When I was in pastoral training many years ago, I served in a Methodist Hospital as a student chaplain that was at the epicenter of a large Hasidic community. The Jewish Community Center's auxiliary was always very busy on Friday afternoons, passing out small electronic candles to the orthodox women for their evening devotions. This was not just a considerate gesture on behalf of those who could not be at home for the observance of the Sabbath. It was also a necessity. So committed were some of these folk to this traditional element of the beginning of the Sabbath, family would smuggle wax candles into the hospital. Hospitals are serious about open flames in rooms. In an environment rich with pure oxygen and fabric privacy curtains...well, to have a candle burning is no small risk to safety.
Anyway, as Fridays roll around I find that memory of those candles being distributed rising up time and again. A few times, I was asked to help in the dispersal of the lamps. One other time, I was asked to make a late-night tour of the wards in order to collect them before the morning light (you see, they had little switches that turned them on and off...an action seen as work by many-and prohibited on the Sabbath).
Friday, the last day of the work week for much of the people in this culture, has a special air, and I think this memory is my way to making sense of that atmosphere of bringing one thing to a close-the work week-and welcoming the next, time for rest, for reflection and for worship.
I am mindful of the need for a Sabbath rest as I have just returned from being on retreat with my clergy colleague group. This collection of nine priests, all of us just about the same age and all of us engaged in some form of vocational work as priests and professionals, rolls around twice a year. It has been a long time since I have been able to be present to this small community of friends/colleagues, and I am feeling a great sense of gratitude and peace that this year I was able to be there...and to be there with a lighter load of spiritual baggage than I have had in recent times. Just getting up to our traditional gathering place was a journey of rest, feeling the weight of life lifting for just a time. That space and group creates just enough distance-as did those shabbos candles the women would light in the hospital-from the harshness of reality as to allow both mind and body to be quiet for a time. In that rest, God has plenty of space and time to get to work in healing us from the 1,000 little cuts of stress and worry that life too often inflicts on us.
Tonight, I think, I will light a candle. I will light it in honor of those women who could, with a faint electric "flame" and heartfelt prayers begin the Shabbos...and for the people in my life who light the way for me to hear, see and feel God's hand and healing in the gaps between me and the world.
Peace, and good Shabbos!