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Straining for Sabbath Amidst the Demands of Phones and Computers

November 08, 2017
Reprinted with permission

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

We are becoming more enslaved to and more compulsive in our use of mobile phones and the internet. For many of us it is now existentially impossible to take off a day, let alone several weeks off, and be on a genuine holiday or vacation. Rather the pressure is on us to constantly check for texts, emails, phone messages, and the like; and the expectation from our families, friends, and colleagues is precisely that we are checking these regularly. The sin-du-jour is to be, at any time, unavailable, unreachable, or non-communicative.

But the rhythm of time as God designed it is meant to give us, regularly, weekly, some time off the wheel, some “Sabbath-time” when ordinary life, ordinary pressures, ordinary work, and ordinary expectations are bracketed and we give ourselves permission to stop, to shut things down, and to rest. Today, nowhere is this more appropriate and urgent than in regards to our use of phones, notebooks, and computers. They, more than anything else, constitute regular time, servile work, and the occupations and preoccupations from which the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath ask us to refrain.

When I was young both our churches and our culture still took the concept of Sabbath (for Christians, especially the idea of not working on Sunday) more seriously. A popular question was always: What are you allowed to do on a Sunday and what are you not allowed to do? Mostly this focused on different kinds of physical labor: May you work in your garden on a Sunday? May you harvest your apples tree on a Sunday? Today, I worry less about gardening or picking apples on a Sunday. The more important issue is: Can we step off the treadmill of phones and computers on Sundays and be genuinely available to celebrate Sabbath?

Sabbath, as Wayne Muller tells us, is time off the wheel, time when we take our hand from the plough and let God and the earth care of things, while we drink, if only for a few moments, for the fountain of rest and delight. Today that plough looks a lot like a mobile phone or a computer. Centuries ago, the mystic poet, Rumi, wrote: "I have lived too long where I can be reached!” Haven’t we all!

Used with permission of the author, Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser. Currently, Father Rolheiser is serving as President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio Texas. He can be contacted through his website, www.ronrolheiser.com. www.facebook.com/ronrolheiser

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