catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 22 :: 2006.12.01 — 2006.12.15


Late night thoughts on keeping the Sabbath

I have not infrequently been on the receiving end of odd, are-you-really-serious looks when I have suggested to folks starting in spiritual direction that a good first step would be to avoid multitasking as much as possible, to fast from television, and to begin moving toward thorough observance of the sabbath.

Trust me.  I'm serious.  And I speak from experience.

Buddhist mindfulness is reflected in the simple aphorism: chop wood, carry water.  Do but a single activity, and pay attention to it, at a time.  Our culture encourages us otherwise and lauds those skilled at multitasking.  And yet, a couple of years ago, a professional football coach put a large log and an axe in his team's locker room.  Players were encouraged to 'Chop wood!' as a way of getting them fired up for games.  One large lineman was talking to his teammates when he picked up the axe, gave it a mighty swing, and planted it in his ankle.  And who has not been run off the road by a centerline crossing motorist who was also on a cell phone, listening the radio, and trying to write a note to himself?  In such a climate, devotion to the divine becomes merely one task among the many that constitute one's busyness. Perhaps the admiration of culturophiles is thus earned, but at what cost?

Television has its uses.  But with 22-24 minutes of every hour devoted to advertising, we should be clear about the medium's primary purpose: consumption. Watching television uses fewer calories than sleeping, I am told. We are lulled into a stuporous identity that is far, far from that to which we are called in our faith.  Evil could not be more pleased with our distraction. Paradoxically, the ‘rest’ offered by vegging out before the television fuels our drive to be busy.

And then there's the sabbath, the regular ending of busyness.  Why?  So that we will remember we live by grace, so that we will remember the most important things aren't things, so that we might be rested and restored by right relationships with the earth and good food and friends and family, so that we might even slow down enough to ponder from what we are hiding by being so busy. Ah, now there’s a question for us individually and corporately.  What truth are we so frantic to avoid?  It is curious, fascinating even, that the sabbath commandment is the longest and the one given with the most extensive rationale.  Those rationale are two (depending on the version we read): to be in harmony with the resting creation and its creator, or because the taste of slavery is not forgotten.   Yet, ask folks to tell off the Ten Commandments from memory, and it is likely this long and oh-so-crucial one will be the one forgotten.  But, of course! It flies so directly in the face of our busyness and all the voices supporting it.

Observing, celebrating even, the sabbath changes not just its own day, but gently all our time, so that the absurdity of multitasking comes clear as does the deadliness of most television.  Taking a day slowly, attentively, worshipfully, relationally; free from media (Internet, too!), free for deep contact with self and others is a challenge in this culture addicted to its busyness, that too often mistakes busyness for meaning (and wonders at its unending hunger).  But in so observing and celebrating, the spirit peeks out from its hiding place and begins to lean into the Light that is its life and home.

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