Sabbath Greetings After Texas

I take my last bite of vanilla yogurt, sprinkled with ground, golden flax seed. The final contrast of smooth and gritty goes down. In the same moment I turn to the trinity of tiny windows that let too little light into my dining room (Tudors can be like that... designed to mute the sunny possibilities I've always loved).

Glancing through the winter-wearied glass, I see the little woods is lit up green. It was not so just four days ago, when I flew off to Texas for an artist's retreat. Did I consider how this place would blossom in my absence? Did I know?

I think of something one of the speakers said at the retreat. Something that disturbed me. I know he was telling the reticent artist to get up and get going, embrace ambition and stop waiting around for something to happen, as if things will just do that. It's a message for a certain kind of season. But I wondered if ambition could always be the answer. This is, if you will, my continuing thoughts on Sabbath come to life.

Which is grit? Ambition or waiting? Which is smooth? I swallow the two together, not knowing the answer. I swallow and marvel at the green parade outside my windows, yellow trumpets of forsythia already making way for lines of pink bleeding hearts. Sabbath thoughts. Smooth and gritty, marching on, going down.

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Sabbath, Gifts and Virility

Piecing together thoughts for my next chapter, on Sabbath. As always, so many thoughts. Too many thoughts. And my direction amorphous.

It helps to think out loud.

Today, trying to synthesize ideas from Lewis Hyde's The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. Creativity. That's one aspect of human activity that, according to Jewish thinkers, Sabbath puts aside. Not in the pleasure sense (playing my cello), but in the sense of trying to create something new that might solve a problem, meet a need (I know, is not pleasure a need?)

This word that I'd been thinking of in relation to Sabbath comes up in Hyde too: virility. I've been thinking Sabbath asks us to put aside virility (virility is related to creation too, and the possibility of healing). On the Sabbath, we agree to stop being virile. We agree to a cycle that includes not only advance but retreat. I think suddenly that it is fitting Jesus chose to heal on the Sabbath... He being virile for us while we rest in the gift of it.

Gifts, Hyde seems to suggest, also move in cycles. The giver at some point becomes the receiver. If the cycle is broken, the power of the gift diminishes. In a sense, we die. (And now too I think of the terrible Old Testament punishment for breaking Sabbath: death.)

So many thoughts. I think out loud, place them before You (and my friends here). Wait for a shakedown.

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Writing Towards Debt

Sometimes I wonder if my writing-life means anything significant, if it's okay that I want to do this, indeed that I DO it on a regular basis. It can feel selfish, this tucking away, this departure from daily tasks and other people to put words down, to set them like goblets, silver, china on a table that— at least temporarily— only I see, feel the wood and smell the fragrance of it.

Then (thank God... or thank you, God) I read something like this from John Leax's Grace is Where I Live...

...I find myself wondering how to pay that debt of gratitude I felt and feel for my life. I think I must begin where I am— sitting in my garden study— setting down these words.... I offer in thanksgiving and praise these nouns: painted lady, red admiral, tiger swallowtail, mourning cloak, cabbage white, monarch.

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Writing: Answers, Leadings, Sex, Darkness

I wake wondering, What to write? Where to go next?

Three chapters vie for my attention: Presence, Silence, Sabbath. I see their similarities too much, cannot untangle them, cannot decide... which path to walk. Each could follow the chapter I struggled through last Saturday... a chapter on Prayer, that took great boldness to write (I'm rather Victorian, really, when it comes to discussion of intimate union, but there it was... a chapter on prayer, complete with a thorn flower's invitation to sex, rooted in Song of Songs).

So I wake, wondering. A prayer upon my lips, Tell me, show me. Where to tread? I daydream in the darkness before I rise to meet the day, with my cup of Earl Gray and banana muffins I will freshly bake. I daydream about Presence, Silence, Sabbath.

And this keeps pressing me: Levitical laws about separating the woman during her 'time'... maybe, inexplicably, the 'time' is conduit of grace... the mandated separation is grace to man, woman and coupling. Too, Song of Songs calls to be extended through another chapter. But which one? And I don't want to write of this anyway. People will find me too bold. It's embarrassing, I think.

Presence is beginning to settle itself as the choice, but still I toil in my thoughts. I'm not courageous enough to go forward with these ideas. What will people think? Before going downstairs to mash bananas, grind flour, mix and bake, I enter my study and grab a book I'd decided not to read. The Tree of Life: Models of Christian Prayer. Too academic sounding. Too... I don't know. I open the book and land on a section called 'Prayer as Presence.' There is talk of Song of Songs. There is talk of darkness and separation. I think of Leviticus. I think of blood. I think of the cross. I think of rhythms of separation and union.

Thank you, I say aloud.

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