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Welcoming Sabbath


Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colours
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you,
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth,

leaving you, not really belonging to either,
not so helplessly dark as that house that is silent,
not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
that turns to a star each night and climbs –

leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.

-Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Soul is Her for Its Own Joy

I feel inspired to post this evening to welcome in the Sabbath. My beloved and I have tried different ways of practicing Sabbath-keeping over the years and after our summer travels we have returned to a renewed commitment to this practice. For us the Jewish day of Sabbath is a more natural rhythm to our week and so beginning this evening we turn off the computer and the phone, we light a candle, and we turn to each other for a day of rest and delight. This particular Sabbath feels especially significant because it is also the New Moon. I love that in both Jewish and Christian tradition day begins with night and in the Jewish lunar calendar each month begins with the moon in its phase of blackest sky. The New Moon is a time for new beginnings, to hold in our hearts the things we long to see wax and grow into fullness. 

A week ago I went to the Tacoma Art Museum to see the exhibit of the St. John’s Bible.  I was gifted with a set of volumes by an anonymous and very generous person and these have provided such a depth of inspiration for which I continue to be grateful.  It was a gift to see the original pages in person, the luminous quality of the vellum on which they were produced, the raised gold lettering that shimmers and reflects in the light, the letters painstakingly written. 

An unexpected delight was another exhibit I discovered there, a version of Renaissance composer Thomas Tallis’ work Spem in Alium which I had never heard before.  This piece of music was designed for eight choirs of five voices each. The artist Janet Cardiff recorded each voice individually and then created an installation of forty speakers around a room facing inward.  Each speaker plays one of the voices so you can walk around the room and here the subtleties of each thread or sit in the middle and let the music rise and fall over you in luscious cascades.  It was an intoxicating experience and part of what led to my inspiration for the Poetry Party last Monday.

I have since downloaded a recording of the piece and below is a free version of it I found on Playlist so I could offer it to your ears. It is not the best recording (and the music doesn’t begin until 12 seconds in), but gives you a sense of the experience.  

If Sabbath offers us a taste of heaven, then Rilke’s sublime poem and Tallis’ Spem in Alium (which means “Sing and Glorify”) ushers in the beauty of the eternal moment.

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

(image of candles taken in the Cathedral in Salzburg, Austria)

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6 Responses

  1. Glad you all enjoyed the Sabbath offerings. I may post more sacred music if I can find good quality ways to post it.

    Bette, I thought of you last night, we went to the beach at sunset and there were drummers playing — magical, and I am sure a post will come out of it soon. ;-)

  2. aah….there’s the Playlist window. got it now :) beautiful beautiful music. reminds me of a Chanticleer cd I had. love hearing the female voices. thank you.

  3. Thank you, Christine, for your beautiful thoughts and equally beautiful music. I was privileged to view the Book of Wisdom at St. John’s during a visio divina with the St. John’s Bible retreat this summer…an awesome experience that I still savor and am grateful for daily. Blessings to you for all the gifts you share.

  4. That moment of time the soul being inbetween….it reminds me of dusk. Last night we had a beautiful sky at dusk. I inserted a haiku into one of the photos I took and put it on my blog. I’m grateful for fragrance and shapes we see that can be so comforting and enlightening.

    I don’t see your downloaded Playlist song here. Did it disappear into the night? :)

    Seeing your candles reminds me to light mine, too. I always feel a higher level of creative energy with the new moon!

  5. Thanks Christine! I enjoyed it. Adding sacred music to Abbey of the Arts, is that new? If so, it’s a great idea. The candles at the top of the photo in the distance look like the head and shoulders of people — and then gradually coming forward, they appear as little lights. Happy Sabbath, from kigen, holding her candle.

  6. Thank you. Christine, for the gift of the lovely music. I can’t imagine how breathtaking it must have been to hear Janet Cardiff’s version!