Our world is in chaos. The pound has dropped to a thirty-year low, schools have closed nationwide for the first time in history, and in many sectors job security is non-existent. The uncertainty of tomorrow is collapsing today’s society.
I am sure you have felt the anxiety of our cultural moment. The COVID-19 pandemic is truly unprecedented and is the biggest crisis in our lifetime. BUT it does not mean we have permission to stockpile Andrex (which is honestly ridiculous). It does not mean we have an excuse to succumb to our environment and let it wreak havoc on our soul. As Clare Foges put it in a recent Times article, “Anxiety is viral, but we don’t have to catch it”.
Yet, many are catching it, with our mental health and decision-making suffering greatly. Giving in to the anxiety of our culture by checking BBC news every five minutes and stockpiling loo roll is clouding our judgement. Everyone is making sure they have enough hygiene products. But we are so anxious that we fail to read the label. We overbuy on antiBACTERIAL hand gels while failing to register that it is the CoronaVIRUS. If our mental health and decision-making are suffering, then how do we remain a non-anxious presence as we set sail in unchartered waters?
How do we practice hope?
As a Christian, I can point to a vast number of practices from the life of Jesus that will help us, Christian or not, in this time. However, one stands out.
Already a counter cultural practice, it is vital that we practice Sabbath well in this season. A day to worship and to rest. A time to place our faith in the Lord of creation. A day to do good.
Firstly, I want to point out that I understand I write this piece as a student. I am not a single parent or small business owner. I am not a healthcare worker having to work around the clock. However, I still believe Sabbath is vital for even those on the front line.
From the Genesis account we see that God rested on the seventh day and wove the Sabbath into the very fabric of creation. Even with a pandemic, as serious as it is, we must find time to rest. We must find time to adhere to the rhythm of creation itself, even if it is only for a few hours.
Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel said that “Sabbath renews the soul and we rediscover who we are”. In chaos our souls need renewed. In the boredom and cabin fever of lockdown, we must rediscover who we are, both individually and as the Church.
The word itself means to cease, but it can also be translated to celebrate. Thus, I offer four pieces of advice on how to practice Sabbath in this time, and consequently practice hope. (Disclaimer: This is advice, not objective truth)
1. Turn off your Tech: Obviously, the media never sleeps. But, constantly checking news updates stimulates worry in our lives, and worry itself is a form of meditation. Thus, what we think about impacts how we live. The cycle is quite simple. Choosing what we meditate on impacts whether or not we are a non-anxious presence in the face of cultural anxiety. Therefore, put your phone away and breathe again. If you really need to check it, then create some form of interval checks i.e. every two hours, etc.
2. Journal: Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. That truth still stands today. Once you switch off your phone you can finally sit down and ask yourself how you are actually doing. We constantly skim through life and fail to take time to see how we are. Is it well with your soul? Journaling helps me realise how I am doing but it also brings my life back into perspective.
3. Scripture: Immerse yourself in Scripture. Alan Scott once said that “a generation loses its identity when it is not immersed in His story”. If we want to be a non-anxious presence in the world, and if we want to practice hope, we need to grasp our why.
4. Do Good: Jesus said that it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath. Of course, what on earth does this looks like during lockdown? I honestly don’t know the answer but find ways to reach out to others (observing social distancing of course). Encourage your local Tesco staff or find a way to contribute to your local foodbank. I would go as far to state that doing good on the Sabbath is a vital act of worship. Yes, we should take time to renew our souls and rediscover who we are, but don’t just stop with you. A helpful question to ask is: Lord, what opportunities are you making available for me, in this season, to do good?
So, there you have it. No one knows what the future holds and it is scary times. But we don’t have to give in to culture’s anxiety. You may be reading this and think everything I have said is a load of rubbish. If so, my challenge to you is to try it out. If you have never taken a Sabbath, now is your moment to start.
To worship and to rest. To switch off and to do good. To renew our souls and rediscover who we are for the sake of the world around us.