How People Are Rediscovering the Sabbath Day of Rest and Claiming Its Benefits

Technology Shabbats are meant for individuals to unplug, regardless of the belief system. RNS photo illustration by Kit Doyle

Tiffany Shlain built her career by being online almost all the time.

She founded the Webby Awards, which honor the best of the Web each year. She also runs a film studio and creates online conversations to use the internet in “its best way, which is to bring people together on issues that unite us,” she said.

And yet every Friday evening for nearly a decade, Shlain and her family have unplugged their devices and spent the next 24 hours offline in what she calls a “Technology Shabbat.”

“As our society becomes more oversaturated with technology, I feel like it’s the thing we need right now,” she said.

Tech Shabbat is a modern twist on an ancient religious practice, which is attracting the attention of burned-out millennials and others who are exhausted by trying to keep up in an increasingly connected and fast-paced world.

And there’s some science to support the idea that practicing a day of rest — including time away from social media and digital devices — benefits longevity and both mental and physical health.

Tiffany Shlain, filmmaker and founder of The Webby Awards, speaks at PromaxBDA The Conference 2014, on June 11, 2014, in New York. (John Minchillo/AP Images for PromaxBDA)

It’s a practice that can benefit people of faith and those who don’t believe, alike.

“This can be adapted for anyone, wherever you fall on the belief spectrum, and it will bring meaning and value to your life in unbelievable ways,” Shlain said.

Shabbat — also known as Sabbath — is the day of the week reserved for rest and worship in Judaism and Christianity.

Jews observe Shabbat on Saturdays, beginning Friday nights with lit candles and shared meals. In addition to resting from work at their jobs during that time, Orthodox Jews also refrain from a number of other activities that are considered work, such as driving and switching lights off or on.

Seventh-day Adventists also take Sabbath seriously, worshipping, avoiding work and spending time with other church members on Saturdays.

Most Christians worship on Sunday, and their observance of a day of rest varies from church to church and even from Christian to Christian. In the past, the regular practice of Sabbath has included so-called “blue laws” that once kept many stores closed on Sundays.

Now some are urging their fellow Christians to rediscover the practice of honoring the Sabbath.

J. Dana Trent. Courtesy photo

J. Dana Trent is one of them. The ordained Baptist minister began observing a Sabbath after a visit to the doctor’s office.

The doctor told Trent she needed to “slow down.” At the time, she was working four different adjunct jobs and commuting up to two hours per day. She had also recently been diagnosed with chronic migraine syndrome, though her visit to the doctor had been for a Q-Tip she had lodged in her ear while in a rush.

Observing the Sabbath means trusting that if she takes time off, the world won’t spin out of control, said Trent, author of “For Sabbath’s Sake: Embracing Your Need for Rest, Worship, and Community.” It’s an act of humility that puts God at the center of her life, not herself.

Not everybody can take Saturday or Sunday or even a full 24 hours to rest — that’s a privilege for those who work 9-to-5 jobs on weekdays, she acknowledged.

“I think Sabbath can take lots of different shapes, but the idea is that we step out of what we’re doing every day — like the normal routine stuff — in order to make meaning,” she said.

It also makes sense to many others who are looking at the health benefits of unplugging from the world — and from devices.

Research presented last year at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association suggests that constantly staring at screens may be making us more “distracted, distant and drained.” Other studies of social media use have linked it to everything from loneliness to disrupted sleep.

For Shlain and her family, lighting candles, inviting people over, sharing a meal and logging off together guards against those things. She laughs more on Shabbat than any other day, she said. And at the end of the day, she looks forward to checking in again online.

There may be benefits to more traditional observances of Sabbath, as well.

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Source: Religion News Service