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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