Sabbath rest and little martyrdoms


In the catacombs of Saint Callixtus outside Rome, lies the memorial to Saint Cecelia, the patron saint of music.  She was of an aristocratic family and was martyred in the 3rd century.  Her remains were transferred in the seventh century but this culture remains to mark the place in which she was originally laid to rest. The sculpture is one to which my mind often returns as I prepare my bed for taking my Sabbath day.

Since the monastery years, I have taken to washing my sheets on the eve of my sabbath day as a way to mark a time shift.  I dress the bed the way a deacon dresses the altar with the careful unfolding of linens and placement of vessels under the watchful eye of the priest waiting to stand and celebrate the eucharist.  The sheets are dried with lavender which has always reminded me of God’s gifts and my own blessings because my grandmother wore it as a fragrance and i sensed she adored me.  The sheets are hot from the dryer and I love that first crawl-in when the smell of lavender and the heat from the dryer conspire to remind me that one day all shall be well and that for now my work is done and it is time to rest.   I read my chapter on Sabbath from my Rule and then I reach over and turn off the clock by my bed so that time is no longer my jailor. I leave my cell phone in the car. Reaching me is impossible.

Because of my own addiction to work, and because I live in a society for which work is its source of self-esteem, I need to ritualize sabbath-making.  I wrap myself in the sheets by pulling them up over my head, and when I do, I remember the Genesis passage in which God made Sabbath and then named it as “Holy” as a way of sanctifying it.  When the sheets wrap around my head Kai tends to crawl over and paw at them to find me.  The wrapping act seems to un-nerve him a bit, so I can only stay there for a minute or so, otherwise a huge black lab starts to dig for me and will rip open the sheet.  Perhaps he thinks I am caught and need rescuing.  Perhaps he simply hates a boundary between us.

Sabbath time is a time to consider our various martyrdoms and our various safe-making ways.  Sabbath time is a time to grieve the losses of our life and rest in the sure knowledge that all shall be well even if all is also somewhat freaky. Sabbath is a time to consider those whose task it is to seek to harm and even destroy our sabbath – that holy right. Even – especially-  when that person is us.  And Sabbath time is a time to remember that the cycles of going and stopping are in a day, and a week and a life.

When I look at this sculpture I remember that immediately after walking past it and feeling my legs go weak on seeing it, I sat in the Roman sun and ate antipasto and drank warm wine and smoked a fine cigar with a close friend under an olive tree with this sculpture almost directly beneath me in the darkness of those catacombs where the early Christians hid from their oppressors – not knowing that we, their Christian future, would one day evolve to wear our a form of martyrdom  on our wrist.

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