07 May 2020

Faith Matters - The Sabbath

Article by Mr Brendan Nicholls

Faith Matters - The Sabbath

The world has changed dramatically over the last few months. People in India can see the Himalaya’s for the first time in thirty years, the canals in Venice now run crystal clear, wild goats are reclaiming towns in Wales, deer are roaming the suburbs of Osaka and wild boar are strolling through Barcelona. With the streets free of vehicles and people staying indoors nature is making a rapid comeback. What can we learn from our extended period of isolation and how can we be better because of it?

The environment is a complex and contradictory system. It is at times fragile and irreparable and in other ways it’s resilient and unbreakable. Through human activity species extinction is occurring one thousand times faster than due to natural events alone. It’s predicted that in the next twenty years another million species will cease to exist. Pollution from human endeavour has been recorded in every location imaginable across the planet. Plastics choke living creatures and vast swathes of our oceans. Since the beginning of the industrial age carbon dioxide concentrations have risen by 47%. Living as we are used to comes at an extraordinary cost to living creatures and the environment.

The COVID19 pandemic has caused an immediate and to this point lasting pause to our normal lives. Across the world factories are closed or are working at minimal levels, travel in all forms has all but stopped and ‘we’ are locked down in our homes. Without humans behaving as we normally would we are seeing the ability of the environment to heal. George Orwell’s classic novel Animal Farm encapsulates the dichotomy of our use of the environment and our human weakness in observing that, “Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals.”

Our actions and at times our inaction have significant impacts upon the world. Everything we do costs the environment in some way and therefore we need to be prudent and discerning in the way we live our lives. The pandemic has forced ‘us’ to pause and in doing so find new ways to continue. During this time businesses and different groups in society are creatively exploring new opportunities.

We are finding that somethings are actually done more efficiently in virtual constructs. There are few who argue that meetings are more focussed, productive and efficient via video conferencing. Many businesses will never be the same and this is a good thing. It’s likely that flexible workplace arrangements for many sectors will be a positive and affirming change for both employers and their staff. The pandemic has highlighted the trust required for people to work together collaboratively and in doing so have removed antiquated, yet lingering, visions of leadership. We are seeing the benefits of greater trust and autonomy in the relationships we have within our different networks.

At present our focus has been upon protecting our communities from a disease that exacts a terrible toll upon the vulnerable and elderly and finding ways of continuing to live and work under the restrictions in place. As we move towards overcoming COVID19 we shift our focus to the future. We are seeing the world around us does not need our intervention and exploitation.

In Genesis we see this encapsulated in creation and God’s instruction to, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Throughout human history we have certainly achieved this commandment. But since industrialisation we have not only ‘ruled over’ but in so many ways decimated what was created for us. In recent times our way of life has caused much destruction through corporate and personal greed and lack of personal connection to the world that sustains us. The pandemic and restrictions have forced us to pause our normal way of life and has offer us a reason and the chance to bring about change.

Throughout the restrictions in Victoria local ‘exercise’ has been the only outlet for most of us over the last two months. During this time, we have reconnected with ‘our’ local environment. We have seen the beauty and life that surrounds us. Rather than spending the majority of time away from our homes we have been able to observe that ‘life and living’ happens effortlessly where we live. We notice the weather each day with interest rather than as a nuisance or nice backdrop to our day. Plants and animals we never notice and neighbours we never see are now significant parts of our day. We are experiencing life in a new and personal way. We have been gifted the blessing of connection.

As we see the restrictions ease over the coming weeks and months let us hold onto what we have learned during this time. Let us hope that the business practices that we have found to be liberating and productive are held on to. On an individual level we should reflect upon our ‘old’ lives and the endless activity and obligation fills our days to the point of being overwhelmed. Living this way is not life-giving and the impact this way of life has on the environment terribly destructive.

In the not too distant past we honoured the ancient practice of the Sabbath. Maybe what we can take away from this experience is including a day of rest into our weekly cycle. A day to strengthen family bonds, enjoy our homes, ‘be’ in our local environment and relax without guilt. The Sabbath is in fact a day of producing. Through creativity, contemplation and connection we build a new world.

A day of rest each week will not only change our lives personally but the relationship we have with environment would lead to better and more considered choices about how we live our lives and evaluating cost our choices have on the earth. Could a day of rest, contemplation and connection satisfactorily replace our ‘old’ lives of consumption and individualism? The Sabbath may realign our existence as a species. Could become more because of the pandemic. Might we be able we honour the commandment to be stewards and we may even become like all other creatures by consuming and producing in equal measure? Maybe we can become the “lord of all animals” in a way that is responsible and honours the trust bestowed upon us by the Creator because of what we learn during this time of trial.

Yours in Christ,

Brendan Nicholls Liturgy Coordinator