My Catholic-raised mother has a two inch windup toy nun that sits patiently next to her laptop. When the urge comes – and we all know these urges come – to write back a fiery email to politicians or family members who speak politics, my mother turns the dial on the back of this two inch plastic figurine and watches it waddle up and down her desk, shooting sparks out of its mouth.
It is, if nothing else, a brief moment that my mother gives herself to sit with what she holds before reacting. I can tell when the emails were accompanied by the nun-walk — and when they weren’t.
““Just a minute,” said a voice in the weeds.” Begins Mary Oliver’s poem. “So I stood still” she writes, “in the day’s exquisite early morning light / and so I didn’t crush with my great feet / any small or unusual thing just happening to pass by / where I was passing by /…
In recent weeks a toy fire-spitting-nun or a voice from the weeds that demanded a moment so that I did not crush “any small or unusual thing just happening to pass by where I was passing by,” would have done me some good. Even on the best days, on the intentional days begun with a lit candle and a reading or prayer, I found myself peaking, as if someone would tell on me, at the clock as it ticked by and then over to my to-do list in the midst of my morning practice.
Who has time for such things, I wondered? “Just a minute,” I would hear. And on harder days, a cartooned and parental version of a nun would reprimand me until I breathed deeply again; until I settled into the small and unusual things passing by.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel has written,
“Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time.” “Just a minute,” let’s say that one more time. “Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time.” Heschel continues, “Unlike the space-minded man to whom time is unvaried, iterative, homogeneous, to whom all hours are alike, quality-less, empty shells, the Bible senses the diversified character of time. There are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious.”
If ever there was a prophet, Rabbi Heschel ranks high in this category for me, and so I desperately want to give myself over to his words and his Truths. I know what he declares: Stop. Pay Attention. Be aware of the gifts of the ordinary, of the small things passing by.
But even within what feels like the name calling, (unvaried, iterative, empty shells, quality-less!), I cannot argue on behalf of myself — I don’t have time. I hear the voice inside me that I try to silence say, yes each hour is precious, let’s get on with it, Heschel, I have things to do. And in this dismissal, I can see the Rabbi’s long beard swaying with his shaking head; his already slight eyes closing in frustration.
In the coming month we at UCS will be looking deeply at Sabbath and how this is a part of creating a sustainable environment within ourselves and for the greater whole. It is an impossible thought for some in the world of sports and music lessons and family outings to imagine Sabbath in a traditional sense; of stopping everything and of turning off.
But what’s interesting about Mary Oliver’s “Just wait a minute” and Rabbi Heschel’s “time aiming at the sanctification of time, is that these are active moments of pause. Life does not stop when we do. Rather, Sabbath makes room for more: more attention to those things we are very good at avoiding or ignoring; more space to look one another in the eye or let emotions arise as they need; more curiosity toward or deepening in the places we often rush; more and more and more of the things we may otherwise crush, the things that are unique and exclusive and endlessly precious. It is fact, a different kind of doing, a different kind of work than we are ever asked to do.
In this New Year, after a fall met with power outages and a winter met with our nation’s grief, making or recognizing each moment as holy feels like a worthy resolution. Let us not just pass by, but hear what speaks and journeys with us. “Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space;” Heschel writes, “on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time”
Blessings of peace, fire-spitting-nuns, and voices from the weeds to each of you this New Year.