...in the online Chronicle of Higher Education. A professor of political science, a professor of anthropology, a lecturer in English, and several other academics write thoughtfully about "keeping Sabbath" in the context of their professional and personal lives. Some excerpts:
For a few years now, I’ve been drawn toward paying more attention to sabbath observance. ...Going to Mass and brunch, calling my family, then jumping right back into ordinary work just hasn’t been cutting it for me. Something’s been missing.
What I’m really looking for is both a greater sense of connection and a greater awareness that, though my work is important (at least, I’d like to think so!), it isn’t so necessary that I can’t take one day away from it each week to enjoy life and to focus on the relationships and non-work activities that add greater meaning and depth to it.
There are a total of 39 forbidden activities on Shabbat, and the rules are so complex that volumes and volumes of heavy Jewish tomes have been dedicated to it. However, the simple answer for what it takes to celebrate Shabbat properly is this: we cannot be involved in any creative activity. We cannot do things such as cook, use a phone, light a fire (including using anything electric), ride in a car, garden, draw, write, sew, or carry anything (even a tissue in our pocket) outside a “private area” such as a house.
Even when I attend a conference or a THATCamp, I keep Shabbat. On the face of it, many would regard attending a technology conference without one’s computer to be a waste of time. However, I have discovered that spending the day talking to others and really paying attention to what they are saying as they describe a project has allowed me to focus better than if I were following-along with my computer.
Shabbat is an amazing gift from G-d, a gift that I cherish more and more as I get older and my life becomes more and more technological. It’s a day away, a day dedicated to reflection and celebration of the gifts G-d has given us, and it keeps me balanced.
At some point during college, I decided that I would extend my observance of a day of rest to include homework. It was a personal decision, and I’d say that it’s been one of the best that I’ve made in the last 15 years. No matter how much work I have (and like all of us, I frequently have too much), I’ve decided that I cannot and will not do it on my Sabbath. That means that I’ve sometimes got a lot to do to get ready to take this day “off,” but I’ve found my life to feel much more balanced and happy knowing that I have at least one day every week where I will get a break and can really focus on my family and other people.
One of the difficulties of academia is the fact that our job is never over. There’s always another article you could read, another 750 words you could write, or some papers you could grade. But if we tell ourselves that we can’t do these things on a certain day or that we won’t work after 5pm, then we buy ourselves a chance to get the rest we so seldom will take on our own.
If you’re observing a strict religious sabbath, as my grandparents did, you have to plan your household cooking, chores, and other tasks so as not to interfere with that code. If you’re attending religious services, you have to plan for appropriate dress, travel time, and so forth.
If you’re creating a sabbath ritual for yourself, secular or spiritual, you need to figure out what counts—what your own guidelines are going to be for both what you will do and what you won’t do on your sabbath. And then you have to plan to make sure that you get your non-sabbath activities done beforehand so that you’re not tempted to give in and work through the day.
Read the whole thing. The conversation was inspired by a short post at Lifehack (not Lifehacker) about the importance of taking a day of rest to avoid burnout, and that post is also worth reading. (It cuts through the fog of "but what counts as 'work' and what counts as 'rest?' with the fairly simple rule "[On your day of rest,] don't do anything that feels like work." A little harder for mothers to get away with this one, but it could be adapted.)
I am particularly taken by the notion that to take a day of rest you have to plan ahead -- arrange your life so that it all works out. It is sort of obvious that this is true -- at minimum you have to make sure that the work you might otherwise do on your day of rest, you do at some other time. But even if it is obvious, and even if I pay lip service to desiring a day of rest, I haven't adequately arranged my life to make room for one. Priorities have a way of outing themselves, don't they?