“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Exodus 20:8 (KJV)
I am a lover of ritual: blame it on the Hindu/Episcopal school upbringing. I have spent my life enacting the rituals of others and creating my own. I believe in the power and potential magic of observance, of setting things aside, of distinguishing.
I refrain from eating meat or drinking alcohol on Tuesdays, because that’s what I watched my parents do. I observe Lent—which I started doing in middle school as an imitation of my Christian classmates—but which came to mean more to me, ironically, than it did to many of them.
Many of the most important rituals in my life seem secular on the surface, but are nonetheless sacred. As Meredith Striker puts it in her poem “The End of the World”:
is a burning bush
Each year, three of my closest girlfriends from college and I pick a weekend and spend it together, live and in person, come hell or high water. We’ve learned that we have to make this gathering happen, because if we don’t, life takes over and too much time will go by without being in each other’s presence.
After my father died, I instinctively began gathering friends and family together on days connected to him—his birthday, on the anniversary of his death—as a way of remembering him, but also as a way to create and keep community. Many of the people who now attend these gatherings never met or knew my dad; we became friends after he was already gone. But inviting them to share in celebrating him, I’ve found, communicates a kind of trust and desire for intimacy that is difficult to put into words.
One of the most meaningful rituals in my life is a weekly one: our family’s modified observance of the Sabbath. You may remember, I work at a Jewish school, so each Friday at the end of assembly, we welcome Shabbat by lighting the candles, chanting the brachot (blessings), drinking the wine—er, grape juice—and eating the challah. It’s a beautiful way to start the weekend.
Inspired by this, Jill and I started spending every Friday at home; we make no plans to go out and turn down all invitations we receive. Around sundown, we turn all electronics off—no TV, no computers, no cell phones—until after we make and eat breakfast together on Saturday morning. We’ve been doing this for the last two to three years, and it’s basically the best thing ever.
There is something very civilized about self-imposed rest. In our often frenetic world, it’s tempting to try and “sneak in” errands, chores, tasks, etc. whenever possible, leaving little time behind to just be. I’m not always good at being self-disciplined, which is why rituals probably work so well for me; one thing I am good at is following rules. So if I’m tempted to get some laundry done, or catch up on a little grading, or do anything that can be construed as “work,” I stop myself.
Now that Shiv is in our life, he participates in the family Sabbath, too: walking around the lake with Jill at dusk, helping me prepare the meal before sundown, and lighting candles at the dinner table. Of course, he doesn’t know exactly what any of it means or is for just yet, but he will learn. We plan to maintain our observance as Shiv grows older, making Friday night for family: game night, reading aloud night, camping-in-the-backyard-and-looking-at-the-stars night. Saturday will come, and with it, the opportunity to spend the night at a friend’s house, to go out to dinner as a family, to run errands or do homework, to clean the house and work in the yard. But on Friday we remember the Sabbath, to keep it—and our family life—holy.
In January, I decided to take a break from blogging. When I started this blog in May of 2009 (!), I made myself a rule: keep writing the blog as long as you’re having fun doing it. We all have plenty of obligations and non-negotiables in our lives; the last thing I wanted to do was add another item to my to-do list. I never wanted the blog to feel like something I had to do instead of something I wanted to do.
I had an email conversation with a dear friend the other day, along these same lines. We were sharing about the ways that seemingly positive, healthy choices and commitments can quickly become oppressive if we aren’t careful. What starts off as good self care–“I feel better when I exercise regularly”–can end up adding guilt and stress–“Oh shit, I haven’t worked out in three days and I’m really tired and now I’m going to gain weight and I feel like a bad person.”
Maybe this sounds melodramatic, but I think we all do it. At least I do. I am definitely someone who thrives with some structure in place, but I will all-too-easily convert that structure into rules and expectations that I then hold myself up against, judging myself unfavorably in the process. Seeing all of what I’m not doing. Thinking in “shoulds”: Oh, I should really be reading that super-intellectual book instead of these addictive, dystopian young adult novels. I should bake something to take to the family that just moved in down the street. I should make an appointment to donate platelets, because I haven’t gone in a year…etc.
So, when this blog started to feel like a “should,” I took a break. It’s been a good break, a needed one, and I gained the distance and perspective that I was hoping for, and I’m back now, excited to re-think this space, to re-engage with it and with you, on a “want to” basis and not a “should.” My original plan wasn’t to return until April, but, you know what? I missed this. And it feels good to be back.
Part of what put me in a bit of a rut, I think, was feeling locked into a particular format: story, photos, recipe. It’s a good format, of course, and I’m not planning to abandon it entirely, but I’d like to do other things with this space. My next post will be about our family’s Friday night ritual. And for April, I’ve lined up a slate of guest posts from writers and friends (friends who are writers, really) about poems that they consider game-changers. It’s going to be a month full of poetry nerdiness, and it’s going to be awesome.
Please know that I will definitely still be writing about food, and sharing recipes, but I’m also just kind of going to do whatever. More joy, less obligation. More brandishing butter knives while standing on step ladders.