Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Time for a Digital Sabbath Rest

A few months ago, I mentioned my friend in Israel, Alan. He is a devout Jew and faithfully observes the Sabbath each week. From sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday, he and his family detach themselves from the hectic, modern world: no work, no travel, no TV. They just rest and pray and enjoy each other’s company.

When I wrote that essay, I discussed the fact that Catholics used to honor the Lord’s Day, Sunday, by resting and refraining from work. Raise your hand if you can remember the “blue laws,” and the fact all the stores were closed on Sunday? (Uh oh, if you raised your hand, you’re showing your age!)

Nowadays, of course, for the average Catholic, Sundays are filled with shopping, traveling, catching up on office work, and the completely out-of-control youth sports activities. (Let me clarify: if parents have to be in Stamford at 9 a.m. for Sally’s soccer game, and then in Norwich at 2 p.m. for Tommy’s lacrosse game, and then in suburban Boston by 7 p.m. to pick up Davey from his hockey tournament, that’s is the definition of “out-of-control” youth sports. That is an insane schedule no matter what day of the week it is.)

It’s unlikely American Catholics will every return to the “good ol’ days” of honoring the Lord’s Day by staying close to home, enjoying a meal with family, and then taking a long nap. But maybe we could try something tailored for our modern age. I’m thinking of this: a digital Sabbath rest. What I mean is, we take one day of each week and shut off all the digital devices to which we have become so addicted.

Do you think that is possible? Can you go a full day without using your smart phone, your iPad, or your computer? Can you go an entire 24-hour period without the Internet, with no emails, and no text messages? Is that humanly possible? Whoa, I can hear you screaming “No!!” right now through my laptop computer. (And that would include no laptop computers, too.)

What I am proposing is this: on one day of the week, we should try living with only 1943 technology: radio, newspapers, magazines, books, note pads, pencils. And in 1943, there was gas rationing because of the war, so people did not drive far. They stayed close to home, and rested and relaxed. What a concept!

Here’s a compromise: at noon, you can turn on your smart phone and check to see if there are any urgent messages. After all, you don’t want to be completely out of touch if there is a family emergency. But no Internet surfing while you phone is on—and especially no Satan’s Book, er, I mean, Facebook. Just check to make sure there are no emergencies and then turn the phone off. You can turn the phone on briefly in the early evening to check again for urgent messages.

If the very idea of detaching from digital technology for one full day is making you feel anxious right now, then that is a clear sign you really need to do it. (And just so you know, every time I type the word “you,” I also mean “me.”)

Just think of how beneficial it will be for your body, mind, and soul to relax with a good book while the radio is playing soft music in the background. Then after a while, pray the Rosary. Then go outside and take a nice walk. After that, take a long nap.

If you feel the urge to connect with another person, try an ancient method of social media: speak to someone face-to-face. I know, I know, that is a bizarre concept nowadays. But it really works, and people used to do it all the time before the smart phone era.

I suspect there is no chance American Catholics will ever be as zealous in honoring the Sabbath as my friend Alan in Israel. But we have turned the Lord’s Day into just another hectic rat-race day, and that’s not right.

I know a digital Sabbath rest will be difficult. But we should give it a try anyway. It just might keep us from losing our minds—and our souls.

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