Joe's Memos

Fight Oppression with Rest

In Biblical symbolism, the number six (also 666) is a sign of evil. It often represents incompleteness or a perpetual state of work.

In the book of Genesis, God created the world in six days and then “blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:3).

The number six signifies that rest has not yet come. That which makes work worth doing has not yet come.

“Ain’t no rest for the wicked.”

Cage the Elephant

Any practicing member of a Judeo-Christian religion knows that the week must contain a day of rest. Perhaps, though, in our culture we do not take this seriously enough. Moses, inspired by God, once said, “on six days work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy to you as the sabbath of complete rest to the Lord. Anyone who does work on that day shall be put to death. You shall not even light a fire in any of your dwellings on the sabbath day” (Exodus 35:2-3).

Moses makes it clear that “rest to the Lord” is vital.

Defining Rest

The meaning of rest, in the commandment and in this writing, is not “sleep.” In the context of the commandment, Moses is contrasting rest with work. Rest is time spent not working. Rest is activity with no purpose.

For the Best Rest, Worship

In Leisure: The Basis of Culture, the German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper writes about the importance of a holy day of rest. He points out that “the vacancy left by absence of worship is filled by mere killing of time and by boredom, which is directly related to inability to enjoy leisure; for one can only be bored if the spiritual power to be leisurely has been lost.”

To get at what Pieper is saying, it may be helpful to look at an observation about the Catholic liturgy made by the German Catholic theologian, Romano Guardini. He wrote that the liturgy “has one thing in common with the play of a child and the life of art — it has no purpose, but is full of profound meaning. It is not work, but play. To be at play, or to fashion a work of art in God’s sight — not to create but to exist — such is the essence of the liturgy” (The Spirit of the Liturgy).

Romano is calling liturgy (formal worship) a form of play.

Pieper points out that it is best to use our leisure time to worship. If we don’t use it for that, then it is filled by boredom.

If we fill our leisure time with boredom, then we will not enjoy it. If we fill it with work, it is not leisure time at all. But if we fill it with worship, then we have tapped into the greatest rest known to man: divine play.

In a gist, the best way to rest is to play with God.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Jesus Christ, Matthew 11:28-30

Fight Oppression with Rest

Some of the most notorious men of the past couple hundred years have promoted work-without-rest as a virtue.

In Nazi Germany, a sign was placed above the entrance to the Dachau concentration camp that said, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “work sets you free” 1.

Under the Soviet regime, a continuous working week, called the nepreryvka, was instilled. Workers were given two days off per week, but they were dispersed. Different people had off on different days so that industrial machinery was never left idle. This was detrimental to liturgical and family life.

One complaint, published in a Soviet newspaper, said, “what is there for us to do at home if our wives are in the factory, our children at school and nobody can visit us? It is no holiday if you have to have it alone” 2.

The sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel points out that it is possible that the nepreryvka’s detriment to religious and family life was intentional. Without a common resting day, it is easier for societal powers to divide and conquer because it is harder for the people to unite and stand up for themselves 2.

It is harder for friendships to form, and friendships are a grave threat to tyrants. When two or more people find a common goal (this is how CS Lewis defines friendship), they are capable of revolution. Bill Gates and Paul Allen started Microsoft and changed the world. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak did the same when they started Apple. Revolutions begin with friendships. Taking away a common day of rest, thus straining friendships, is a great way for an absolutist state to maintain its power.

Another effect of the nepreryvka was that religious adherence was made impractical, if not impossible. Nobody could worship together on Sundays or feast days. This may have been intentional because the Communist Soviet Union saw religion as a threat to its own power.

In his book The Undiscovered Self, Carl Jung points out that absolutist states, like the Soviet Union, see statistical reality - things which can be proven - as the only reality. Religion threatens that reality by claiming that there exist things which cannot be proven.

The Soviet rulers needed the state’s reality to be the only reality. That way, they could be the moral authority. That way, they could dictate each man’s moral decisions. They needed to be the holder of truth, above criticism. They needed individuals to outsource their moral decision-making to the state. And many are willing to do so because moral decision-making requires deep thinking and great responsibility.

However, outsourcing one’s morals becomes a problem when the moral authority tells us to kill (like in the Rwandan Genocide), to turn in his brother if he speaks out against the state (like in the Soviet Union), or that some other evil is no longer evil (like abortion in our current state). This can cause men and women to act against their own consciences and commit atrocities.

Not every individual succumbs to the state’s moral dictates, but enough might. Taking away the common day of rest makes it more difficult for people to come together, to debate and bond over moral discussions, to share ideas, and to think.

It seems that a common tactic among tyrants is to not allow their victims proper rest. This enhances their power. It also means that rest is rebellion. Rest, especially through liturgical worship, is a way to fight the tyrants. If we don’t take our rest, then, we are giving in.

Get Some Rest

Work is important, but so is a common day of rest. Cage the Elephant sang, “ain’t no rest for the wicked,” but I wonder if it’s the other way around. Something like, “rest, when done right, keeps us from the wicked,” or “rest keeps the wicked from us.”

Either way, it seems that rest, especially in the form of a common day of worship, keeps us whole (like the number seven in the Bible), and taking it away fractures us and we become exposed to grave danger.

What does this say about our current culture where everything is open 24/7, devices are sending us notifications at all hours, and productivity is all the rage?

…I am going to go get some rest now.





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