Last week I had to fly to a Board meeting with the Insurance Board of the United Church of Christ. Although it was a relatively short flight, the persons on each side of me immediately got their laptops and cell phones ready to set up an inflight mobile office upon getting settled into their seats. We quickly learned there would be no Wi-Fi access on the flight. When it was announced, there was a horrified, collective gasp.
One of my seatmates seemed unglued by the notation that he would not be able to check his emails. First, he was angry. Then he was in denial, trying desperately to figure out a workaround. He even tried bargaining with the stewardess, seeking to negotiate a deal, believing money could fix the no WIFI program. Defeated, he looked at me and said, “I don’t know what else to do.” To which my response was, “I understand. I can promise those emails will still be there when you land. People can wait while you might get the gift of being unplugged and maybe taking a nap.”
I did understand. Before I boarded, I had made quite a few phone calls. My last phone call was to Christy in the office, in which I told her I planned to get caught up on some email correspondence myself. As I watched my seatmate wrestle with the notice of seeing the time on the plane as unproductive, I saw myself.
An internal reset was one of the most glorious gifts of my sabbatical time. It was a reminder of the purpose and meaning of the Sabbath. In the classic text, The Sabbath, author Abraham Joshua Herschel explains sabbath creates a “palace of time.” It is a discipline that can lead us to glimpse the joy and tranquility of eternity. Herschel asserted, “He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clamoring commerce, a being yoked to toil. He must go away from the screech of dissonant days, from the nervousness and fury of acquisitiveness and the betrayal in embezzling his own life. He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man… We wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath, we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else (p. 13).”
While many of us think of Sabbath as a particular day, ancient and modern scholars alike agree that the Sabbath is not limited to a day a week. Instead, it is a holy habit, a discipline rooted in a frame of mind. It is choosing to receive the gift of time in which all cares and concerns of this world fall away, and we are reconnected to the One who created us and seeks to know us and be known.
Consider this challenge Wayne Mueller offers readers in his book Sabbath; Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our busy lives, “Sabbath can only begin if we close the factory, turn out the lights, turn off the computer, and withdraw from the concerns of the marketplace. Whether it is a morning, afternoon, or an entire day, surrender to a quality of time when you will not be disturbed, seduced, or responsive to what technologies have to offer. Notice how you respond to its absence (p. 28).”
During the time on the plane, when my computer and phone were shut off, I experienced the gift of the Sabbath rest. I can’t speak for my seatmate. However, he did take a nap.
This week I invite you to take up Mueller’s challenge in seeking a time to intentionally “surrender to a quality of time” when you are “not disturbed, seduced, or responsive to what technologies have to offer.” I am confident you will discover the joy and beauty of the Sabbath.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, ISC Conference Minister