What if I told you that the best way for you to transform the world is to do less?
Those of us who weren’t frontline workers, parents with children at home or vaccine researchers had plenty of time to practice “doing less” over the past two years. I, for one, spent a lot of evenings staying home, eating chips until I fell asleep and then waking up to a screen asking me, “are you still watching?” Habits we used to deem lazy became routine while the world around us ground to a near-halt.
Reconsidering our relationship with hustle seems to be the zeitgeist of our time, as thousands of people quit their jobs in search of something new, causing what business analysts have called “The Great Resignation.” Many no longer want to feel like they are reduced to mere “commodities to be dispatched for endless production,” as Walter Brueggeman puts it in Sabbath as Resistance. We are looking for more fully-human ways to spend the precious time our Creator has given us.
We are waking up to our hurry-sickness, and humans aren’t the only ones benefiting from this awakening.
Sabbath for the land
Studies have shown that the spring 2020 lockdowns brought an observable improvement in air quality in major cities around the world, thanks to reduced transportation and diminished human activity. Research also showed increased marine life activity, a drop in pollution levels in almost all metro cities and freer movement of wildlife in urban spaces. Pandemic travel restrictions probably contributed to Venice, Italy enjoying unusually clean canal water that spring. As David Attenborough stated emphatically in his 2021 documentary The Year The Earth Changed, “the moment we paused, the earth was able to breathe again.”
Perhaps this striking (although temporary) ecologically positive outcome of our corporate ceasing should be no surprise to those of us who are faithful readers of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. Providing rest for all creatures is a key biblical theme. In the law God gave the Israelites, he commanded that Israelites ensure rest for themselves and all those in their care every seven days (Ex. 20:8-11), seven years (Ex. 23:10-11a, Deut. 15:1-3, Lev. 25:21-22), and forty-nine years (Lev. 25:13-41). All throughout these laws it is written clearly that these restful rhythms are not for the purpose of superficial self-care. Rather, they were instituted for the purpose of enacting labour laws for workers, assurance of harvest left for the poor to glean and a commitment to having fallow seasons so that soil can organically maintain its nutrient-density.
The author of 2 Chronicles suggests that perhaps when the Israelites were sent into exile and divorced from their land for a time, it was because they were failing to observe Sabbaths. The author writes that finally during exile, “the land [could enjoy] its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed” (2 Chron. 36:20-21).
Our Creator God continues to reserve the right to separate us from whatever it is we do that harms the land and marginalized people. May we repent of our hurry-sickness before, like the Israelites, a change in behaviour is forced upon us.
For hope’s sake
Have you given any thought to what you want to take with you from your times in lockdown? Maybe you want to keep the garden you started growing or your sourdough starter alive and bubbling. Maybe you want to think twice before booking a plane ticket, or dust off your old road bike now that gas prices are sky-rocketing.
The Sabbath practices commanded in scripture were intended for the benefit of the land, so it makes sense that eco-conscious lifestyles today will also require us to slow down. Growing your vegetables is slower than shopping at the grocery store; walking is slower than driving your car; visiting a local business is slower than clicking “buy now” on Amazon.
It’s true that each of these slow, thoughtful choices offers the world a little less plastic, a little less carbon or a little more bio-diversity. But they also point to something much bigger, something truly transformative: hope. Each choice is a small but significant signpost pointing to a Better Way.
This Better Way means saying “no” to scarcity mindsets and “yes” to the courageous belief that there is enough for each of us to live, eat and, most profoundly, to rest. This Better Way is what indigenous scholars have called the “Harmony Way;” it is what Judeo-Christian scholars have called the “Sabbath Economy;” it is what Jesus Christ called the Kingdom of God.
So may we put up our signposts, whether they look like the slowness of fresh-baked sourdough or daily-watering tomato plants or a bike ride in lieu of a gas station trip. Whether your signpost is a recent job resignation, a quiet night at home or that classic Sunday nap, may you know all these slow actions are ushering in Sabbath hope. God knows the Earth needs it.
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