Sabbath, Work & Technology During COVID

I decided to re-read The Sabbath, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's seminal work on the Sabbath over the course of this pandemic.  It's one of those books that I've returned to over and again throughout my life---mostly when I have been feeling overwhelmed and over-busy.  

Along those lines... I've probably read Sabbath six times since I first bought my current copy about seven years ago.  My original copy got read at least four times before I loaned to a pastor friend and never got it back, which is totally fine.  They needed it. 

So yeah, I often feel overwhelmed and over-busy, but all the times before pale in comparison to the last few months.  

We live in strange times right now, and as I picked up The Sabbath again, I wondered just how well Heschel's work, which was written in 1951 would hold up in this new world we're living in right now.    

It does hold up by the way.  And the truth is, we absolutely need more conversations about what it means to live a sabbath lifestyle, and I believe that Heschel's voice is probably more relevant than ever.  

Think about it... The lines between home and work have been blurred for a lot of us, because we are now working from home, or at the very least mostly  at home rather than an office. 

Also, our reliance on technology has risen to levels none of us has ever seen in our lifetime.    

In our current environment, we live with the irrational belief that if we lost access to the outside world through our computers and mobile devices, we would quickly find ourselves ten paces behind everyone else.  

One of the greatest frustrations I've harbored over the last couple of weeks has been my constant struggles with my internet provider, and the lackluster upload speeds that prohibit me from quality live streaming, Zoom meetings and the like.  

The other morning I actually felt myself actually feeling panicked as I struggled to find a stronger wifi signal, and I had to stop and ask myself, "What in the world is going on here?  Where is this coming from?"  

For many of us, our increased reliance on technology and online connectedness  feels overwhelming and frightening so we choose one of two things:  

We either do whatever it takes not to lose what seems like a lifeline with technology, or we retreat from it and run the risk of becoming isolated and alone.  

These newly transformed relationships with work and technology have us reeling in ways that we may not even be fully aware of yet.  

But the affects are being reflected in the record number of people who are responding to polls on mental and emotional health during COVID as feeling "depressed," "anxious," or "fearful."  

Heschel wrote about this nearly seventy years ago--and his prophetic words are amplified in our current culture.  Listen to what he has to say:  

Yet our victories (over nature) have come to resemble defeats.  In spite of our triumphs, we have fallen victims to the work of our hands; it is as if the forces we had conquered have conquered us. 

It does feel as though our mastery over technology was an illusion.  But Heschel doesn't curse the darkness with his vision for these kinds of advancements, instead he offers a candle to be lit:  

The solution of mankind’s most vexing problem will not be found in renouncing technical civilization, but in attaining some degree of independence of it.   

Heschel teaches that work and technology are not curses to be endured, nor should they be avoided and relegated to the lowest rungs of our priorities.  They can bring us satisfaction and fulfillment in so many ways.  

Instead, he advocates for a mindset that allows for us to do work and to embrace technology in its proper use, but to be "in love with eternity."  

Jesus exhorted his followers in a similar way when he said this at the Sermon on The Mount: 

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

As difficult as it may be for us, the two most important things that we can all do right now is to find spaces in our days to disconnect from technology, and to clearly differentiate between work and rest.  

Listen, I'm preaching to the choir on this, when it comes to my own struggles to disconnect, and take a break.  We need some balance in our lives if we are going to move forward into this new world with the proper perspectives in place.  We need some Sabbath.  

May you find space to fall in love with eternity during this week even if you have to do some major rearranging to find it.  And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  


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