Books on Faith: The Sabbath World, Week Five
Our minivan served us faithfully for over a decade, but we came to the point where we knew, as the Little River Band sings, that it’s time for a cool change. So on a sunny Sunday afternoon we gathered our laughable down payment, our credit score, and what little wits we have and went to find a deal. But all we found were car lots that were closed; not just one here and there, but every one we visited. Guess what? In Colorado (plus a handful of other states) you can't buy a car on Sunday. This caught us completely off-guard. We thought the only thing still closed for Sunday commerce was Chick-fil-A.
This happened about the same time I was turning pages into the last section of Judith Shulevitz’s The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time. She gave a good overview of Sunday blue laws, the most common restricting the sale of alcohol. But there are others:
Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Maine, and New Hampshire outlaw Sunday horse racing. Maine enjoins boxing, air circuses, and wrestling… Baltimore County, in Maryland, prohibits bingo on Sunday, while New Jersey bans all Sunday “games of chance.” Tennessee requires that all “adult” establishments shut down for the day. Several states shut down car showrooms on Sunday, although that particular prohibition has been singled out for attack in recent years and is fast disappearing.
So maybe one of these days we’ll be able to test-drive and sign the dotted line on any given Sunday. Still, while reading those lines a part of me grieved that some of these few remaining fossils might be fast disappearing. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.
What I found most compelling in this chapter was Shulevitz’s discussion of the current fluidity of time.
Cell-phone and text-messaging and social-networking technologies have begun to wash away at adamantine “mechanical time,”…and to suspend us with “mobile time,” which can be made to flow whichever way we want…Using our cell phones and other devices, we micro-coordinate our time…which allows us to bypass Universal Time and operate on what I would call Particular Time—time that can constantly be adjusted to fit our own idiosyncratic needs.
While being in control of time sounds good, albeit slightly naïve, many of us know that feeling of time being in control of us—what sociologists call the Lazarus effect, this “nagging consciousness of ‘dead’ time that wouldn’t strike us as wasted if we didn’t have a mobile device in our hands.”
But Lazarus got a second chance, right? Maybe calling forth some Sabbath time away from these technologies might allow us once again to enjoy
laziness, goofiness, random reading, desultory conversation, neighbors and relatives both pleasant and unpleasant—the kinds of things that knit us together even as they make us more ourselves.
I admit this book was a hard trip at times. There were scenic overlooks along the way but there were also long stretches of blacktop, the kind that make you drowsy. But overall Shulevitz captured the texture of Sabbath and for that I say well done. Sabbath-keeping is hard; I believe it always has been. Sometimes boring, sometimes poignant to the point of painful, this fossil deserves our practice and remembrance for in so we learn Socrates’ techne tou biou —“the art of existence”—not to mention obey God’s fourth command that might just help us live whole, if not holy.
And as for the new vehicle shopping I mentioned, we found with a little coordinating effort on our parts we could squeeze that in on the weekdays—just a subtle shift in the way we approached something we needed to do. You could call it a cool change.
Thanks for joining us on Mondays in July as we considered Sabbath-keeping. Leave your thoughts in the comments, and if you are reading and blogging along, drop your link there, too. Next week, we start a new book in the Family category: The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More by Bruce Feiler. Sound too good to be true? Join us on Mondays and learn the secrets!