Have a subversive Sabbath
When I was a kid, Sundays were really, really quiet; not a lot happened. We went to church, came home and ate lunch and then took a nap or lounged around the house.
The point was to do as little work as possible because it was the Sabbath.
A middle-aged woman I know once told me about a scorching hot July afternoon she remembered from her childhood. She and her friends sought to beat the heat by jumping in the pool. The problem was, it was Sunday and her parents weren’t sure that swimming was acceptable Sabbath behaviour. After much discussion, her parents decided on the most ethical solution: the kids could swim, but they had to be careful not to splash.
From our present perspective, stories like this seem laughably quaint. Now, for the most part, they’ve disappeared from our collective practice.
But I’m not sure that we’re better for it. I’m not one to get wistful for the restrictive legalism of yore, but I do think it’s incredibly important to reclaim the discipline of the Sabbath or, at the very least, the philosophy behind it.
I say this because a healthy Sabbath observance isn’t restrictive at all, but profoundly liberating.
It’s a peculiar myth of our age that we are somehow more “free” when we can set our own schedules, choose to work seven days a week or go to the mall each and every day.
After all, it’s our choice, isn’t it? If I want to work relentlessly or consume on demand any time of the week, why should my freedom to do so be limited?
I’d wager that this isn’t reflective of true freedom at all but rather a kind of indentured service to the market economy.
The paramount values of that economy are growth, profits and consumption. The pursuit of these values has given us a workaholic culture, and the resulting negative fallout includes stress, fatigue, substance abuse, broken relationships and the dissolution of a healthy boundary between work and rest.
I think university culture has bought into this quite effectively. Consider our rationale for attending university: how many of us are here for the sheer love and luxury of learning, in the hope of becoming a better person or because we can’t resist the thrill of engaging with great books and great minds?
I’d say those reasons are far behind the primary motivation: to get a job. So we work. We cram. We endure late night study sessions and exams taken with caffeine jitters. We stress out about whether we’re going to get kind of grades that will make us competitive in the job market.
And strangely, we boast about our workaholism.
I can’t count the amount of times I’ve run into people across campus and when I ask them how they’re doing, they say “busy.” I’ve said it myself.
It’s indicative of a cultural obsession that “busy” seems to be the most appropriate adjective we use to describe ourselves.
This isn’t the way things ought to be. We’re not created to be workaholics, to be the kind of people who slavishly strive for the values of the market economy.
The Judeo-Christian tradition has recognized this fact from its earliest days, which is why Sabbath rest is such a fundamental component of what it considers to be a life well-lived.
It affirms that the Sabbath is written into the very order of creation, meaning it reflects a deeper reality amid the bustle of the cosmos.
Want to subvert your capitalist overlords (or maybe just your own workaholic tendencies)? Then do nothing.
For one whole day a week, do absolutely no work. It might be hard at first, but you may soon come to know the taste of a truer freedom.