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A radically disruptive result of keeping the sabbath is that it denies the dominant cultural belief that we must always be working and doing. Particularly in an American culture that still suffers under the bastardization of the Puritan work ethic (which conflates righteousness with industriousness) and a sense that we are always missing out on something important, choosing to cease for one day every week is a disruptive witness to our neighbors. And it’s an act of faith in God’s providence—an embodied argument that fullness is not found in the desperate struggle of busyness. And yet it is hard for Christians to take a sabbath rest because Christianity can easily become yet another thing that fills our constantly busy life—something really no different from following football. There’s always another event to do, another study to read, another program to attend, another way to catch up, get ahead, or try to get out of the hole. A sabbath rest is an act of spiritual defiance against the ideal of existential justification through production and consumption. It is a denial of the founding principle of the American Dream—that if you want to get ahead and reach the good life, you must always be working or self-improving.

A sabbath rest is a rest from our good works, even while it obligates us to works of service. The difference is that the rest is a rest in Christ’s finished work on the cross. Sunday is not a day to “clean up our act” or “get right with God.” It is a day to rest in our imputed righteousness by Christ and turn that joy outward (the double movement) into fellowship with our brothers and sisters, meeting together and sharing the table, ceasing from our labor, meditating on the Word and on God’s natural revelation, and doing acts of service for our neighbors. I believe that sabbath rest also involves play—but it should be redemptive play, not the kind that consumes us and leaves us more mentally and emotionally drained than before. We should be refreshed, even if we are tired.

My recommendation is to see this time as a special time to love our neighbors. We might convene a small group on Sunday evenings or have people over for lunch or dinner. We should work hard throughout the week so we don’t have to work on Sunday, but remember that there is grace for those moments when work must be done—the lost sheep must be found. It’s wise to avoid shopping or work as a reminder that the marketplace is not the center of our lives, but a tool of culture we can use or abuse, like any other tool. We might also choose to rest from screens, or just smartphones and computers, and so create space for contemplation, reflection, and conversation. Alternatively, we might restrict our screen time to activities that are intentionally communal: watching a movie together, playing a game together, sharing photos and memories, or video chatting with family.

Thought of this way, the sabbath is a foreshadowing of the rest we have in Christ, which is not contingent on our good works. We don’t need to work seven days a week to be valued and important, and we don’t need to achieve spiritual maturity to receive God’s grace. But it also foreshadows the end of this age, when we will rest from the curse of toil. And what a beautiful thing that will be! By resting and refusing to participate in the rat race, we act in faith that God will care for us and that this race is no path to salvation.

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

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One of my favorite things to do as a priest is to participate in house blessings. When people move into a new house, we come together to pray throughout their new home, moving from room to room and using a special liturgy for the occasion. My priest friend Peter has led several house blessings for people in his congregation. He told me he’s noticed that everyone starts paying closer attention when they crowd into the bathroom to bless it. It may be that they are a bit uncomfortable—it’s not often you crowd into a bathroom to pray with a bunch of your friends. But he’s noticed that people tend to lean in and start listening more carefully, wondering what it might mean to invoke God’s presence in this most humble of rooms.

He anoints the bathroom mirror with oil and prays that when people look into it, they would see themselves as beloved images of God. He prays that they would not relate to their bodies with the categories the world gives them, but instead according to the truth of who they are in Christ.

It’s easy to look into the mirror and take stock of all that we feel is lacking or wrong about our bodies. Instead we must learn the habit of beholding our bodies as a gift, and learn to delight in the body God has made for us, that God loves, and that God will one day redeem and make whole. Peter told me that when he prays over the bathroom mirror, he has noticed fathers of young girls begin to cry; they long for their daughters to see themselves as God sees them, and for their reflections in their bathroom mirror to be a reflection of their belovedness and freedom in Christ.

— Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

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Our addiction to stimulation, input, and entertainment empties us out and makes us boring—unable to embrace the ordinary wonders of life in Christ.

Kathleen Norris writes,

Like liturgy, the work of cleaning draws much of its meaning and value from repetition, from the fact that it is never completed, but only set aside until the next day. Both liturgy and what is euphemistically termed “domestic” work also have an intense relation with the present moment, a kind of faith in the present that fosters hope and makes life seem possible in the day-to-day.

Daily life, dishes in the sink, children that ask the same questions and want the same stories again and again and again, the long doldrums of the afternoon—these things are filled with repetition. And much of the Christian life is returning over and over to the same work and the same habits of worship. We must contend with the same spiritual struggles again and again. The work of repentance and faith is daily and repetitive. Again and again, we repent and believe.

A sign hangs on the wall in a New Monastic Christian community house: “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” I was, and remain, a Christian who longs for revolution, for things to be made new and whole in beautiful and big ways. But what I am slowly seeing is that you can’t get to the revolution without learning to do the dishes. The kind of spiritual life and disciplines needed to sustain the Christian life are quiet, repetitive, and ordinary. I often want to skip the boring, daily stuff to get to the thrill of an edgy faith. But it’s in the dailiness of the Christian faith—the making the bed, the doing the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading the Bible, the quiet, the small—that God’s transformation takes root and grows.

— Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

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[M]y typical morning routine was that shortly after waking, I’d grab my smartphone. Like digital caffeine, it would prod my foggy brain into coherence and activity. Before getting out of bed, I’d check my email, scroll through the news, glance at Facebook or Twitter.

If humans rescue a baby animal in the wild, the animal is said to be “imprinted.” It accepts the human as its mother. From that point on, it will believe that all good things come from people. It is no longer wild and it cannot live on its own. The nature center in my town houses imprinted animals—baby mountain lions, raccoons, and porcupines who rely on humans for food, water, shelter, and protection.

My morning smartphone ritual was brief—no more than five or ten minutes. But I was imprinted. My day was imprinted by technology. And like a mountain lion cub attached to her humans, I’d look for all good things to come from glowing screens.

Technology began to fill every empty moment in the day. Just before breakfast, I’d quickly scroll through email, Facebook, Twitter, a blog. And then again an hour later. I’d ignore my kids’ persistent calls for milk and snacks with a distracted “hold on” as I vaguely skimmed an article. I’d sneak in five minutes online as they ate lunch. I’d return from an errand and sit in the driveway with the car running, scrolling through news on my phone, and then I’d check my screen again before bedtime. Throughout the day I fed on a near-constant stream of news, entertainment, stimulation, likes, and retweets. Without realizing it, I had slowly built a habit: a steady resistance to and dread of boredom.

We have everyday habits—formative practices—that constitute daily liturgies. By reaching for my smartphone every morning, I had developed a ritual that trained me toward a certain end: entertainment and stimulation via technology. Regardless of my professed worldview or particular Christian subculture, my unexamined daily habit was shaping me into a worshiper of glowing screens.

Examining my daily liturgy as a liturgy—as something that both revealed and shaped what I love and worship—allowed me to realize that my daily practices were malforming me, making me less alive, less human, less able to give and receive love throughout my day. Changing this ritual allowed me to form a new repetitive and contemplative habit that pointed me toward a different way of being-in-the-world.

— Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

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I’ve talked with yet others—retirees, divorced people, the newly married—who have found that marriage does not meet all one’s relational needs. They’re all aware of their need for deeper friendships, and not just romantic or spousal love, which puts them in good company historically but, sadly, out of step with much of the rhetoric they hear at church marriage retreats and on Christian radio programs. Stephanie Coontz has shown how unusual, compared to past cultures, our contemporary scene is when it invests marriage with more significance than it can reasonably hold:

Through most of history, it was considered dangerously antisocial to be too emotionally attached to one’s spouse, because that diluted loyalties to family, neighbours, and society at large. Until the mid-19th-century, the word “love” was used more frequently to describe feelings for neighbours, relatives and fellow church members than spouses.

— Wesley Hill, Spiritual Friendship

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Consider the array of profound and moving insights that the self-imposed constraints of a sonnet’s fourteen lines of iambic pentameter allow. Or how many small and large acts of love are made possible within the self-imposed constraints of a lifelong marriage or committed friendship. Just think of the potential resources in timber, fresh water, fish, poultry, and even crude oil if we produced and consumed within self-imposed constraints on our appetites and our use of resources we hope to pass on to the thousandth generation.

Doug Sikkema, “Minimalism for the Sake of the World”

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We are being flooded with matter about which nobody gives a damn. But the really frightening part is that the attitude begins to rub off. No home can be built without that love of detail which is the hallmark of care, yet we seem to be getting less and less able to bother. People cannot be fed without detail, children cannot be taught manners without detail, wives cannot be kept happy without detail. But in our superspirituality, we expect that a handful of good intentions and a headful of bright ideas are quite enough to make a home. The truth is, though, that matter will break us unless we love it for itself and start paying some very careful attention to its demands. We are not angels; there are no disembodied intelligences in my household, we are all things here, from the raisins in the cake to the father at his table. For the likes of us there is no middle ground between care and catastrophe.

— Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board

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