Are We in a Nature Imposed Sabbath?

This was my tweet on Friday April 10th.

If the world order was benevolent and intelligent this would be a Sabbath year for the earth, and a jubilee year for the people.

Unfortunately, the world order is seldom benevolent and only intelligent on short-term gains.

The world just might be taking a Sabbath without our cooperation.


Many of us are in a government-imposed season of rest. Although there is a minority for whom the season is busier than usual: frontline health care workers, and those involved with shipping, warehousing, and delivery services are among those working harder than ever.

The rest of us are quarantined to our homes, and either working hard on perfecting our bad habits, improving some of the skills we have not practiced for a season, doing something to improve ourselves like learning a language, or maybe we’re just just sitting around bored. This is a strange season we live in. Someday we will tell stories about it. Like grandpa who had to walk to school uphill (both ways) in blizzards when he was a kid, we will be telling our grandchildren that we had to sit in the house and play video games for hours, or binge watch substandard sitcoms on the television. They’ll never have it this bad.

There are those who will have tragic tales of sickness and death of close family members and friends, and we have yet to see how this will all play out. I wonder though, if it is possible for us to see hopeful possibilities in the midst of our fearful isolation?

I am currently living just south of Los Angeles, California. I have been here since November caring for my mom, who has dementia, and cannot live on her own. In many ways, this has not been much of change for us, but from the sixth floor of her apartment in Long Beach my mind and my eyes are seeing things happening around us that are unique to the moment.

A couple weeks back I made the comment that view from this sixth floor on E. 4th Street was better than I had ever seen it. It was not a day after the California winter rains. It was not windier than usual. It was an average day, with average temperatures, and average Southern California cloudless skies. There is little traffic on the roads below, which are typically noisy and congested. Our normally smoggy skies are clearer than I ever remember. I grew up north of San Diego, and as far back as my memory goes to the 60’s, I cannot remember the skies ever being so clear in Southern California. The earth appears to be taking a rest from our frenetic pace of life, and over-consumption. NASA satellites monitoring the earth have seen a dramatic drop in nitrogen dioxide levels in the most polluted places on earth, and the levels in China have not yet rebounded. Of course, this is nearly guaranteed to be just a short-term benefit to our air quality, but it has been seen in all countries practicing some form of quarantine.

The earth is getting a short reprieve from our constant and often damaging action. A year of Sabbath rest for the land was built into the law of Moses, and this helped alleviate some of the same over-use of land that occurred in ancient times. Today such practices are still in use among farmers, who may allow their land to remain fallow for anywhere from 1 to 5 years in order to replenish the nutrients in the soil.

It would be wise for nations to practice some form of economic rest as well as ecological rest. Without such things in place, the rich tend to get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle classes tend to disappear. Moments arise in world history when economic Sabbaths appear to rise in the form of revolution or calamity: the demise of the Russian aristocracy, the French Revolution, the American Civil War, World Wars I and II, and the Great Depression are only a few examples of such economic upheaval and economic restructuring, and they are certainly not all positive examples of restructuring. Following the Black Death, peasant workers were able to ask for more wages because the workforce had been decimated by the plague. Today the economy is similarly restructuring, but over the last two decades, governments have supported the systems in place with bailouts of the industries. Businesses were considered too big to fail. Banking, and the Auto industries are the prime examples of this approach. One wonders how long the systems that be, which support the current patterns of haves and have-nots can survive the sense of an impending implosion of greed and corruption.

It is amazing that something in nature, too small for us to see, is causing such upheaval to our lives. It seems that if we cannot give the earth, our bodies, and the economic systems a rest from time to time, that history has a way of making it happen anyway. May we come through this season with the survival of our lives, but a demise of those things which ought to be changed in order to find a better world.

Is there an invisible hand that moves the gears of history and shows concern for the cry of the poor. I think so, I hope so, I pray so, because the powers that be are not likely to restructure a system to benefit everyone equally.

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