Week 3 – The Splendor of Space and Only Heaven and Nothing Else?

This is the answer to the problem of civilization: not to flee from the realm of space; to work with things of space, but to be in love with eternity.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, pg 48

Read and reflect

This week, read chapters 3 and 4 of The Sabbath. As you read, reflect:

In chapter 3, Heschel gives us a story of a debate about temporal things versus eternity. Rabbi Shimeon is distressed that people are spending all their time in worldly activity rather than studying and praying. But we have to do some worldly things to live in this world, like go to the grocery store and mow the lawn.

How do you reconcile the required daily activities of our lives with the commandment to pray and study and nothing else? How can we bring an attitude of Sabbath into our daily lives? In Christian terms, how do we pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17)?

In this story, we see extremes – while some admired the skills and ingenuity of the Romans, Rabbi Shimeon finds it exasperating and disgusting, a waste of time. So he takes himself and his son to live in a cave for 12 years.

What brokenness in this world makes you want to run and hide in a cave? How does your sabbath practice teach you to cope with your desire to escape?

Rabbi Shimeon and his son find tranquility after they meet the old man carrying myrtle in preparation for the sabbath. (Myrtle is part of Sabbath celebrations as a symbol of life and fertility.) Shimeon and his son are initially determined to wipe out the secular world, but when Shimeon sees the old man with the myrtle, he imputes to him the faithfulness of Israel.

When you are feeling far away from God, what does the faithfulness of the whole Church mean to you?

In Chapter 4, Heschel brings us to a place of recognizing the middle way as the way to live with both temporal things and things of eternity – in the world but not of the world (John 17:11 and 14-15.) Heschel says the symbol of the old man running toward Sabbath personifies Israel welcoming Sabbath as a bride (see page 48). “Things are our tools,” says Heschel. “Eternity, Sabbath, is our mate.” Heschel equates Sabbath with eternity.

How do you specifically propose to live the “middle way”?

Closing reading

“Amish Economy” by Wendell Berry

Click the link.

More resources on Sabbath

Shabbat: The Sabbath Influence

This article by Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook is an excellent explanation of Rabbi Shimeon and his son’s reaction to the old man carrying myrtle. “The very fact that the Sabbath is able to influence the days of work reveals the soul’s innate closeness to God,” says Rabbi Kook.


Acedia and Sabbath

The early monks called it acedia; we know it now as sloth. But it’s not a clinical diagnosis; it’s what our bodies will do to us if we neglect the rest we need. In essence, says Fr. Ron Rolheiser. “Our lives of work, our everyday agenda, and our normal anxieties, are to be regularly punctuated by a time in which we lay down the hammer, lay down our agenda, lay down our work-a-day worries and simply sit, rest, vegetate, enjoy, soak-in, luxuriate, contemplate, pray, and let things take care of themselves for a while. We will do Sabbath, one way or the other.


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