A friend just called this to my attention: an essay that appeared in The Wall Street Journal last week, adapted from a new book by Sohrab Ahmari, The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos.
Unfortunately, it is behind a subscription paywall, but here’s part that can resonate with many of us, I think, as we prepare to fully re-open churches and gather again in the pews every Sunday:
Americans’ turn away from the Sabbath has been going on for a long time. In the mid-20th century, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of America’s foremost Jewish thinkers, wrote about the Sabbath in terms of “the realm of time” and “the realm of space.” Modern life is all about conquering space: winning geopolitical territory, growing and prospering economically. But “the danger begins,” Heschel worried, “when in gaining power in the realm of space we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time.” In that realm, “the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord…”
… Before Heschel denounced the injustices that disfigured America, he deplored the commercialized, technocratic way of life that denied time to the Sabbath. What his industrious fellow Americans might have mistaken for “wasted time” was, in fact, an absolutely necessary act. In biblical logic, holiness always requires sacrificial abandonment: Something must be handed over to God. This logic of sacrifice is at work in an especially tangible way in the Sabbath. As Heschel wrote, “he who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil.”
“A world without the Sabbath is a world without soul.”
… Judaism, Christianity and Islam all appreciated the bond between Sabbath restrictions and human freedom, even as they designated different days to be holy. Across the West today, however, the drive toward maximal market liberty has squeezed out the liberty of the Sabbath. We have banished it in the name of “choice.” And some choice we have: Working-class families are denied even a half-day of rest together, yet we are puzzled by astronomical divorce rates, abysmally low rates of family formation, alienation and drug abuse. We have cashiered the Sabbath for algorithmic human-resources scheduling—computer code designed to minimize labor costs, regardless of the impact on families and communities.
For professionals, the Sabbath’s demise means barrages of emails to be answered during sleepless nights spent by the ghostly blue glow of the smartphone. For other workers, the Sabbath’s defeat means missed children’s baseball games, lunches wolfed down on impossibly short breaks and bladders relieved in bottles in the vast warehouses of endless consumer choice.
In our day, as in Heschel’s, a world without the Sabbath is a world without soul.