I was on my way home the other night and caught part of a Terry Gross Fresh Air interview with critic and author Judith Shulevitz. The topic was Shulevitz's recently-published book The Sabbath World. It was quite an interesting discussion, touching on the historical aspects of a weekly rest, religious and a-religious perspectives, and the benefits of taking such a "time out." Obviously, the conversation was a lot more complex than that, but Shulevitz's ideas got me to thinking.
Interesting that, for a bunch of reasons, she found comfort in parts of her religion despite being a non-believer. She finds inspiration at synagogue not for the spiritual elements but in the beauty of the spoken and sung word. Her idea of applying the Sabbath to the modern world has to do (again, I'm reducing concepts here) with keeping the bonds strong between family, friends, and community. That the pace of the outside world is slowed can only be a good thing.
This is how I've always felt about the religious calendar in general. As a non-believer, post-service Sunday and events such as Easter and Christmas are attached to memories of houses full of family and friends. It's funny, I haven't attended a mass in years, and yet when I sit down to breakfast on Sunday morning, I remember doing the same thing at my grandmother's house. There would always be freshly baked bread and hard-boiled eggs. On Easter, add kielbasa and horseradish to the menu. A small bit of what keeps this connection strong is our kitchen table. I don't know how old it is, but it's the very same table that sat next to my grandmother's sunny kitchen window. That hardwood top with scalloped edges and that hidden leaf have seen a lot of food come and go. People too.
While looking for a bit of information about Patti Smith's Easter, I came across this text that she wrote for a Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition featuring the work of photographer Robert Frank. The show was for Frank's The Americans:
I keep trying to figure out what it means to be American. When I look in myself I see Abyssinia, nineteenth-century France, but I can’t recognize what makes me American. I think about Robert Frank’s photographs – broke down jukeboxes in Gallup, New Mexico, swaying hips and spurs, ponytails and syphilitic cowpokes, hash slingers, the glowing black tarp of US 285 and the Hoboken stars and stripes.
I think about a red, white, and blue rag
I wrap around my head.
Maybe it’s nothing material; maybe it’s just being free.
Freedom is a waterfall, is pacing linoleum till dawn,
the right to write the wrong words.
And I done plenty of that…
I'm familiar with the photographs and also, sadly, with Smith's idea of being disconnected from America. I listen to Shulevitz talk about the Sabbath and I think of my young self and those Sunday mornings. They're so distant it's easy to imagine that it wasn't me. Religion is still a major aspect in people's lives, which puts me on the outside in a way. Heck, add love of oddball music, the printed word, and bizarre images. It's a shrinking club. None of this is to say that I'm uncomfortable with it. There's not much to be done, really…
…except maybe to go to the farm stand on Saturday to get some horseradish root. I'll rest on Sunday.