In 2008, I set out to take a sabbatical granted by my work. I had hit the wall of burnout and slid down numerous times. Who knew that it was possible to knock and have the door opened for a long rest? These 3 months became a time of reflection, a moratorium on my life as I knew it. I began to examine the unconscious cultural patterning that had made me a slave to habitual consumption and overwork. What was it that drove me to run faster on my particular hamster wheel, in return for the American dream of a regular paycheck, benefits and retirement. Why did I feel the need to stay “plugged in” all the time, 24-7?
As I examined the world of sabbath keeping and sabbatical, I came to understand Sabbath economy as an ancient concept meant to keep the world of human communities from becoming hollowed out by greed, profit and destructive exploitation of land, one another and all creatures.
Set forth in the Jewish Torah, the blueprint of this economy called for a rhythm of stopping one’s labors and ceasing work in order to rest every 7th day. At it’s heart, Sabbath Economy was based in reverence for the whole web of life and all the human interconnections that must be cared for and maintained to preserve the dignity of work and the proper place of humans in the created world.
A Sabbath Economy was an upside down economy, an alternative to the Pharoah’s anxiety system of endless exploitation of human and natural resources— building bigger towers and centralizing power.
The original vision of a Sabbath economy honored relationship over profit. It called for trust in the grace of limits, of “enough” and an economy of reciprocity—acknowledging the shared gift of earth’s generosity. It did not concede to the idols of economic gain, that clamored to constantly be propped up. This alternative economy was about liberating humans from the steroid demands of the industrial workplace, and thereby every other living being. By keeping Sabbath, their hearts were decolonized and habits retrained to understand the proper place of work.
Barbara Brown Taylor, American author and theologian writes about Sabbath keeping as more than rest. It is active, peaceful resistance to the exploitation of others and the exhaustion of the land. “When you stop working so do your children, your animals, your employees..by interrupting our economically sanctioned social order every week, Sabbath suspends our subtle and not so subtle ways of dominating one another on a regular basis”. (Anita Amstutz, Soul Tending: Journey Into the Heart of Sabbath (Nashville, TN: Turner Publishing)99.
When practiced weekly, for a whole lifetime, generations of peaceful resisters could rise up with a new vision for work in the world and how we re-order our society to live in right relationship with all biotic communities. Resistance must comes from those who live by a different rhythm.
We are at an intersection in human history. Sabbath is needed more than ever. To reevaluate and reflect upon our human story and how we will choose to proceed in the midst of the collapse of so much. Global climate change, the fossil fuel economy, institutional decay, species extinction, and pandemics— a necklace of woes facing humankind.
Now is the time to sit and listen to our common heartbeat in the dark night of this collective soul. Those who understand that we are all interconnected—human, creatures, land, soil, air, water—must be the leaders for a time such as this.
The illusion of security at the feet of the golden calf of this economy has been shattered. Space has been created to grieve the loss of so much and prepare ourselves for what might be possible—to envision a new dream for humanity. Sabbath is about facing “what is”. In our fast paced, technological societies, perhaps sabbath is not practiced because we do not want to look too deeply into the shadowy undercurrents of what drives our restlessness and anxiety.
Our habits of inattention and self-survival stand trial. The “cultural self” has become really good at shutting off the valve to feeling, that organ of perception connecting our own hearts with the heartbeat of a living World. I am angry knowing that over the next months and years, commercials and pundits will continue to preach their sermons, businesses and churches will obediently return to ‘normal’, massive collective forces will induce us back to the sleep of forgetfulness and numbness — quickening our return to the slow boil madness we have all grown accustomed to.
But what if we allow ourselves to be fully present to the collapse all around us? What if, through attention and intention, we learn again to deeply feel? What if we welcome the grief, and the anger, and the joy and let it overcome us? (Let It Fall: Collapse and Ecological Conversion: Essay by Rev. Matthew Syrdal, May 28, 2020 Seminary of the Wild)
Nothing is guaranteed in this time. What do we have to lose as we take this Sabbath to re-imagine a new world? To stop the carbon merry go round that we are fueling? Many will be hell bent on rebuilding the shattered status quo, focused upon preserving or reestablishing the god of the economy rather than protecting life. But for those who know that change is not only possible, it is necessary, we must catalyze this time to understand our true work in the world as Tikkun Olam, to repair and heal, to restore shalom and life-giving wholeness to that which has been so exploited and destroyed. The power of true shabbat is in the community practicing it together. It is in the collective stopping that something new can be born. First we must cease what is killing the planet.
Our true wealth lies in strong and united communities, working together to ensure clean air, water, food, a place to live and healthcare for all. The titans of the exploitative economy would have us believe the lie that we must all pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. This has poisoned our societies and created a deep divide and panic as the god of this economy languishes and disease threatens.
Now is the time to link our fortunes to one another. Now is the time to renew a commitment to the Sabbath Economy of people over profit— a covenant to honor and care for all living beings above and beyond the almighty dollar.
Theodore Roethke writes In A Dark Time, “In a dark time, the eye begins to see / I meet my shadow in the deepening shade / I hear my echo in the echoing wood… What’s madness but nobility of soul / At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!”