For those of us who came of age in the past decade, two forces have us racing to keep up: First, we are immersed in a 24-hour cycle of news and information with a constant flow of tweets and text messages, cellphones clutched tightly in our hands like Linus’s blanket. And second, we’re starting our adult lives in a world without enough decent-paying jobs, where we might become the first generation in memory to have less opportunity than our parents.
So it’s no wonder that many people our age struggle with the depression, anxiety and disconnection that come with living at a breakneck pace. As a 28-year-old Conservative rabbi and a 30-year-old Seventh-day Adventist minister, we’ve found that many are coping, at least in part, by turning to a rather old-fashioned prescription — religion and, in particular, observance of the Sabbath.
(Arthur E. Giron for The Washington Post)
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That may sound surprising. After all, sociologists and pollsters often find that, compared with previous generations, young people today are turning away from religious observance. Just this past week, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported that rates of religious affiliation in the United States are falling; among those of us under 30, nearly one-third answer “none” when asked about our religion.
As a Seventh-day Adventist and a Jew, we find that the Sabbath brings spiritual discipline to our lives. Each week is punctuated by a day of conscious abstaining from the distracting, the noisy and the ordinary. Instead, we carve out time to focus on family, community, relaxation and reflection. For at least one-seventh of our lives, we put away our wallets, park our cars, shut down our digital devices and try our best to live like we already have everything we need to be happy and fulfilled.
An insistence on creating sacred time and space is one of the key components of nearly all faiths. Traditional Jews and many Christian denominations observe one day a week of sanctified rest. Muslims around the world pause five times a day to bow in prayer. Many religions derived from Eastern traditions include a daily meditative practice. While many Americans feel distant from religion, establishing fixed times for personal renewal has universal appeal.
In spiritual communities across the country — from Jewish worship groups such as Washington’s DC Minyan and Los Angeles’s IKAR to churches too numerous to count — young people come together each week to collectively “power down” from the busy world. The ancient act of gathering in a house of worship on the Sabbath now carries a distinctly countercultural tone: It’s a declaration of independence from the iPhone, a defiant assertion that an e-mail can be left unanswered for a day without causing disaster, a formal protest against the social media machine. It’s a quiet revolution but one of enormous power.
As the executive director of the nation’s largest program for those who want to convert to Judaism, one of us deals daily with individuals and couples, most in their 20s and 30s, who are actively choosing to join a religious community or recommit themselves to living a Jewish life. In countless conversations, nearly every one of the new Jews says that the yearning for a ritual break in life’s commotion is one of the main reasons they’ve decided to convert. Perhaps that is what Ahad Ha-Am, a 20th-century Jewish philosopher, meant when he wrote: “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.”