“Point your browser to www.anything.com” — a generation ago that would have sounded like gibberish to those who heard it. Today it conjures up a sense of direction for us, even if we don’t know what content awaits us if we type in the address in our browser and visit the site.
Technology has certainly helped our globe shrink, and today the pace of the global marketplace and information exchange has shrunk our awareness of time itself. We don’t wait for news and business transactions: ours is truly the 24/7/365 reality we all talk about, marked by www.I-want-it-right-now.com and by endless information in the cloud, on demand, anytime, anywhere.
7 days a week, 24 hours a day stores are open, networks stream, YouTube plays, Facebook reveals, and gossip is tweeted in 140 characters or less.
But no matter how we spend it, everyone has the same amount of time to deal with, at least in a day or a week or a month. There are always the same number of hours in a day, a week, a year (add 24 in leap year).
Nature knows this, and she lumbers along at her own pace. Summer leisurely turns into Fall, and we obey by gathering the falling leaves and bundling up a little more in the crisper air. Nature knows her own rhythm, and lives by her own pace. This is, of course, part of God’s plan in creation, part of God’s gift. It’s part of God’s design.
A few generations ago, human actions were dependent on the rhythm and cycles of nature. We understood and embraced God’s design more easily than we do today. When the sun set, work stopped. When the sun rose, work resumed. Crops were planted and harvested according to the seasons dictated by nature. Strawberries and peaches and lettuce were simply not available in January, and milk didn’t last more than a day or two.
Human lives and human activity is today increasingly removed, increasingly detached, from nature. We are increasingly separated from a story and a design that extends beyond our memories and will govern the planets for eons to come. Today we struggle to fashion our own times and seasons.
In our design of time, the scale and proportion is all wrong. God got it right the first time. Our perception of time today has lost its connection to the human person as well as to nature. There are consequences to this.
Human time is increasingly valuable only to the extent that it is productive. Human time is seen as having no intrinsic value, but merely an instrumental value: what can I accomplish, what can I do, what can I get done? Human time is now given a monetized value, whether the billable hour or the hourly wage, or measured by the production cycle of our industry.
The human person is also increasingly valued only for what that person can do, can contribute to society, to what extent he or she is a value-added commodity.
We fight against time, but here’s the rub: time itself will always win! There are, in fact, only so many hours in a day, a week, a year, and no more. And time will ultimately win, when our moments on this earth run out.
When Moses came down from the mountain, accompanied by swirling clouds, flashes of lightning, and peals of thunder that struck terror in the people, the chronicle is not written that he reported, “On these stone tablets I have several suggestions from God for a more meaningful life.” He stated unambiguously, “These are the commandments of God.” Not a set of good ideas, but commandments.
Among these commandments is that we keep the Sabbath day holy. The whole day, not just an hour.
In fact, the commandments are given twice in the Old Testament:
In the book of Exodus, we are commanded to “remember” the sabbath day. This is tied to an acute awareness of creation and the creator. God worked for 6 days, then saw that all was very good, and rested on the 7th day. Remember this, we are commanded: God created you, and not vice-versa, and you are very good, and you must take every 7th off from needless work.
We do not create our reality; we are the creature. We obey the rhythms and cycles of nature, we do not command them. We are part of a larger cycle of life, not thought up by us but created by God. By forcing ourselves to keep a day apart from unnecessary labor we are forced to remember our place in the universe: creature, not Creator.
In the book of Deuteronomy, we are commanded to “observe” the sabbath day. In context, this commandment recalls that we are a people released from bondage and freed in God’s grace. By an act of powerful mercy, God released an entire people from cruel bondage in Egypt: “observe” your new reality as freed slaves, we are urged. Slaves cannot take a day off; free people can. By observing the Sabbath day we accept God’s grace and revel in the freedom that allows us to become refreshed and renewed.
Consider this as well: every one of the commandments exists because people get hurt when they are violated. No less than theft or adultery, we are hurt – physically, spiritually, and emotionally – by never recognizing a place for sabbath rest.
WHO IS THE MOST COURAGEOUS PERSON TODAY? IT MAY BE THE ONE WHO DARES TO KEEP THE SABBATH. THE ONE WHO REFUSES TO SURRENDER TO THE PRESS OF TIME THAT DEVALUES THE PERSON, DEVALUES NATURE, DEVALUES GOD. THE ONE WHO SAYS “NO,” BECAUSE THE SABBATH IS NOT JUST ANOTHER DAY LIKE ALL THE REST: IT IS THE LORD’S DAY.
• The Sabbath reveals whether we depend on God or ourselves.
• The Sabbath allows us to experience what it means to be free and not enslaved.
• The Sabbath refreshes the body and soul and psyche, like a field lying fallow for a season lest all its nutrients be sucked out of it and it become lifeless and barren.
• The Sabbath renews a sense of wonder within us, a childlike playfulness and joy in discovering more of God’s gifts.
• The Sabbath returns us to an awareness that time is valuable in itself, not just for what we can accomplish.
• The Sabbath renews in us an awareness that there's more to us and more to life than what we can produce or accomplish.
• The Sabbath, above all, is God’s plan. It’s not just a good idea, and it’s not just a suggestion: it’s a commandment.
Oct 21, 2012
Msgr. William J. King