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ELCA World Hunger

Resolved: to Celebrate Sabbath Every Sabbath

Did you take a few days off during the holidays, or fill every “free” moment with something to do?

Could you use a few more vacation days, or are you under the gun to use them up because you have “too many”?

Whenever I facilitate sessions around time, people get emotional right away. Crazy schedules; expectations that can’t be met at home or at work; fears of being fired for refusing overtime; pressures imposed by software that tracks when you arrive, when you leave, how long your phone calls last, and how long you took for lunch—intense stuff gets shared. These stories reveal a political and cultural system of time that is getting steadily more oppressive.

This system is not outside of but within us. As we live and breathe it, we internalize and try to meet its expectations. Our expectations as consumers, for 2:00 am pizza and round-the-clock customer service, also feed its demands.

Trying to use our time more effectively is a fruitless adaptation. To really free ourselves, we have to ask basic questions, like why?  Lucky for us, we have Sabbath on our side.

God commands us to rest, yes. But not many people are listening. In part that’s due to  Sabbath’s gloomy reputation after long centuries of legalistic, government or church-body enforcement. Few want to embrace rules that keep us from doing what we want to do.

Our incessant busyness is also to blame. Author Wayne Muller says we Americans have no thermostat – no ability to know when to stop. Even worse, says Muller, “In spite of any compelling physical or spiritual benefits, we fear we have no authentic, trustworthy permission to stop. If we do stop to rest without some very good reason or some verifiable catastrophe, we feel guilty, we worry about getting in trouble, we feel we are just lazy, not carrying our weight, not a team player, or will be left behind. If we just put our nose to the grindstone, give it our all, do our best, give 110 percent, really put our mind to it, never give up, and work more efficiently, then we can, and should, be able to get absolutely everything on our desk, on our to-do list, on our calendars, finished, on deadline, without any mistakes, perfectly, every time. Then, we can rest.”

What a fix: no permission to rest, and a Sabbath that sounds boring and restrictive! That’s why I’m resolving to become, in 2011, a radical Sabbatarian, and try to relearn how to accept God’s permission to rest, and rest creatively.

Today, I almost succeeded. After church, I dawdled for several hours with family and friends over coffee, tea, soup, and leftover Christmas cookies. But now I’m sitting at my computer writing this post. So ends the first Sunday of the year; come Sunday two, I’ll try again. My sitting-around skills could use the practice.

In our rest-averse society, this kind of Sabbath is counter-cultural. To me, it has three radical aspects.

First,  “look Ma, no hands”: when we take our hands off the handlebars, the bike keeps going. While we rest, rain falls. Seeds sprout. The world turns, thanks to God. Sabbath can lessen our illusions of self-importance by reminding us who’s really in charge.

Second, by interrupting the “gotta do gotta do gotta do” tape that pounds inside our heads, Sabbath reminds us we are living things who need rest. We don’t have to keep going. We DO have permission to rest. Permission from God.

Third, it affirms our value as human beings. Says Barbara Brown Taylor, about Sabbath: “Test the premise that you are worth more than what you can produce—that even if you spent one whole day being good for nothing you would still be precious in God’s sight.”

Could anything more strongly contradict an economy that confines our meaning to a long dance of producing and procuring?

If we truly devoted Sundays to enjoying our doing-nothing selves, whose interests would be threatened? If we truly stopped, and didn’t spend our time “off” shopping or running from place to place, filling up calendars because being busy means being important, what would happen? How might our economy change? How might we change?

Viewed this way, Sabbath is not a bunch of rules that restrict activity but a powerful, radical tool for combating systems, powers and principalities that damage humans – that refuse to respect humans unless they are working, earning, and spending. And for combating the point of view that the world is ours to exploit, all the time. Sabbath means rest for the earth!

I try to define myself as for things instead of against things. I’m for active transportation rather than against cars, for example. In this post I’ve framed Sabbath as against the extreme demands of our system of time and our economy. But Sabbath is also for something. By asking us to rest, what is God trying to create more of? As a radical Sabbatarian, I hope to find out.

Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity