A Palace in Time with a Kingdom for All

Have you seen the Lord of the Rings? Remember the scenes in The Fellowship of the Ring when Bilbo Baggins panics because he can’t find the ring only to discover with relief that it was in his pocket? Or how he transforms for a moment from a kindly old hobbit into an unrecognizable creature with a nasty grimace – just because Gandalf encourages him to give it up? I knew I was in trouble when I started to recognize myself in Bilbo. Just like him I was in thrall to an object — but it wasn’t a magical ring.

It was my iPhone.

I don’t think of myself as particularly attached to my phone – I put it away in social situations, and I don’t miss it when I’m on retreat at New Camaldoli where the absence of cell service renders it useless, but I’ve grown more and more attached. I feel Bilbo’s panic when I misplace it and that sweet relief when I realize it’s right there in my purse. I keep it close and grab it first thing when I get up in the morning — even if it is only to use the timer for my meditation.

The thought that I was addicted made me uneasy, so when I started to hear about a practice called a tech sabbath, I was intrigued enough to try it, and I’m pained to confess to you, dear reader, I couldn’t stick with it. Imagine my shock and dismay! I like to think of myself as a poet and a nature-loving spiritual being, yet I couldn’t live without my devices for 24 hours.

What exactly is a tech sabbath? It’s rooted in the Jewish tradition of observing God’s commandment to keep the seventh day holy by resting and refraining from work. In his beautiful book The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel likens the Sabbath to “a palace in time with a kingdom for all,” framing it as “an opportunity to mend our tattered lives, to collect rather than to dissipate time.” A tech sabbath is simply when you avoid digital technology for one day a week. Why do this? In his article Should I Take a Digital Sabbath? one of the founders of the Digital Sabbath Experiment gives several reasons: to improve creativity, deepen connections with others, remember how to listen, and rest. We often turn to our devices for a quick break, but he calls this façade rest. After all, does scrolling through social media or binge-watching Netflix really refresh you?

This year I decided to give tech sabbath another try as my practice for Lent. After a lifetime of Lenten observance starting with giving up ice cream as a kid, Lent has a power that fills the sails of my self-discipline, and with a few bumps and lessons learned along the way, I more or less succeeded. In my next few posts I plan to delve into the reasons for trying this practice and share ideas for making it your own.

In the meantime, happy Easter, and blessings to my friends under the Tent of Abraham who are celebrating Ramadan and Passover. I’d love to hear from readers who observe any kind of sabbath. How do you achieve a day of rest and what does it mean to you?

Published by

Mary Camille Thomas

Mary Camille Thomas is a native of Santa Cruz, California who considers herself lucky to have returned after living internationally and on the road. She is a librarian by profession, and her poetry has appeared in The Moving Force Journal, Porter Gulch Review, and Sisters Singing. She is currently working on a novel called What Lies Buried and a collection of poems of the spirit.

8 thoughts on “A Palace in Time with a Kingdom for All”

  1. Thank you for your confession, Mary. The digital world certainly has us all in its grip. I think back fondly to the days my teens went off to summer camp, where they weren’t allowed to bring their cell phones. When I picked them up they always seemed so happy and relaxed, yet immediately asked if I’d brought their cell phones…

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  2. Thank you for this remind that our minds and hearts live well on their own, as is their original purpose. What connection we need is in the touch of one another and the yearning of all of our senses to be included in the wide world that surrounds us day and night.

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  3. Mary, you’re so right. It’s easy to get hooked on our devices and find ourselves repeatedly checking them. I’ve found myself having to be intentional about setting them aside. I’ve got a ways to go still. But, one day at a time. Thanks for this post.

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  4. I try to have screen-free Sabbaths (for me that is Sunday). It is so hard! My kids live in three different places across the US and Sunday is a day they don’t usually work at their paying jobs so I am afraid if I turn my phone off, I will miss them. This is a reminder to just tell them ahead of time that I won’t be available on Sunday but they can call on Saturday. I have been struggling with this for YEARS! and really want to change

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    1. It’s such a challenge! One of the good things about technology is the way it allows us to connect with loved ones who are far away. I think it’s okay to make the screen-free Sabbath your own by setting parameters that work for you. I turn off all my devices except my phone, but I generally leave it in another room and only allow myself to use it for calling or texting friends and family. This is a work in progress for me, so I’m not sure if the compromise is worth it, but I don’t want my sabbath to cut me off from connection!

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  5. The Sabbath starts for me on Friday evening at sundown when I “call” my friend to light the Shabbas candles over the phone as we recite the Jewish candle lighting prayer.
    This is not a “tech free” start to a Sabbath but it has been an important one for us for the past 2 years during the pandemic; a tradition we have decided to continue.
    Regarding tech-free Sabbaths—I am all for it and will try to incorporate it, at least, in my morning routine—FIRST connecting to my inner self with quiet meditation and then with the natural world….
    I KNOW this will be hard and I KNOW this will be GOOD!
    Thanks for the inspiration!

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