I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again–I don’t enjoy reading. However, I try to always be reading at least one book at any given time. I do like to learn, and therefore, I feel reading is important. It expands my mental horizons. And I do come across some good, or even great, books. It just remains a fact that I don’t enjoy it overall. I’d rather be watching TV or a movie. There are these little gems, though, that really stick out in my literature landscape. And, even if for a brief moment, I do derive great pleasure from the words. Mudhouse Sabbath is one of those occasions worth marking.
I gulped this book up. In fact, I read several of the chapters twice just to prolong my experience. It’s just too short! I’ve been wanting to read it for a couple of years now, but just got around to it. I guess I was in the mood. And I quickly discovered an author that I love as well. I feel she, Lauren F. Winner, writes much the way I do because it’s what I’d like to read…as if someone is talking with you. Not lecturing you, not talking at you, but talking with you.
The one thing that initially drew me to this book was that Lauren had converted from Judaism to Christianity, and was learning to integrate the former into the latter. I’ve been fascinated with Judaism for a number of years now, and have been learning in bits and pieces. It’s the Old Testament, and the root of Christianity, so I wanted to understand better where my faith came from. I think too often Christians don’t consider it at all. But when you have a greater understanding of it, you better understand the Bible as a whole. It provides context, and gives foundation. As she puts it, “practice is to Judaism what belief is to Christianity…spiritual practices don’t justify us. They don’t save us. Rather, they refine our Christianity; they make the inheritance Christ gives us on the Cross more fully our own.”
Mudhouse Sabbath is broken into eleven parts:
- Sabbath – stressed the need for rest as a regular part of living. It is a place to draw the energy to work from, not working until you crash and are forced to rest. “In observing the Sabbath, one is both giving a gift to God and imitating Him.” For the last five plus years, I’ve observed a Sabbath off and on. I haven’t really gotten good at it yet, but I’m trying. Even if it’s just a half day, a few hours that I regularly plan for, I know it will have enormous impact.
- Food – taught me to have a greater respect for the things that I eat. It’s not simply entertainment or a mean’s to an end, it’s a source. “A right relationship with food points us toward Him.” Lauren mentions another author named Barbara Kingslover in this chapter, and how Barbara has shown her to eat seasonally, which “sacralizes not just food, but time.” I’ve been reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara the last couple weeks. Head’s up, there will be a blog post about it. It’s been incredible!
- Mourning – showed me that we as Americans don’t know how to grieve well. Like everything else, we tend to rush through it. “Judaism understands mourning as a discipline, one in which the mourner is not only allowed, but expected to be engaged.” And one of the Jewish mourner’s prayers focuses solely on praise, thereby reminding us that God is still present. He has not left you alone. It pushes you to take the time to feel the sad emotions, work through them wholly, and sit with the knowledge that however lost or lonely you feel, He is by your side.
- Hospitality – called me to keep inviting others into my life. “Creation is the ultimate expression of God’s hospitality to His creatures…Our Three-in-One God has welcomed us into Himself and invited us to participate in divine life. And so the invitation that we as Christians extend to one another is not simply an invitation into our homes or to our tables; what we ask of other people is that they enter into our lives.” I used to be really good at inviting people over, but I’ve gotten away from that. Time to make some changes.
- Prayer – gave me a different perspective on liturgy. I’ve always had a hard time with liturgy because it never felt real to me. It was just me praying/reciting what someone else wrote down. There wasn’t any emotion, which I depend greatly on. “When you don’t have to think all the time about what words you are going to say next, you are free to fully enter into the act of praying; you are free to participate in the life of God…Liturgy is not, in the end, open to our emotional whims. It repoints the person praying, taking him somewhere else.” I suppose my views on liturgy is one of the reasons I have trouble getting through the Psalms. But the next time I delve into them, I hope I’ll look at them differently.
- Body – hit home. “Though I believe God has something to say about human bodies, I generally tune out God and listen to Cosmopolitan instead…Scripture speaks of bodies that God created in His image, bodies that are both doing redemptive work and being redeemed.” That is a re-framing that I needed. It helps me remember the first and foremost reason I need to take care of my body.
- Fasting – gave me further fuel to practice this act more. “Fasting is at its core about repentance…When I am sated, it is easy to feel independent. When I am hungry, it is possible to remember where my dependence lies…Fasting is not meant to drag us down, but to still us. ” Matthew tells us “when” you pray, give and fast. It’s not an option. Again, something else I’ve done kind of off and on but never developed a good habit for it. I am fairly good about fasting for major decisions and during Lent, but need to strive to make it more regular.
- Aging – addressed both yourself and those in your circles growing older. “The spirituality of aging inevitably involves preparing for one’s death…Caring for one’s elderly is an obligation…It is not always fun, but it is always sanctifying…When our memories fail, it is our community that can tell us who we are.” A very interesting way to look at the aging process. She also references a rabbi who notes that to elder is to shape the last years of your life with intention. I like this notion, but I’d rather start now.
- Candle-lighting – gave me new insight on something I really didn’t understand. Candles mark occasions and mark time. “There seems to be no surer way to sacralize time or space than lighting a candle, no quieter than the silence of candlelight. Candles are peaceful, and transfixing, and ancient.” She gave me some great ways to use candles for more than just making things brighter or smell better.
- Weddings – allowed me to see marriage as a “community endeavor.” It’s not just two people making a commitment, but granting witnesses to the union the opportunity and permission to be a part of it. Learning from one another and doing life together in community brings out the best in each of us. It gives greater power to two becoming one.
- Doorposts – helped me pull my mezuzah out of my drawer. A friend brought it to me from his trip to Israel, and it sat on a shelf. Then I redecorated my bedroom and it went in a drawer. Now it sits beside my door since I’m in an apartment and can’t really affix or tape it permanently. The mezuzah is derived from Deuteronomy where the Lord says to bind the words on the doorposts of your houses. It is a promise of peace. Lauren also describes a sign on a door that she found which had the verse Psalm 121, “The Lord shall preserve they going out and they coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.” I liked that representation a lot as well. “Every time I come home I see the sign, and I remember that I claim to actually believe in this God who will preserve my going out and coming in, and I remember that this home is supposed to be a Christian home. It is to be a home into which I invite strangers, and in which I organize my time through prayers, and in which I do work that might somehow infinitesimally advance the kingdom of God.”
Ah, just writing about it makes me want to read it again! I haven’t done that yet, and I am absolutely sure that I will. I learned so much, and have already starting changing my thoughts and behaviors based on what was said. It hit the spot; so much of what I wanted it to be and more. I think Mudhouse Sabbath will remain one of my all-time favorites, as well as a book I recommend to many people. If it remotely sounds like something that would interest you, I’d urge you to pick it up. I can’t imagine you’d regret it.
By the way, if you’re wondering, Mudhouse is the name of the coffee shop where Laurn wrote the book. And, yes, she spent her Sabbaths there, writing and reading.
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