Time Sanctuaries

Abraham Heschel, the great Jewish philosopher and teacher, once spoke about the Sabbath as a sanctuary in time. Though not a devout Jew, I often think of his words. It is difficult to create sanctuaries in time these days because time is in such short supply. Making time requires setting limits and, as any parent knows, that is often hard to do. We are wired, our work is wired, and even our children are wired. In our era of constant connectivity, of time measured in the nanosecond and new and improved ways of breaking boundaries, we are increasingly poor at creating them.

And boundaries are important. The ability to set healthy boundaries in personal relationships allows us to know where “You” end and “I” begin, and only with that knowledge can we hope to build an “Us.” The ability to set healthy boundaries at work allows us to differentiate the office from the home- something too many of us with our smartphones on the dinner table seem to have forgotten. The ability to set boundaries in public life creates civility and the ability to self-govern.

We must erect such boundaries so that we can build our own sanctuaries in time. We need sanctuaries in time; spaces within our lives that are not overscheduled, over stimulated, drowned out by the sound of iPods, talk radio, or cluttered with twitter, Facebook or the latest social network site.

For Rabbi Heschel, the Sabbath, one of Judaism’s most sacred sanctuaries in time, was about contemplating the holy. For me, sanctuaries in time have come to be about regaining contact with what it means to be human in an increasingly computerized world. For me, sanctuaries in time are deeply connected to family.

Like any edifice of worth, my sanctuary is being built slowly. I have to fight the urge to check my phone every two minutes for an update. I have learned to sit quietly for a little while each day. I have fought against my children’s desires to be online all the time, informing them that there are hours during the day when all electronics must be off. But as I enforce the screen time rule in my house, and make the dinner table a place where technology is not welcome, we are setting up a boundary around our family. We are finding space to relate to each other as humans and we are learning to enjoy each other. My family and I are erecting something profoundly human and perhaps as close to the divine in this world as we are going to get- a Sanctuary of Together Time.

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