How Rest Can Save the Conversation on Vocation From Itself, Part 5: Embodied Rest

This is the final post in a series of posts adapted from a white paper prepared for Wheaton College’s Theology of Vocation Project. For the rest of the posts, go here.

For three reasons, rest consistent with the Sabbath commandment is integral, and not ancillary, to the discussion of vocation and calling.

First, the Sabbath commandment can infuse our work and other aspects of our calling with a commitment to god, neighbor, and non-human creation. The Sabbath directs us to find our good in their good.

Second, the Sabbath commandment makes non-work time both an obligation and a gift. Stewardship of that time is a sacred calling.

Third, the Sabbath can help to correct for problems in the vocation discussion, itself. In all of these ways, Christian understandings of rest can help us to resist the worst restlessness of the world that we live in and help us to resist the worst of the vocation discussion, too. If we accept this understanding of rest and the Sabbath, then our institutional and individual practices should reflect its principles.

At educational institutions, this should look like regular instruction in rest and preparation of students for a world in which shifting labor practices and new technologies fragment time and decrease the sense of individual agency with regard to its use. Programming on vocation and work should include instruction in rest not because work is not valuable, but because some shortcomings of vocational exploration and discernment programming can be addressed by taking rest as seriously as Scripture does.

But our institutional commitments should not only be taught. For at least two reasons, they should be embodied as practices. First, we should expect that the embodied practice of rest will teach us as much, or more, about rest, vocation, and God, as a lecture or reading might. (Another way to put this is that actually practicing the Sabbath is likely to teach us more than reading these posts.)

Second, the college as an institution has an embodied power and legitimate authority over members of its community. The Sabbath commandment, and its symbolism of deliverance from abusive relationships to work, requires those in authority to enjoin the rest of their community. For this reason, the college should resist programming and other sorts of work on Sundays, and should create structures that encourage all of its community members to devote their attention on those days to God, neighbor, and creation. (For more specific recommendations about institutional life, especially, but not only, with regard to the professoriate, see Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber, The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy).

For students, this should look like a regular cessation from work, despite the many and complex demands of a college education. It should mean getting some distance from and control over the technical forces – especially network technologies and devices – that fragment time and make it less likely that restful stretches of time are available to us.

And while students are generally shielded from the political economic forces of shifts in the labor market, if students do not begin now, while it is relatively straightforward, to create habits that will help them to carve out time for rest, they cannot expect to do so when they have joined an increasingly precarious labor market sometime after graduation.

For me, this looks like devoting the Sabbath to rest, rather than to reading and writing about the Sabbath. If in the future I am ever again asked to contribute my thoughts on rest, hopefully it will not be as laughable a prospect as it was this year.

You can follow me and contribute to this conversation on Twitter.

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