Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Rami's Response to Mike 4/14

Your mention of time made me think of Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the great rabbis and sages of the 20th century. Heschel called the Sabbath a “palace in time.” It is an evocative term. When we think of palaces we think of space, and when we think of space we think of the things that define and fill that space. But time is something else.

Time isn’t bounded by things or filled with things. Time is bounded by consciousness and filled with memory. Where a palace is all about tangibles, time is all about intangibles. So what we to make of a “palace of time”?

I think Heschel is offering us a paradox that, if we can learn to hold it, has the potential to transform our lives. For one day each week, 25 hours in the traditional Jewish way of making the Sabbath, we are to live with the intangible. We are to live without having, and simply by being. Having is the way the ego lives in the world: grasping and clinging to things and imagining itself to be just one more thing. Being is the way the soul lives in the world: open, empty, engaged and engaging but not attached. The Sabbath is a day for soul living, for being rather than having. In this I would say the best way to live the Sabbath is through play. Everything we do on the Sabbath should be done playfully, joyfully, and fearlessly.

Of course learning to play the Sabbath may take practice, just like learning to play the violin or chess takes practice. But eventually you relax and just play. I think this idea of play works well with your issues of rhythm permission, community, and idolatry.

Too many of us imagine God creating the world as a very serious business. I imagine it is more like play. Play has its own rhythm, and a playful God would live attune to that rhythm. Permission to play would be embedded in a creation that was the product of play, and play is intrinsically communal. And when we play we smash the idols that enslave us. Idols only have power when taken seriously. Play is the enemy of the serious. True, play can become serious as it does in professional sports and the Olympics for example, but then it is no longer play but work.

Religion all too often takes the play out of life and certainly out of the Sabbath. The history of Sabbath laws both Jewish and Christian takes the play out of it. What would church and synagogue be like if people gathered there once each week to play? That would be something!

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