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The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time
Random House, 2010
288 pp., 26.00
Karl E. Johnson
How Shall We Then Rest?
Last summer I attended the National Vacation Matters Summit. Sponsored by Take Back Your Time, an organization that advocates for more paid time off for American workers, it was a good place to learn about everything simple, sustainable, and slow—including slow food, slow money, and slow parenting. For the record, I am a fellow traveler of this movement. I bike to work, don't have a cell phone, and lament that "organized" sports have eclipsed pick-up games. But if slow and simple are solutions, what exactly is the problem?
The problem is our disordered relationship to time. "Always-on communication" results in "continuous partial attention," "volitional chronic sleep deprivation," and "vacation deficit disorder." Wired magazine defines "social jet lag" as "chronic exhaustion due to persistent conflict between your scheduling software and your body clock." The paradox of modernity, according to theologian Colin Gunton, is that "a world dedicated to the pursuit of leisure and of machines that save labour is chiefly marked by its levels of rush, frenetic busyness and stress." Liberals and conservatives, secularists and persons of faith all seem to agree that time poverty is a modern malaise.
Hence renewed interest in the Sabbath. You might think we've had enough books on this topic in recent years, but you'd be wrong, as evidenced by Judith Shulevitz's The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time, every chapter of which is a wise and winsome meditation on yet another aspect of this inexhaustible topic. Shulevitz, a Jewish writer who contributed a much-discussed article on the Sabbath to the New York Times Magazine several years ago, frames Sabbath World with a confession testifying to our cultural disorder. "Like anyone else trying to get ahead," she writes in the opening chapter, "before I had children I logged late hours and weekends in the office, then complained proudly to my friends. When my children were little, I rushed irritably through every ...