If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”
Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.Those are pretty strong words. And yet they do ring true to me. Much of our busyness (or at least my own) is indeed self-imposed and rooted in ambition, drive, anxiety, and addiction.
From time to time my spiritual director calls me back to a more centered reality by simply asking me if I really do believe in Sabbath. And if I do, then how might I better practice keeping it? He is a gentle monk, but in his own way he exposes the truth about so much of the busyness of my life in the same way that Kreider does.
I do believe what Thomas Merton once wrote, about the innate violence of busyness:
The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist...destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.And I do believe what Abraham Joshua Heschel's wrote in A Sanctuary in Time about Shabbat:
Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world.Today is my day off; my Sabbath day as a pastor. A little voice in my head says I should be frantically preparing for General Convention. I have a flight to catch on Wednesday morning and I need to pack and there is a ton of reading material I still need to do. Once there, the schedule looks busy. So busy. Crazy busy.
I really do believe more in Sabbath than in the Protestant work ethic. But how to better practice what I preach?