I think he means this quality of time is lovely or elegant, and makes us feel like royalty – “royalty” not as in “a ruler,” but as in “special,” a time in which we experience the best that life has to offer.

The sabbath is not just for the gainfully employed. Even retired people need sabbath time, as a rest from the busyness so many of you say fills your time that you don’t know how you ever had time for your jobs. And people who are self-employed, feel they have too much free time, or are kind of depressed might feel more productive if they structured their week around a day set aside for quality sabbath time. Similarly, people home with children benefit from sharing sabbath time with them.

Heschel quotes a rabbinical midrash, or commentary, from around 300 CE. It refers to the Fourth Commandment and makes a very helpful, and very modern, sounding suggestion:   “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work. Is it possible for a human being to do all his work in six days? Does not our work always remain incomplete? What the verse means to convey is: Rest on the Sabbath as if all your work were done. Another interpretation:  Rest even from the thought of labor.”

I find it strangely comforting to realize that a tendency toward workaholism was such a problem for humans going back for as long as the Torah has existed, dated by scholars to the sixth century BCE, that it was addressed by a commandment, one of only ten.  On a par with adultery, murder, stealing and lying!

We of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries industrialized world didn’t invent this problem. While it does seem that electronic hand-held devices have certainly intensified the problem, they didn’t cause it. Use of our smart phones is just one more thing to NOT do on the Sabbath. 

I say “just” in complete DIS-honesty – I am caused immediate panic by the apparent, even momentary, misplacement of my smart phone! Loose it and I’ve lost my memory and my ability to communicate. I’ve lost access to my personal and work email correspondence, calendar, map, the phone numbers of everyone I love and more, up-to-the-minute traffic and weather conditions, photos, Facebook, and the coolest “app” of them all:  Starwalk which identifies constellations, planets and other heavenly bodies in the sky above me at the moment.

Our generations are not the first to have this problem and our technology is not the cause of it. So maybe the solution to the problem is just as old: remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Rest AS IF your work is done!

You got a good start on it today:  you came here to celebrate life, to worship, to help create this beloved community. That’s Sabbath-worthy activity. How might you extend this Sabbath day beyond the end of the service?

Might you linger after it with others who also set apart this hour or two for sabbath-like time and engage with them at a deeper level than usual, less chat and more sharing? Might you invite someone over, or out to lunch, afterwards? Might you attend an Enrichment Hour program or our Adult Religious Exploration class “Aging Well to the End”?

Might you spend the afternoon in activity that reminds you that you are a “human being” not a “human doing”? Napping, reading, walking, writing, visiting, singing, serving, listening to music, painting, drawing, photographing, meditating, doing yoga, biking, daydreaming, brooding, love-making, baking, gardening, tinkering, praying, playing games with friends or children, being a Sunday driver on unfamiliar roads, or what?

What is to be your palace in time today? Remember Heschel’s words:  it is an atmosphere, not a day of the week. It is the result of an accord of body, mind, and imagination - it is made of soul, of joy and of reticence.  It is an atmosphere. In it we are adjacent to eternity. How will you build your palace in time?

The order of worship says we will sing next and then meditate, but I’ve decided I’d like to invite you into a time of silent meditation first, which I will conclude with “Amen,” after which David will play once through and then we will rise and sing it together.

Before we sing, I invite you to dwell together in shared silence. I invite you to contemplate these questions: 

Do you desire to experience the palace in time more often in your life? If you do, how might your body, mind and imagination reach that accord? How might you build it of soul, of joy and of reticence?  How will you build your palace in time?

(Five minutes). Amen.

Please rise in body or in spirit to sing # 204 “Come O Sabbath Day.”

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