The [digital] fast I choose | On developing a rhythm of sabbath
You formed the cosmos and all that is within. You spoke your creation into motion. And when you saw it was good; we were good, you rested. You ceased. Help me to understand what it means to stop, to refrain from the busyness that has caused me to forget–us to forget–that you have called us sons and daughters–not slaves. Renew in us a desire to rest in you.
Busy and Proud of it?
I am guilty of speaking openly about my busyness.
When someone asks, “How are you?” a typical response, after sighing, involves some commentary on my growing list of things to do for the week for work or school, a complaint about what project didn’t quite get done the week before or the reading response that’s due in a few hours. There are moments when I catch myself doing this and change the subject, realizing that’s probably not the response the inquirer was expecting.
I’m sure this isn’t endemic to me or even to Western culture, though I will say our correlation between busyness and worth is much more visible in the United States. When I consider my own Filipino cultural understanding of the work ethic of industriousness or being masipag, it seems inevitable that rest just doesn’t have space in my life.
Reclaiming sacred space
This digital age in which we live has made it easy for us to stay connected in more ways than I imagine are healthy. Twitter. Facebook. Email. Text. Chat. Oh, and phone calls–probably the least used function of today’s mobile device. I had a classmate in my grad program who worked for a company that designed mirror TVs. That’s right–a television embedded in your bathroom mirror. Even in the restroom we can’t be left alone to our own thoughts.
You’ve seen these scenarios play out. You’ve likely participated in one: facebooking at dinner, texting while driving, answering just that one email while on vacation. It seems we simply cannot unplug. Why? Are we expecting breaking news to hit while we finish our salad? Are we multitasking thinking we are saving ourselves time later? Is it that it’s human nature to want to stay connected, and now we have no shortage of tools that enable this?
At what point did we make this jump from pagers, cell phones, smart phones and pocket PCs being periphery communication devices to masters of our time and affection? Perhaps this wasn’t even a conscious decision. Make no mistake, though: we do have a choice in the ways we give out our attention–a scarce commodity these days. Scott Belsky, in an article entitled, What Happened to Downtime? The Extinction of Deep Thinking & Sacred Space challenges us to reclaim what he calls ‘sacred space.’ We can no longer assume that our drives to work, bus rides and spaces where we could typically unplug, will remain unconnected. For this very reason we must be intentional about not just carving out but protecting–safeguarding–these spaces.
A Biblical provision for Sabbath
Western culture’s association with productivity is killing us. We see it all the time—60+ hour work weeks, no time for family or friends and the sinking feeling that we can squeeze in one more thing during our downtime. How does this play out in a work environment where more is expected of you, sometimes without regard for those needed boundaries—our church settings included? Eugene Peterson, in The Good-for-Nothing Sabbath cautions us to seek a biblical and not cultural understanding of Sabbath. One that does not trivialize Sabbath by designating it “a day off” but that allows us to “enter realms of spirit where wonder and adoration have a place to develop, and where play and delight have time to flourish” [Peterson].
I’ve known for years that the practice and rhythm of Sabbath has been missing from my life. I lament and sometimes try to address it, but somehow fall back to the busyness that I manage to justify in my life, in the name of church or school or just being a helpful person. For me, the challenge has been and will continue to be completely unplugging—whether it be putting away my phone and laptop for the day or finishing [or getting a head start] on something for work or school. Marva Dawn, in Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, reminds us that “our observation of the Sabbath is a special time of recognizing that, ideally, as members of the Christian community we are part of an alternative society, standing in contrast to the values of the world and able to offer to those outside the community the opportunity to choose another way” (41).
So what might this other way look like?
Begin with developing a ritual. A rhythm. No one is saying be legalistic about it. In fact, I encourage you to be realistic. We romanticize this idea of unplugging and set goals that don’t last more than a month. It’s like starting a diet that tries to push too hard, causing us to fall off the wagon. What is one thing you can start incorporating in your weekly practice of ceasing and feasting? Remember, celebrating Sabbath isn’t merely ceasing and resting–it’s also celebrating and feasting. What are ways you can celebrate the sabbath by doing more than refraining from work?
This other way is intentionality. Choose to observe Sabbath.
So what might this other way look like in my life?
Those who know me are aware of my over connectedness. I’ve volunteered to do projects for you, I’ve walked you through setting up a twitter or facebook account. I was working on a masters in digital media while starting seminary. I work and go to school. You can send me a tweet or post on my facebook timeline and I’ll likely get back to you within minutes. You get the picture.
If there’s anyone who needs to learn the rhythms of Sabbath, it’s me. So what am I covenanting to do, readers? I’ll start simple:
I will choose a digital fast and start by putting away my laptop.
Cease from checking facebook and twitter so that I might make room to celebrate abundantly the relationships and gifts that God has given.
And in doing so, free myself for play and worship in the company of others as God intended.
That probably means turning off my social media or email notifications on my phone as I enter Sabbath time. Seems simple enough, but the deliberate act of changing my settings is part of the preparation. I am choosing to do this.
Earlier, I referenced Marva Dawn’s Keeping the Sabbath Wholly. In it, she speaks to the very bold statement we are making in observing Sabbath: “Keeping says clearly that we are not going to do what everybody else does.” And she is right. Let us live out our set apart-ness by ceasing and fasting and in doing so learn what it means to feast in God’s presence.
Let the world look at us like we’re crazy for taking a time out from the digital noise around us. It will still be there, louder than ever when we return.
Referenced and Recommended Reads
Dawn, M. J. (1989). Keeping the Sabbath wholly: Ceasing, resting, embracing, feasting
Heschel, A. J. (1951). The Sabbath, its meaning for modern man. New York: Farrar, Straus and Young.
Peterson, E. (1994) “The Good for Nothing Sabbath,” Christianity Today.
Sabbath Manifesto, http://www.sabbathmanifesto.org/