From Father Smith: The Gift of Sabbath
“Time management” is something that has never been easy for me. There is a picture of me in an old high-school yearbook that I rediscovered not long ago. In the photo I am on the move, with tie askew, looking harried and harassed; and underneath the photo there is a caption that reads, “I can’t believe how much work I have to do.” Saint Mary’s Business Manager, Aaron Koch, insists that I still say that, and do so with some regularity. Some things never change, or perhaps they only change with difficulty.
As I looked at that photograph recently, I found myself thinking about the time-management problem. One thing led to another and I was suddenly thinking about the Sabbath; and I had to admit that I have broken the fourth commandment a lot during my life. I have often failed to “remember” it and to keep it holy.
This summer, I have been reading a short but remarkable book by the late rabbi and theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972), who taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary here in New York from 1946 until his death. The book is called The Sabbath. It is not a work of liturgical history and Heschel’s audience is not just his fellow professors or rabbis. It is a work of spirituality, or perhaps of pastoral theology, although I’m not sure that the latter is a particularly Jewish term.
As I work my way through Heschel’s book there are things in it that are familiar, things that have clear parallels in Christian history and tradition; and yet there is much in the work that has allowed me to experience “the shock of the new” in a wonderful and very helpful way. For Heschel, Judaism is pre-eminently a “religion of time [that aims] at the sanctification of time,” rather than a religion in which the Holy is located in, or limited to, a particular space. He writes, “While the deities of other peoples were associated with places or things, the God of Israel was the God of events: the Redeemer from slavery, the Revealer of Torah, manifesting Himself in events of history rather than in things or places. Thus, the faith in the unembodied, in the unimaginable was born.” Rabbi Heschel does not fail to acknowledge the importance of Sinai and of Zion in the religion of Israel. The Jerusalem Temple was obviously of central importance, as he points out. (He also acknowledges the importance of the Holy Land. Heschel’s book was written in 1951, just after the birth of the State of Israel; and some critics felt that that Heschel had neglected to stress the importance of the Land because of his focus on sacred time.) However, in the end, for Heschel “the Sabbaths are [Judaism’s] great cathedrals.” Heschel was convinced that Judaism survived both the destruction of the Temple (by the Romans in AD 70), as well as the Holocaust, because its rituals and its Holy of Holies were “constructed” in time and not in space. He refers to the Sabbath, the festivals, the Jubilee Year, as “forms in time, as [an] architecture of time” (emphasis in the original).
For Abraham Heschel, this had important consequences. It meant that God was the Lord of history, of creation, and of time. God was not just another “thing.” He was not something that could be imprisoned in a particular place. God was not to be manipulated, controlled or turned into the servant of human desires or whims. Nevertheless, God had created time and had given his people the gift of the Sabbath so that he could meet them in time, in “holy” time, so that they themselves could become holy; and, Heschel says, the rules, the customs and the “abstentions” surrounding Sabbath observance are not ends in themselves. On the contrary, they are meant to free humans from the constraints that occur during the six days that are not Sabbath: the burdens of making and doing, of labor and toil, of earning money and making a living, and of the anxieties that come from ambition, competition and achievement. The Sabbath is given to us by God as a “place” where we can meet him, no matter who we are, rich or poor, educated or not, so that we can acknowledge time and mortality without evasion, and, most important, where we can know that we are not just things, defined by the amount of “stuff” that we have amassed. The Sabbath is time during which we are given a “foretaste” of eternity, so that we can know, whatever our condition, that we are all equal in the eyes of God and that we are all meant for eternity.
As a Christian, one cannot help but ask how the Incarnate One, God who has “emptied himself” into time, space and history, can fit into Heschel’s understanding of holy time, holy space, and holy things; but still I’ve loved his book and, as the summer moves on, I find myself giving thanks for moments of Sabbath. This summer I’ve enjoyed quiet days by a lake in the Adirondacks, conversation with friends, reading, eating, time with my family and time with my spouse. I’ve experienced the sudden joy of praying with colleagues and parishioners after many days of praying alone. I’ve discovered the newly-opened High Line, seen a Klimt painting, eaten cool watermelon at Coffee Hour on a steamy day, and heard a gorgeous Mass setting for just three voices. There has been time alone. There’s been quiet and silence and a respite from defining myself by my “busy-ness.” Finally, there has been a grace-filled moment, or two or three, when I experienced God as someone who invites me to be with him, in time and in eternity, both now and forever. I hope and pray that, wherever you are, you too are enjoying some Sabbath, and are letting God give you the paradoxical gift of eternity in the midst of time. Jay Smith
SUNDAY PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Francis, Doris, and Edgar, priest, who are hospitalized; and for Cindy, Carol, Hardy, Demetrio, Margaret, Eva, Allan, Dorothy, Harold, Marcia, Stephen, Madeleine, William, Gert, Mary, Daisy, Rick, Allan, and Roy, priest; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Marc, Omar, Benjamin, Steven, Andrew, and Patrick . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . August 2: 1880 William Schekeler; 1895 Angeline Clark Prentice; 1998 Elizabeth Flinn.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Father Edgar Wells is at Roosevelt Hospital, recovering from knee-replacement surgery. He has begun his rehabilitation and is doing well, although his physical therapy is proving to be somewhat tiring. We expect that he will be going home relatively soon. He is very grateful for all the support that he has received from the people and clergy of Saint Mary’s. As Father Wells continues to recover, we recommend that you keep him in your prayers and, if you would like, send him a get-well card (you may call the Parish Office for his contact information); however, please give Father a chance to get some rest and continue his rehabilitation. He assures us that he won’t be offended if you don’t get to the hospital to visit him! We will continue to keep you posted . . . Frances Geer is still a patient at Mount Sinai Medical Center. Margaret Malone is in rehabilitation at Amsterdam House. Please keep them in your prayers as well . . . Father Mead will be away from the parish on Friday, July 31, and Saturday, August 1, to assist at the Saint Michael’s Conference fiftieth-anniversary celebration . . . The Rector returns from a week of vacation on Friday, July 31 . . . The Saint Mary’s Guild will meet this coming Saturday, August 1, for the 12:10 PM, which is followed by a work session. For more information about the parish altar guild and its work, please speak to one of the sisters or to Marie Rosseels; or you can come on Saturday to spend some time with the guild’s members and to get a feel for what their work is like . . . Flowers are needed for August 30 and September 6. Please contact Father Mead, if you would like to make a donation . . . Father Gerth will hear confessions on Saturday, August 1 . . . Thursday, August 6: The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Morning Prayer 8:30 AM, Noonday Prayer 12:00 PM, Said Mass 12:10 PM, Sung Mass 6:00 PM . . . At the Sung Mass on the Feast of the Transfiguration, the service will be sung by The Choir of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo, New York, directed by Abigail Rockwood. The music includes Missa Sancti Nicolai (Mass No. 6 in G Major) by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) and “All Wisdom cometh from the Lord” by Philip Moore (b. 1943) . . . Father Mead will hear confessions on Saturday, August 8 . . . Friday, August 14, The Eve of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Organ Recital 5:30 PM, Solemn Mass 6:00 PM, Reception 7:30 PM . . . Saturday, August 15, The Feast of the Assumption, Noonday Prayer 12:00 PM, Said Mass 12:10 PM . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 236.
FROM THE MUSIC DEPARTMENT . . . The prelude at Solemn Mass this Sunday is the Prélude from Suite pour orgue, Op. 5, by Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986). The Suite, composed in 1932 and first performed at Saint Mary’s in 1946, is one the most magnificent works from the relatively small corpus that Duruflé published. The entire Suite will be performed as the prelude to Solemn Mass on the Eve of the Feast of the Assumption, Friday, August 14. The offertory hymn, “Come, risen Lord,” is sung to the tune Rosedale by Leo Sowerby (1895-1968). Sowerby was one of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century, and is commonly referred to as the “dean of American church music.” Early recognition came to him through his orchestral compositions, but it was during his tenure at Washington National Cathedral that he produced many of his church compositions. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1946. The Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei are sung to settings by Ruth Cunningham (b. 1956). At the ministration of Communion, Ms. Cunningham sings her setting of the Marian hymn O lilium convallium (“O lily of the valley”), to an accompaniment by Mr. Kennerley. James Kennerley
THE GIFT SHOP . . . There are copies of two books that have just arrived and are on the shelves in the Parish Gift Shop. First, there is Bishop Frank Griswold’s Praying Our Days: A Guide and Companion (Morehouse Publishing, 2009). The book, written by XXV Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, is described by its publisher as “the first new devotional resource of its kind for Episcopalians in more than two generations.” Second, there is Hank Dunn’s very informative and useful booklet on end-of-life issues and decisions, Hard Choices for Loving People: CPR, Artificial Feeding, Comfort Care, and the Patient with a Life Threatening Illness (5th edition) (A&A Publishers, 2009). Please stop by the Gift Shop and take a look.
A FRIENDLY REMINDER . . . If you plan to be away from the parish for all or part of the summer, it would be very helpful if you could stay current on your pledge payments, if at all possible. We often run into cash-flow problems during the summer months and that is, of course, a special concern this year. Thank you very much for your consideration – and thank you to all who give so generously to support the work and mission of this parish.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: Episcopalians are a territorial tribe. Father Grieg Taber, Rector of Saint Mary’s from 1939 until 1964, wrote the following letter to the parish in Ave: A Monthly Bulletin of The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Vol. XV, No. 8, November 1946: “Dear Parishioners of St Mary’s: I am certain that all of us feel proud over the fact that our congregations are made up not only of faithful members of the parish but of increasing numbers of visitors. I am equally certain that the members of the parish desire kindly to welcome these visitors. Now one way of welcoming them is this. When an usher brings them to your pew, or they find their own way to it, you who are very probably sitting at the end of the pew will kindly move into the pew and with a gracious smile bid the newcomers welcome to share the pew with you. If, however, you insist on remaining at the end of the pew your attitude (intended or not) gives the impression to the visitors ‘Pass me if you can or dare.’ Such an attitude should have no place in God’s House. Of course there are those who must leave their places during the service, such as any designated to take up the collection, who for greater convenience should keep to the end of the pew. But these only should be ‘bitter enders’ and their apparent bitterness will always be overlooked, if not forgiven, by all who grasp the situation. And while I am on this more or less touchy subject may I beg all who cling to end seats to move in and make room for others at those services in the Chapels which are often crowded. None should be permitted to kneel in the aisles when there are empty places in the regular chairs or pews. Thanks will surely be offered to both God and men for kindly consideration in these matters. Affectionately, Grieg Taber. P.S. Always allow a small child to be in the end seat.”
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Eve of the Transfiguration
Thursday The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Friday John Mason Neale, Priest, 1866 Abstinence
Saturday Dominic, Priest and Friar, 1221
Eve of the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday: 8:30 AM Morning Prayer, 9:00 AM Said Mass, 10:00 AM Said Mass, 11:00 AM Solemn Mass,
5:00 PM Evening Prayer. Childcare is available from 9:00 AM until 1:00 PM all Sundays of the year.
Monday–Friday: 8:30 AM Morning Prayer, 12:00 PM Noonday Office, 12:10 PM Mass, 6:00 PM Evening Prayer. The Wednesday Mass is sung. The Thursday Mass includes anointing of the sick. Holy Days as announced.
Saturday: 12:00 PM Noonday Office, 12:10 PM Mass, 5:00 PM Evening Prayer, 5:20 PM Sunday Vigil Mass.
Confessions are heard on Saturdays 11:30-11:50 AM & 4:00-4:50 PM.