One of the things that is noticeably different now, from when I was a child, is the extent to which we introduce our children to the treadmill at earlier and earlier ages. The endless loop of activities consuming every available morsel of a child’s time, an unremitting investment in a more productive adulthood. It comes at a cost. Our favorite scholar of the Hebrew Bible, Walter Brueggemann, delivers a concise reflection on this perennial cultural problem in Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now.
God’s primary goal in instituting the Sabbath, Brueggeman argues, is to allow a respite to the endless daily demands. Sabbath can help us break the profound hold that our own selfish cravings have on us, cravings that are ultimately self-destructive. He writes, “Sabbath is an antidote to anxiety that both derives from our craving and in turn feeds those cravings for more.” Sabbath takes us away from the pattern of endless work and endless, competitive, activities. Sabbath invites us to see ourselves differently, and to live our lives with a thoroughly different rhythm. He suggests, “In our own contemporary context of the rat race of anxiety, the celebration of Sabbath is an act of both resistance and alternative.”
Brueggemann reminds us that, in insisting on the practice of Sabbath, God has declared that our lives are not to be demarcated by the production and consumption of goods, by the treadmill. He links his reflection on Sabbath to where it is discernibly situated in the Decalogue, and he suggests that Sabbath can be an act of resistance against four things; Anxiety, Coercion, Exclusivism, and Multitasking. These he explores in some depth in four of the six chapters here.
Moses appears to have been sensitive to the notion that the fruitfulness of the Promised Land could lead to Israelites’ forgetfulness about their need for God. Brueggemann suggests, “prosperity breeds amnesia,” and it doesn’t take a prophet to see this at work in the western church. But in both Deuteronomy 6:12 and 8:14, the people are warned against the kind of forgetfulness that will lead them away from God and toward the predatory economic practices of Pharaoh. In these early decades of the 21st century those practices are now considered virtues in American culture.
This is a much-needed book on a culturally and spiritually critical issue, but one that generally escapes our notice altogether.