The Sabbath as practice for death

The writer and critic Judith Shulevitz has a new book about the meaning of the Sabbath.

bookPaintingComboThe book, “The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time,” explores not only the meaning of a day off from everyday stuff, but the difficulty of making it happen.

Slate.com has a fine, ongoing dialogue on the book and the subject that includes Shulevitz, Slate senior editor Dahlia Lithwick and the liberal Catholic nun and scholar Mary C. Boys.

Lithwick brings up a provocative storyline in her first post to the other women:

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Perhaps the hardest part of Sabbath is quite literally the unplugging. If we turn off the televisions and the BlackBerrys, something might happen, and we might be the only ones who didn’t know about it. I wonder what you both think about the ways technology makes us feel connected to one another in ways that Sabbath once did. One of my favorite writers, Jon Kabat-Zinn, has described meditation as a sort of practice death. You get to drop out completely for a little while and discover that life tumbles by just fine without you. I have come to think of Sabbath the same way: as a practice death. Judith, you describe the seventh day as “God turning his back on us to occupy himself with something even more important to him than we are.” I wonder if that is—forgive me the fanciful notion—a sort of practice death even for God?

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The Sabbath as practice for death.

Shulevitz, who writes in her book primarily from her Jewish perspective, responds in the ditigal “book club:”

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There’s nothing whimsical at all about the notion. The rabbis thought so, too; they called the Sabbath a foretaste of paradise. Thomas Shepard, the first great Puritan preacher on this side of the Atlantic and still one of the greatest theorists of the Sabbath, said that you prepared for the Sabbath as you prepared for heaven, and when the Sabbath came, you died for a day. This was to him a good thing, which shows you how different the Puritan vision of death was from ours. If you “died” right, you got to rest with Christ and “lie in his bosom all the day.”

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Shulevitz also notes: “The flip side of this amusingly morbid metaphor, however, is that to practice death, you have to remove yourself from life. The Puritans withdrew from the worldly pleasures, and we withdraw into the eerily silent world of the unplugged household.”

It’s a nice conversation to be “part of.”

Slate.com, by the way, also has a very funny piece by Emily Yoffe about taking a turn as a “motivational dancer” at a modern bar mitzvah.

If you don’t know what goes on at a modern bar mitvah or why motivational dancers might be needed, give Yoffie a shot.

She writes:

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I ponied across the floor and acted as if the adult couples wanted me to dance with them. A few guests commented on my efforts. “You have such spirit,” said one, which I took to mean, “You’re embarrassing yourself.” Another said, “You have so much energy,” kindly leaving off “for someone your age.”

It promises to be a blessed inauguration

So, all those gay-marriage advocates who fumed at Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation have to be mighty relieved by his choice of cleric to pray Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial.

Bishop V. Gene Robinson.

Yes, the openly gay Episcopal bishop from New Hampshire whose consecration upset much of the Anglican world.

Now the other side of the Great Gay Debate must be really smarting.

Slate.com has a smart look at the four main preachers who have been called in for the inauguration: Robinson, Warren, the Rev. Joseph Lowery and the Rev. Sharon Watkins.

I like the headline: “God Bless, and Bless, and Bless, and Bless America.”

Didn’t know about Christian pro wrestling, did ya?

080505_book_rapture.jpgI haven’t read “Rapture Ready,” Daniel Radosh’s look at the vast world of Christian pop culture, but I hope to soon.

But Hanna Rosin has a revealing look at the book on Slate.com, which itself is a good primer on what Christian pop culture is (for, say, New Yorkers who don’t have the slightest idea).

Here’s a snippet:

Most non-Christians are aware that there is something called Christian rock. We’ve all had the slightly unsettling experience of pausing the car radio on a pleasant, unfamiliar ballad until we realized … Ahhh. That’s not her boyfriend she’s mooning over! But few of us have any idea of how truly extensive this so-called subculture is. Reading Radosh’s book is like coming across another planet hidden somewhere on Earth where everything is just exactly like it is here except blue or made out of plastic. Every American pop phenomenon has its Christian equivalent, no matter how improbable. And Radosh seems to have experienced them all.

At a Christian retail show Radosh attends, there are rip-off trinkets of every kind—a Christian version of My Little Pony and the mood ring and the boardwalk T-shirt (“Friends don’t let friends go to hell”). There is Christian Harlequin and Christian chick lit and Bibleman, hero of spiritual warfare. There are Christian raves and Christian rappers and Christian techno, which is somehow more Christian even though there are no words. There are Christian comedians who put on a Christian version of Punk’d, called Prank 3:16. There are Christian sex-advice sites where you can read the biblical case for a strap-on dildo or bondage (liberation through submission). There’s a Christian planetarium, telling you the true age of the universe, and my personal favorite—Christian professional wrestling, where, by the last round, “Outlaw” Todd Zane sees the beauty of salvation.