a little something extra

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sabbath 2

This week's chapter in Muller's book is entitled The Joy of Rest.

My brother-in-law Lee has grasped the joy of rest. Now, Lee is an incredibly hardworking person. At this moment he has a demanding full-time job and is getting his MBA while rearing a newborn and a toddler with special needs. Lee has been a triathlete and has run at least one marathon that I know of. He is no stranger to hard work.

Yet, how does Lee define a good day? By miles run, studying accomplished, work finished?

No. Lee's system is as follows:

A good day is a day on which you get one nap.
A great day is a day on which you get more than one nap.

At the beginning of this chapter, Muller sketches another couple of quick examples of how exhausting contemporary life is. The first thing I found particularly compelling appeared on the second page, in which one of Muller's case studies says "I am with people all day and night, but still I feel so lonely." Eventually, our fatigue becomes so great that we cannot draw sustenance from the company of others -- even if we have contact with people we love, we still feel lonely. Our exhaustion isolates us as surely as walls or miles could. And I really believe that loneliness is one of the major problems/diseases/whatevers of modern life. It's vicious cycle: we grow lonely, so we push ourselves to do more with other people, which leaves us more tired, and eventually the exhaustion makes it impossible to feel un-lonely even when we are un-alone.

Another note Muller makes in this chapter is that one translation of the Biblical phrase "to pray" is "to come and rest." I think this is a very different idea of prayer than many of us grew up with. We absorbed the idea that prayers are Things You Say, or that prayer should be so much work that you'll sweat like drops of blood a la Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, etc. etc. So the idea that rest can be a prayer is rather radical. Muller characterizes this type of prayer as "allowing the mind to rest in the heart." He uses this phrase twice. It bears thinking about.

And here's the exercise that appears at the end of the chapter:

Choose at least one heavily used appliance or device -- the telephone, television, computer, washer and dryer -- and let them rest for a Sabbath period. Whether it is a morning, afternoon, or entire day, surrender to a quality of time when you will not be disturbed, seduced, or responsive to what our technologies have to offer. Notice how you respond to its absence.

[A brief digression: this is the first place that I have a little class disorientation concerning the content of this book. Muller assumes that everybody can afford a computer, a washer and dryer, etc. One must recognize that he is not necessarily writing this book for people who juggle three minimum-wage jobs to keep the kids fed. There is an unconscious process of self-selection among relatively well-off but overstressed people such as myself who can afford to consider how to change their lives -- they are the people for whom this book is written.]

It's interesting that this exercise touches gently on how closely we can identify ourselves with our possessions. Muller tries to get us to practice resting by convincing us to let our Stuff rest.

I'm fortunate that my work doesn't require me to carry a Blackberry, and that my colleagues are extremely unlikely to call me on my cell phone during the weekend. After all, they all have lives too! So my technological tether to the workplace is pretty much what I make it. I can choose whether and when to check my work email remotely from home, when and whether to dial into my work voicemail and check messages there. I know a lot of people in other lines of work have a much harder time balancing their accessibility to their workplaces during their purported "down time."

So, OK. Given that I've self-selected into the group considering Muller's book, there is a big obvious candidate for the technology to be laid aside as I consciously create Sabbath time for myself. I live in southern California -- I need to stay out of the car.

My car has given me trouble lately. Some repairs, and a rental car while they were accomplished, ran up a bill that I wish I didn't have. I always feel particularly sharp stress when some mechanical element in my life isn't working properly. This is because I don't understand anything mechanical very well, so their malfunctions pose an especially sharp challenge to my sense of well-being and partial control over my life. I even got a parking ticket the other morning, to top it all off. But now the ticket is paid, the car is fixed and all seems to be well (knock on wood).

My neighborhood is very walkable. Within blocks, there is a grocery store, a drugstore, a great coffee house, numerous restaurants, a hair salon, a dry cleaner's -- really, every kind of business I would need in the course of an ordinary day. I welcome the days when I don't have to get in the car from sunup to bedtime. But those days are rare. Even today, which is the Official Sabbath according to the faith tradition I practice, I got in the car to go downtown in the morning to attend a church service and visit the main branch of the library.

My car is also a way I connect with other people. Could I have made yesterday a day with no driving? I could, but then I would have missed the dinner party at the home of one of my friends, where I met four new people, plus the dog that my friend and her paramour recently adopted. Which is more restful -- the choice not to drive, or the convivial time with friendly folks? That's the judgment we're challenged to make.

This is another bias I notice in Muller's book. He tends to assume that people don't live alone, and that friends are easy to get to. Clearly he doesn't spend much time in this neck of the woods. :-)


At 3:40 PM , Blogger eric said...

"Choose at least one heavily used appliance or device -- the telephone, television, computer, washer and dryer -- and let them rest for a Sabbath period."

Muller lacks ambition! My people, at least the more religious of them, put ALL their appliances to rest for the entire duration of the Sabbath. (And if they need the lights turned on, they call a shabbos goy.)

If you don't know what a shabbos goy is, Google it.

At 3:55 PM , Blogger meeegan said...

Of course I know, both the translation of that phrase and the all-or-nothing practice you refer to.

Muller's trying to coach people whose culture actively discourages the practice (at best). Your most orthodox people's culture actively encourages and supports it.

At 8:30 AM , Blogger eric said...

Sorry, I momentarily forgot that you're not unexposed to the People of the Book.

Perhaps the Lubavitchers should take a page from the Buddhists (their main competition for Jewish-American souls) and offer week-long retreats in Crown Heights to stressed out yuppies and the like...


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