How Do You #Keep the Sabbath?

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Posted on November 14th, 2012 | Filed under Community, Congregation, Featured, Interfaith, Intra-Faith, Popular Culture, Social Issues
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--"The Pharisees said, This man is not from #God, because He does not keep the #Sabbath" -#John 9:16

It was a Sunday morning in April when a man named Tagg uploaded a picture of his father onto Twitter. “Busted!” the tweet read. “#mitt2012 sneaking a peek at twitter [sic] during Sunday school.”

The attached image displayed a seated man in a crisp navy suit, intently using his fingers to scroll across the white screen of the black iPad that he balanced upon his right thigh. The woman to his left was wearing a magenta dress that could not help but to complement the pastel purple of her husband’s tie, and seated to her left was yet a third subject—again, a man, again, wearing a dark suit, again, hunched intently over an iPad.

--Siting [sic] in church enjoying blessings !!! #Sabbath

Scenes like this one are not limited to those Mormons whose last names happen to begin with “R” and end with “—omney.” At almost any given Latter-day Saint church service in the United States, careful observers will see a significant swath of the congregation actively engaged in some sort of interaction with an iPhone, an iPad, etc.

One sees, for instance, a ward executive secretary scheduling time-slots for the congregants to meet privately with their bishop for pastoring and counsel. One sees a layperson reading a digital version of the scriptures. One catches a diligent church member--businessman by day and theologian by night--using the Pages/ Notes app to insert last-minute edits into the text of an imminent sermon.

--Today I took resting to a whole new Level boii [sic] #Sabbath

A November 6 article in the Huffington Post observed: “Achieving. Progressing. Learning. Forward, upward motion. This is the lifeblood of earthly Mormonism. Management, leadership, and organizing are the essential skills of the faith.” In a culture where such values prevail, the practice of the Sabbath takes on an ironic character. Where anciently the Shabbat was a day of rest, the Sabbath becomes for modern Mormons a day of organized and protracted spiritual work.

--If I get married & have kids, every sunday [sic] will be a true #sabbath. No tv [sic], etc. Evryone [sic] will be in their bibles, praying, & fasting!

Every time I go to church, I find occasion to draw out my iPhone at least once so as to schedule an appointment to visit another church member in need or to scribble down a brief reminder about an upcoming weekday congregation activity. It’s not technically required, per se, that one use an iPhone or an iPad to make the Sabbath complete, but LDS discourse does emphasize that—with or without the use of a handheld aid—each individual is expected to spend every day—including the Sabbath—in the work of planning, organizing, and performing some type of benevolent, innovative, or otherwise noteworthy deed.

--No work for me today, it's da #sabbath

We allow the Protestant work-ethic to govern our lives so fully, so intensely, so pervasively, assuming that the industriousness of Western culture somehow meshes seamlessly with the ancient Mediterranean cadences of the Hebrew scriptures. What if this protracted work-ethic is merely of human origin rather than constituting true revelation from heaven?

There is an experiential space, a dichotomy, between idealized human projections about our infinite capabilities and the actual ontological limits that we are subject to as embodied beings. As much as we would like to hope to the contrary, our bodies were probably not designed for the project of pursuing the Good perpetually without any kind of break.

--Sunday, why do you exhaust me so... #dayofrest #sabbath

I recently stumbled my way through a particularly jam-packed Saturday where literally every hour from seven in the morning until long after midnight was filled with some type of commitment, obligation, or necessary activity. My iPhone faithfully rang, vibrated, beeped, and buzzed me to a timely remembrance of each new task, but the completion of each old task only seemed to invite another phone call from someone else requesting that I participate in a new task.

--Happy sabbath [sic] to all praise god [sic] until sunset tomorrow and watch shows about him [sic]. #sabbath

I finally turned off my phone when I noticed in mild astonishment that it was 1:30 a.m. Utah time and I was still receiving phone calls from various people, including some people who lived on the East Coast, where the current time was roughly 3:30 a.m. Going into church the next day without an iPhone in my pocket felt both relieving and transgressive--like tossing a monkey wrench into the great timepiece of the universe.

--#Jesus answered, "My Father is working on the #Sabbath & I Myself am working." 

I’m determined to continue the practice of keeping my cell phone off on Sundays, but I am aware that my decision to do so could very well make me into an whimsical curiosity divested of my legitimizing use-value at church. What will happen to me if word gets around in the church community that I have fallen into the eccentric habit of keeping the Sabbath? It tickles me, and I find it ironic to know that something like an iPhone could at once be incongruous with the practice of Judaism’s Shabbat and yet nearly essential to the Sabbath as it is known among the modern Mormons.

Postscript: All of the tweets in this essay are real, direct quotes from other people. Sabbatarian attitudes among Christians range a spectrum from complete apathy to strict observance. Some communities, such as Mormons and Seventh-day Adventists, observe a short list of forbidden and encouraged Sabbath activities (e.g., forbidden: using money; encouraged: attending church).

A somewhat longer list, found in the Jewish Talmud, identifies 39 "melachot," or sacred creative activities, from which Jews are supposed to systematically abstain throughout the duration of the Sabbath. These creative actions—sacred in part because they were all used anciently for the construction of Solomon’s temple—also include several practices that I myself used today for the production of this essay: #marking, #selecting, #sowing, #reaping, #writing, #erasing, #unraveling, #finishing.

Photo via Flickr Commons.

@kekpenyong

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One Response to “How Do You #Keep the Sabbath?”

  1. Lar says:

    Very Good, Very True, and the challange to turn if off. as Bob Newhart would say “STOP IT”!

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Alasdair Ekpenyong is an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University and a full-time lover of letters. He wishes, at times, that he was John Henry Cardinal Newman. Or James Joyce, or John Cheever, or Jane Jacobs--but in the time that stands between being and becoming, he is very content to remain himself.


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