Slow would seem to be the new black. How is it that churches haven’t caught on?
Slow, it would seem, is the new black. Starting with Carol Petrini’s slow food movement in Italy, created to counter the impact of the fast food culture pioneered by Mc Donalds, the idea of doing things more slowly is catching on. Slow travel is designed not just to limit the effects of tourism on the environment (trains are cleaner than planes), but to give people the opportunity to enjoy the experience of sight-seeing as they journey. The world’s first slow supermarket has just opened in Berlin, where younger people are expected to shop no faster than the older clientele for whom the supermarket was created. There is now even an emerging ‘slow cities’ network, although this has to be one of the most oxymoronic concepts ever dreamed up!
In reality we don’t do slow, even in churches. Full-time clergy dash
from one engagement to the next, and those who have secular jobs but also express their commitment to God by volunteering for the local church, often find they are running from work to a church meeting at night without even going home to eat – not so much slow food as no food. And then there is the overall feel of reading Acts that Peter, Paul and company were less human beings than human doings as their heightened sense of the end times made them strive yet harder for the conversion of the known world.
Yet these same apostles had a deep reverence for the Sabbath also. The whole idea of slow started in Genesis 2 as God rested from his creative activity. With the commercialisation of Sunday and the rapid emergence of a 24/7 culture, we lack the kind of signposts to the Sabbath which previous generations took for granted. I have taken at marriage preparation days to suggesting to couples that they make a point of spending one day together each week, in order to nurture their relationship. This used to be called Sunday, and people didn’t need reminding of its importance. Even Christian leaders succumb to defensiveness in justifying their weekly day off, rather than seeing it as personal faithfulness to a divine command. And they also tend to call it a day off, rendering it an absence from work rather than the gift of a Sabbath. With this kind of confusion apparent among Christian leaders, it is not be surprising that the whole concept of rest has been eroded in the modern church.
The Sabbath itself is more than a day of rest, it is also a state of mind. To build into a day’s work several moments of Sabbath – of pause, rest, reflection and gratitude – is to create instantly the kind of rhythm that people pay serious money to personal trainers to instruct them in. Not that such a state of mind comes easily. Vicious cycles of monotonous hurry are hard to break. The Austrian psychiatrist, Victor Frankl diagnosed in some of his patients the sickness of Sunday neurosis, when the pause from work allows doubt, insecurity and a sense of meaninglessness to invade the psyche (one reason, I suspect, why two decades ago many said life would be so much happier if the shops were open on Sundays).
Why not do slow as a spiritual discipline? If you just can’t do it, this may be evidence of a life out of balance before God. Frequently the Christian community forgets what it should be doing, only to be reminded by a secular source. For some the idea of Sabbath sadly comes with the dark shadow of puritan joylessness. If so, then remember: if slow is the new black, it may also be the new Sabbath.
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