Secular People Need Sabbaths, Too
It's taken years for me to integrate Sabbath-keeping into my week. For most of my life, I have attended a church service on Sundays, but otherwise Sundays haven't been distinct. In recent years, though, ceasing from work, resting, and celebrating God's goodness on Sundays has gained importance in our family. It's become a day when we worship with our church community, eat a midday meal, nap or read for a long portion of the afternoon, and enjoy time together in the early evening. As I've written elsewhere, we try to avoid purchasing things on Sundays. We also try to avoid e-mail. I've taken to giving our household appliances a rest. The laundry can wait.
American culture doesn't share my family's appreciation for the Sabbath. I routinely pass a highway billboard from People's Bank extolling their around-the-clock services. They boast that if there were eight days in a week, they'd be open all eight days. We live in a 24-7 era. We may only report to an office five days a week, but most people are "on" all the time, via the internet, cell phones, and retail establishments.
So my ears perked recently when I heard an interview with William Powers, author of Hamlet's Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age. One of Powers's strategies for using technology wisely is what he calls "an Internet Sabbath": "We turn off the household modem … We can't do Web surfing … We really enter this other zone, and it's wonderful …. Even when we're connected, we can feel the benefits of having been disconnected a couple days ago."
Two other news stories caught my eye. The first was a review of Chastened, Hephzibah Anderson's book detailing her year of swearing off sex. The second came from an NPR story about "Meatless Mondays," Sid Lerner's attempt to convince New York restaurants to serve vegetarian meals on Mondays. In both cases, non-religious people have lifted practices of self-denial out of their traditionally religious context and found them to bring freedom, wisdom, and well-being.
None of these stories involves a recognition of God as one who deserves worship and who offers a way of life in which self-denial leads to flourishing. Yet they all reflect those truths. Powers, Anderson, and Lerner have all recognized a need for limits and a need for order. This echoes the story of creation in Genesis 1-3, in which God works to bring order out of chaos, and the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-3, which reflects the human need for limits. (Of course, Genesis 3 also reflects our perpetual tendency to deny those limits and try to be God instead.)
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