HAVE YOU NOTICED HOW WE THINK OF TIME has changed since the coronavirus pandemic entered our lives last March? Some have gone so far as to say that the virus is warping our sense of time. Saad B. Omer, the director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, described it this way in a recent tweet: “We all now exist in a single, long day in Pandemic Standard Time that started in January and is still going on.”
Many of us have trouble discerning which day it is—all the days seem similar. For those newly working at home, the distinctions between work hours and non-work hours have broken down. Many are now working longer hours than before because work is always accessible, as are we. What does it mean to take a day off when you’re always at home?
These changes in how we view time got me thinking about the Sabbath, a day devoted to rest. If keeping Sabbath is intentionally interrupting our ordinary days with sacred, holy time, how do we observe the Sabbath in our pandemic world?
For some of us, our days are filled with end-to-end online meetings for work and school. And many of us gather with friends and family via these same video conferencing systems during non-work hours. Screen fatigue is real. What would it be like if we spent a day not reading e-mail, not scrolling through social media apps, not binge-watch something? A day when an agenda does not control our hours and minutes?
Respecting the call to stay at home
Most of us respect the call to stay at home and have been doing that for the last year. For those who live with others, staying at home is no guarantee that meaningful engagement is taking place among those living together. What would it be like to spend a day talking, playing games, taking walks together?
The pandemic has caused challenges to our sleep. Some are experiencing stress-related insomnia. Loss of sleep, in turn, can harm your health. Physical distancing and quarantining can lead to isolation and depression that can cause sleep issues. Being chronically sleep-deprived, medical experts warn us, can lower one’s immunity and that, in turn, can increase susceptibility to viruses. What would it be like to spend a day resting? Getting out in some fresh air and getting some physical exercise? A nap sounds so indulgent, doesn’t it?
When the days all blur into one and we lose track of time, Sabbath-keeping can help us order our days, spend time with God and those we love, rest our bodies and minds. These are the much-needed self-care aspects of Sabbath-keeping.
It’s not just our physical and emotional health that needs attention during this pandemic. How is your spiritual health? Sabbath-keeping aids nurture our faith. As one blogger writes, “sabbath is a radical, subversive, and theological statement about God, ourselves, and the world.” By keeping the Sabbath, we acknowledge that God will provide, that we are not in charge, and are in relationship with God.
Shaken us to our core
The coronavirus has shaken many of us to our core, uprooting our lives. By keeping the Sabbath, we trust God to see us through to the other side of this global pandemic. By keeping the Sabbath, restoration can happen. As healthier disciples, we are better able to respond to God’s call.
Sabbath-keeping is decidedly counter-cultural, even in non-pandemic times. Just because our society is not friendly to Sabbath-keeping does not exempt us from keeping the Sabbath. And it surely does not erase our need for Sabbath. “Sabbath is a gift,” noted preacher and author Barbara Brown Taylor. “But we are so reluctant to accept it, that God had to make it a commandment.” Ah, there’s the rub.
Keeping Sabbath is more than just setting aside one day each week. It’s a way of living. “A Sabbath heart is restful even in the midst of unrest and upheaval. It is attentive to the presence of God and others even in the welter of much coming and going, rising and falling. It is still and knows God even when mountains fall into the sea.” So writes author Mark Buchanan in his book The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath.
We’ve got bucket loads of unrest and upheaval in our lives right now. The pandemic. Systemic racism. Climate change. Lost jobs and closing businesses. Domestic terrorism. The list goes on and on. I can’t help but think that, with a Sabbath heart, we could better face this unrest and upheaval and better love ourselves and our neighbors.
Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director of Women of the ELCA. A version of this blog is running in the April 2021 issue of Gather magazine.