#9: Surpassing civilization.

***This is the ninth of a series of posts based on a book I’m reading for a class called Connections in Religious and Ecological Education entitled Holy Ground: A Gathering of Voices on Caring for Creation. The chapter is “Beyond Civilization,” by the late theologian and philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel.

heschel-in-office“The Sabbath is the day on which we learn the art of surpassing civilization.” Rest is not something at which I excel.  Mind always running, hands always shuffling papers or packages, notes and keyboards, going here or there, usually moving something in preparation for another task altogether.  I think I’m not alone here.  I don’t know many people who are truly good at claiming time from the week to simply be still, to be in their bodies, to be undistracted.  In fact, I know two such people.  When they rest, they rest completely.  That doesn’t mean they sit still for 24 hours.  But they simply engage in activities that are soul-renewing, relationship-building, life-affirming.  Exodus tells us, “Six days shall you labor and do all your work” (20:8).  Heschel interprets this ordnance as meaning we are to rest on the Sabbath as if all our work were done, to rest even from the thought of labor.  My culture doesn’t encourage this, on any level.  Or, if it does, it is simply another thing on the “to-do” list, something to accomplish, for health and well-being.  I wonder, reading Heschel’s reflection, whether our inability, our unwillingness, to rest is the main cause of our current ecological crisis.  We don’t rest, so we don’t appreciate.  We don’t allow others to rest, so the world can not renew itself.  Frenzied doing causes panicked production, but it also creates a “we can fix this on our own” mentality… were we to rest, would the answers come more clearly and more simply?  Would we feel less resigned and more enlivened?  Could we surpass our civilization?


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