Week 5: Sabbath and the problem of multi-tasking

Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.

Amos 5: 4-10

 

Harsh words from Israel’s God- from our God- our God of Sabbath. But what do they mean for us? How are we called to understand them?

What if it begins with multi-tasking?

Earlier this week, I had just gotten up, heated up my water for coffee, gotten the dog food and was heading into the bathroom- TMI? Just bear with me. As I got into the bathroom and closed the door, I realized that I had left my phone in my room.  I was immediately frustrated with myself.  Now I wouldn’t have the chance to reply to an email or to read a news story. Now I would miss this great chance for multi-tasking! And then I caught myself- I would be there for maybe a minute and a half, right? And I was suddenly distractingly frustrated with myself for a loss of optimal multi-asking. Something wasn’t right here.

While I recognize that God, in this passage, is not concerned with the reality that Israel is bathroom multi-tasking, it is multi-tasking to which God is commanding against. “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances”, say the people. They’re in the midst of Sabbath, of practicing God’s command and invitation to restfulness and yet, they’re already planning for their actions just as soon as the time of rest is finished. In this case, the actions that they’re planning are dishonest practices- deceitful selling- something that will serve only to increase the gap between rich and poor. And while that piece is a of fundamental importance to the story, I wonder if we can all relate to the underlying condemnation of multi-tasking; of being physically present while mentally or emotionally far-off. I know I can.

Bruggeumann writes,

multi-tasking is the drive to be more than we are, to control more than we do, to extend our power and our effectiveness. Such practice yields a divided self, with full attention given to nothing…multitasking with a divided heard means that there is no real work stoppage, no interruption in the frantic attempt to get ahead. Doing tasks of acquisitiveness while trying to communicate humanly is the true mark of the “turn to commodity.” We all become commodities to one another, to be bought and sold and cheated”.[1]

“The drive to be more than we are…to control more than we do”- that one really hits home for me. Because if I’m honest with myself, that’s what the majority of my multi-tasking seeks to do. It helps me feel like I’m able to control more, to stay-on-top-of more, to be more effective. And yet, what it really does, at least the vast majority of the time, is just as Bruggeumann writes: to divide my attention, my heart, and to “work” unceasingly. I can’t imagine that I’m alone in that reality.

Reflection:

How do you relate to Bruggeumann’s words? Did you hear them with the sting of truth? What came up for you or for your family in the midst of an invitation to consider your multi-tasking tendencies?

We’ve been at this practice together for 4 weeks now- this is the 5th invitation to Sabbath. How is it feeling? Have you experienced what the Israelites did in the opening passage from Amos- your mind or thoughts or plans turning to when the time of restfulness is over? Have you really been able to practice Sabbath at all in this Lenten season? It’s okay if the answer is no. This stuff isn’t easy.

What is a time when you felt successful in being truly present where you were? Where were you? Who were you with? How did it feel? How might you begin to replicate that experience?

 

Activity:

These last four weeks, the activity has been one that all members of your family- no matter how young or old, could participate in. This week, though, the trouble of multi-tasking, is less for the youngest members of our community. The truth is, they’re pretty good at remaining present to one thing at a time. They haven’t yet learned (thank goodness) the need to be doing multiple things all the time, of dividing themselves and their attention. I wonder when that’s something we pick up in life? Thoughts?

Pick one day this week- or one half a day this week, or even one hour this week- and do only one thing at a time. Keep your mind and your heart focused on that one thing. Maybe it’s in the midst of your practice of Sabbath- stay with it. Save the to-do-list writing for later. Don’t keep mental tabs on the errands you need to run. Put the things into your Sabbath box this week that will help keep you accountable. This one will probably be really hard. We’d love to hear how it goes though. Comment on this page and tell us, or let us know in person. That’s part of the beautiful thing about practicing together- we all have stories- success stories, and times when we just blew it. And they’re all important.

Friday Night Prayer:

Lord, it is night.

The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.

The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you.

The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us, and all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
new joys, new possibilities.

In your name we pray

Amen.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 68.