Books on Faith: The Sabbath World, Week Two
One of the greatest returns on the investment of rest during vacation with my family is the seemingly insignificant lawn chair conversations. Often so casual, their richness can be missed.
Sitting with a wet beach towel around my waist, face tilted toward the sun drenched sky, I peek through the side of my sunglasses toward the sound of slow footsteps. My grandmother pads through the overgrown lawn laced in gilded dandelions, hunkers down in a chair beside me, rests her chin on the outside of her lazy fist. We sit spread out in silence, batting the black flies off our ankles, and watch the kids wade into the still lake.
And then, like releasing the kink in a garden hose, her words uncoil. “You know, people have more things to save them time than ever before—microwaves, cell phones, and computers—and yet, they have less time than they’ve ever had.”
I can’t do anything but nod my head and think.
In The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time, Judith Schulevitz details the evolution of the way Americans spend their time and finds we don’t actually work more than we used to, but we think we do.
And studies prove it. Sociologists John P. Robinson and Geoffrey Godbey, who conducted a survey using time diaries, conclude that Americans do indeed work less currently than they did in the 1960s, yet we feel more pressed for time, whether we work harder or not.
“We feel as if we’re falling short because we devote just under half of our free time to media . . . and ask more of ourselves in the hours remaining,” cites Schulevitz.
Surprisingly, no one noticed until the second half of the twentieth century that all this time-saving didn’t make us feel less rushed. Perhaps Grandmother was right in her carefree assessment. We wear busyness like a badge of honor and use it to rationalize sliding over Sabbath.
A cool breeze blows last week’s laundry, hanging on the line behind us like marionettes dropped through tall pines. Grandmother goes on to describe a typical day in her younger life—bent over an ironing board in the middle of the living room, pushing the iron to the music of young voices playing outside.
"We didn’t worry about our houses being perfect,” she reminisces. “Friends often visited without notice, and you just stopped what you were doing, shuffled the piles from one surface to another, and put the kettle on for tea. Now, people wouldn’t dream of doing that for fear their houses wouldn’t be suitable for guests.”
Perhaps, in all our worries about perceptions, we’re missing a key component keeping us from the riches of rest: community.
“Sabbath can easily be reconfigured as a four-step program for forging community spirit,” notes Schulevitz. She says if we: 1) limit our work time and make room for other time, 2) set one day as everyone’s day off, 3) ordain the day to be every week for group cohesiveness, and 4) make it festive, people will look upon the Sabbath as a pleasure, rather than experiencing its restrictions as a burden.
Pleasure is something Grandmother already knew about Sabbath—because she lived it. I’m finding it in my own life as I encourage over 100 people toward a routine of rest. A practice of Sabbath-keeping born from a desire to experience renewal as a byproduct of rest, the same way it happens during summer vacation. The aperture of my thinking expanded that day in a seemingly insignificant lawn chair conversation, the frame of which hangs permanently in my mind as Sabbath.
“If the adult life is divided, the Sabbath is when we become one—with our family, with our community, with God.”
How does time and community inform your Sabbath-keeping? Does it hinder or help you?
Will you join us on Mondays in July as we consider how we order our days? As we read through The Sabbath World together, we would love to hear from you about what Sabbath means to you, what influences you in your practice of Sabbath-keeping, and if you have noticed an impact Sabbath-keeping has on the hard work of living your life. Leave your thoughts in the comments, and if you are reading and blogging along, drop your link there, too. Next week, Teri Lynne Underwood leads us in discussing Part three (The Scandal of the Holy) and Part four (The Flight From Time). I hope you'll join us!