I’m putting my friends and family on notice: don’t expect to hear from me via Facebook or email this Sunday–or on any Sunday from now on.
In the past, I’ve stuck to my guns about “keeping the Sabbath holy,” not from any self-righteous motivation, but simply because that’s the way I was raised and that’s what I believe God wants. I don’t do the laundry, grocery shop or clean my house that day. I do go to Mass, feel free to play as much as I want, and maybe get in some spiritual reading.
But until I read someone else’s column recently, I never thought of giving up Facebook, email, or other techie addictions. Now, it makes perfect sense.
Fr. Ron Rolheiser wrote about “Observing Sabbath in the Age of Facebook” in The Compass, the official newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wis. He talked about the advantages of today’s information technologies, and how easy it is to stay informed and stay in touch.
But, he said, “less wonderful is what this is doing to our lives, how it is changing our expectations and robbing us of the simple capacity to stop, shut off the machines and rest…We are beginning to live with the expectation that we must be attentive all the time to everything that’s happening in the world and within the lives of our families and friends.” They in turn, he said, have expectations of us.
We are becoming, he said, more enslaved to our compulsive use of the mobile phones and the Internet. What a thought. We modern people, who somehow resent having anyone tell us what to do or control our lives in any way, have largely given over that control to others through the gadgets we so enjoy. How many people can’t even drive down the street or wander a grocery aisle without a phone attached to their ears?
For a long time, I resisted getting a cell phone because, as I told people, “I don’t want to be that accessible.” Eventually I got one because my work as a newspaper reporter took me to remote places where I figured accessibility would be safer and more convenient. When I retired and my life changed, so did my need for a cell phone, so I got rid of it.
However, I admit to spending a lot of time on the computer doing nothing other than checking email, checking Facebook, looking at online photo sites where I post my work, reading newspapers–and wasting an awful lot of time.
Fr. Rolheiser made me stop and think. While I may not be doing the physical labor that was always proscribed for Sundays, am I using the day as it was intended? The Sabbath, we are taught, is a day for God. As Fr. Rolheiser said, God designed it “to give us, regularly, weekly, some time off the wheel, some “sabbath-time” when ordinary life, ordinary pressures, ordinary work and ordinary expectations are bracketed and we give ourselves permission to stop, to shut things down, and to rest.”
And then he posed the question:
“Can we step off the treadmill of phones and computers on Sundays and be genuinely available to celebrate Sabbath?”
So, I asked myself, if I didn’t turn on the computer to check my email as soon as I woke up ; if I didn’t browse through that same email or Facebook several times a day; if I didn’t assemble computer puzzles, or check out favorite websites–what would my Sundays look like?
The answer: I’d have time. There would still be Mass, of course, but there would then be time to do Midday or Midafternoon Prayer. Time to read that book on Gospel hospitality that I’ve been nursing for at least a month; time to read and really think about the articles in the diocesan paper; time to explore my neighborhood or the state park with my camera, finding photos to post later and beauties for which to thank God; time to read my novel, play scrabble with George, sew for pleasure, or work on a prayer shawl.
Or maybe, there would be time to just be quiet and be still, to let half-formed thoughts take shape, to visit with myself, to listen for the voice of God.
I didn’t hesitate. I decided right then that I’ll go cold turkey this Sunday, that I’ll shut off the computer Saturday night and leave it off until Monday morning. Then I’ll reacquaint myself with the Sabbath as God may have intended it to be lived.
Now I only have to wonder whether there will be withdrawal pains.