American culture generates restlessness, telling people through advertising that what they have-including other people in their lives-isn't good enough. As a result, many get on a "treadmill," always looking for something better, Dr. Norman Wirzba said Nov. 1 at Bluffton University.
Sabbath sets restlessness aside, though, telling those who take time for it that they, and the ones they're with, are gifts from God, added the Duke Divinity School professor.
"The Sabbath is that time when you learn to reflect about your life" and to see God in others, said Wirzba, a research professor of theology, ecology and rural life. It may be, he suggested, one of the most underutilized, but most important, things to be learned from the Bible, able to prevent people from being perpetually bored, distracted or, in Pink Floyd's words, "comfortably numb."
Wirzba noted that early Jews-who called the Sabbath "a taste of heaven"-"understood people can be alive, yet dead at the same time." And having a demeanor dead to the world is "an awful place to be," he said.
In addition to being "good at making us restless," advertising further aims to make consumers unhappy so they'll spend more money, said Wirzba, also a research professor at Duke University's Nicholas School for the Environment. He recounted abstaining from television and magazines in his home for years because of advertising, but simply seeing it in magazines he picked up in his doctor's waiting room "made me ungrateful for what I had."
But if "the grass is always greener" elsewhere, he maintained, it's not really because there's actually something, or someone, better to be continually pursued, but rather "because you're not watering where you are."
The person in that situation hasn't "found out what you already have and ways to delight in it," as God intended from the time of creation, Wirzba said. "We're not paying attention to where we are, and paying attention is profoundly important."
The father of four didn't exempt himself, acknowledging that he wrote the book "Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight" for himself because it's so tempting not to be attentive. It's easy to co-exist rather than attend to loved ones when everyone has a full schedule, he added, but making time for each other is essential.
And making "mutual delight" with others a priority requires their help, especially in what Wirzba called an "anti-Sabbath culture." He recalled making his students take an inventory of how they spent their time, which would eventually amount to years spent surfing the Internet or watching TV at the expense, he said, of cultivating relationships and tending to the health of each other-and the world. Practicing Sabbath regularly, he recommended, could start with friends getting together and asking each other how they could go about it creatively.
"The whole week is preparation for Sabbath," Wirzba said, "and the whole week flows from Sabbath."