Radical Shabbat: Free Time, Free People

Our religious traditions teach that human beings need time for self-reflective spiritual growth, for loving family, and for communal sharing. And the earth itself needs time to rest. Yet today's high-stress, environmentally toxic economy and culture preclude this sort of spiritual deepening.

Indeed, most Americans today work longer, harder, and more according to someone else's schedule than they did 30 years ago. We have less time to raise children, share neighborhood concerns, or develop our spiritual life. This unremitting addiction to "doing" and "making" has intensified many forms of pollution of the earth. This life situation crosses what we usually see as class lines: Single mothers who are working at minimum wages for fast-food chains and holding on by their fingernails to a second job to make ends meet feel desperately overworked; and so do wealthy brain surgeons.

Why is this happening? Because doing, making, profiting, producing, and consuming have been elevated to idols. While corporate profits have zoomed and the concentration of wealth has increased, real wages have remained stagnant for 20 years, and the pressure has intensified to work harder and longer just to stay in the same place.

Biblical "shabbat" is a critique of these idolatries.

Shabbat—the Sabbath—appears first as a cosmic truth in the creation story (Genesis 2:1-4), but seems to have had no effect on human life till just after the great liberation of the Israelites from slavery. In Exodus (16:4-30) Shabbat is made known, along with the manna in the wilderness. This story of food and rest echoes and reverses the tale of Eden.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2000
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