Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016: A retreat every week

I love spiritual retreats. They’re an opportunity to rest, reflect and recharge, and Judaism has one built into every week – Shabbat. The Jewish sabbath begins at sundown Friday and lasts until sundown Saturday. I experience Shabbat in many sanctuaries.

A main sanctuary is my home. On Friday night, I hosted my regular 2nd Friday Shabbat Dinner, a monthly potluck. We sang blessings as we lit candles, held up a cup of sweet wine and tore off chunks of challah bread to dip in salt. We shared our food offerings, and lively conversations animated the dinner table. Afterwards, we sang sacred chants in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Participants bring a $5 donation, which I add to the donations from Chanting & Chocolate. Together these funds support the education of five Abayudaya Jewish orphans in Uganda where I lived 2009-10.

This morning, I attended musical and soulful services in the sanctuary of my beloved Jewish Renewal community, Or Shalom, Vancouver’s East Side synagogue. They start at 10 a.m. and are largely led by members of the congregation. My focus on Shabbat morning is gratitude for the many blessings in my life. Our marvellous Rabbi, Hannah Dresner, is away at a conference, so this week services were entirely led by lay members, beginning with Charles Kaplan, continuing with Myrna Rabinowitz, leading to the Torah service led by Avi Dolgin, and the Torah discussion by Zelik Segal.

Our services are creative and egalitarian. Most of the service is sung. It feels like being in a choir as the congregation sings out enthusiastically, often with rich harmonies.

After services, I drove to another sanctuary – the forest – for a short walk. Pacific Spirit Regional Park is an 874-hectare (2,160-acre) park in the University Endowment Lands, on Point Grey on the west side of Vancouver. Within five minutes of entering the forest trails, I leave the city behind. There’s a quality to the air in the forest that nurtures serenity, bringing peace to my breath. Today was a bright day and shafts of light filtered through the forest canopy to illuminate patches on the forest floor. I took some photos with my iPhone (see below).

I should say that in more orthodox Jewish circles, activities like driving, carrying a phone and taking photos are violations of Shabbat. But I consider myself a pick-and-choose Jew and go with those practices that serve me.

When I returned home, I focused on another sanctuary – my own being. I did my daily practice of chanting, meditation and yoga, which I consider essential for spiritual maintenance. I love the chorus of a song of modern gospel called “Sanctuary,” written by John W. Thompson and Randy Scruggs:

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true;
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living
Sanctuary for You.

Then I enjoyed a Shabbat nap. Sleep is a delicious sanctuary.


The forest in the University Endowment Lands is a sanctuary from the city.


This mossy patch reminded me of my favourite place in Kyoto, the moss temple called Saiho-ji.


Ferns are green and luxuriant in our West Coast forests year-round.


Funny how your mind can play tricks. When I first spotted this sign, I thought it said “Emotionally Sensitive Area”.

2 thoughts to “Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016: A retreat every week”

  1. Thanks for sharing your Shabbat and some of your many sanctuaries…including the beauty and peace of the forest…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.