Original post: July 6, 2009

It's Friday, around 4:30pm, and I've spent the day gradually moving into the aura of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. I have friends who love the hectic madness of Friday afternoon, preparing for Shabbat, but I love the slow movement into this sacred time, beginning in the morning when I first wake up through the end of the day, when I begin shutting off my telephones and computer. Yet for me, this withdrawal is all about what begins to take place in my soul.

Joe and I have chosen to observe Shabbat in some basic ways - we turn off all of our telephones, we don't watch television or go to movies, and we don't turn on our computers. Concerning work, it's not that we simply don't do any, we also don't talk or think about it. We don't run errands, shop, work in the yard or clean the pool. And I not only don't feel deprived, I feel utterly relaxed and withdrawn from the busyness of life. For me, it's one of the greatest gifts Judaism has given me.

Although it's traditional for the man and woman to have different ritual responsibilities to usher in Shabbat, Joe & I choose to share all of them. With the house free of the distractions of electronic devices, we sit together, waving our hands inward from the flame three times, bringing towards our hearts our readiness for the peace and joy of Shabbat. After saying the blessings over the bread and wine, we sing, sometimes dance, sit on the back deck, play games, and/or lie on the bed and talk about the good things in our lives. It's often the only time during the week that we're not rushing. I remove my watch until the end of Shabbat and rarely look at the clock. We graze through time.

In the morning we drive to services at Congregation Beth Torah. If I need extra sleep, I'll go to bed earlier the night before rather than sleeping in on Saturday morning, because Saturday, for me, is never the same if I haven't prayed with the people I so quickly have grown to love. I'm still surprised by the way I can be moved to tears, unexpectedly, by some beautiful ritual I'm noticing in a new or deeper way each week. After the service, we share a quick l'chaim (can you imagine what that means to a Southern Baptist convert - that we have a ritual liquor committee???), then we have lunch together - every week - then we bentch, singing the after-meal blessings. Several of us keep flipping through our small, blue B'kol Echad, singing and banging tables until we've grown hoarse. Occasionally I can convince one or two people to dance with me.

At home, Joe and I nap, float in the pool with a good book, sit in the hot tub, take walks, feed the ducks at the nearby lake, ride our bikes, and enjoy our time together, still uninterrupted by phone calls, business stress, inane television shows, or the relentless chatter of online networking. Yes, we sometimes feel a bit restless, but we treat it the same way we treat our minds when we're trying to pray or meditate - acknowledge the feeling of restlessness or boredom, then relax back into the inner tranquility of the day.

In addition, I attempt to take a rest from griping, impatience, and anger, things I struggle intensely with all week long. Amazingly, though, I've not found it terribly difficult to give up a few negative qualities for Shabbat, undoubtedly because the lifestyle my husband and I have created isn't one that's fertile for negativity.

Joe & I aren't Orthodox and we're not entirely observant. Sometimes we drive several blocks across town and buy a snowcone in the summer. Several weeks ago we paid the fee to get into the Japanese gardens to take a stroll. We heat food in the microwave if we get hungry. Our general rule for ourselves, however, is that what we do has to be interactive and peaceful. In those ways, our "rigidity" exists only to create the space to allow our souls to breathe.

Is there a mad scramble to catch up on Sunday? No. Joe & I made a decision long ago to take on only what we can handle in order to fully enjoy and honor Shabbat. That isn't easy, but it's worth it. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's part of the reason why I wake up most Mondays feeling excited about my goals and hopes for the new week. Mondays for me represent a new chance to create a little better "me" and a little better world. Maybe it's a Shabbat hangover, not alcohol induced, but simply the sheer delight of Shabbat lingering into each new week.