Almost 30 years ago, voters in Missouri had an initiative on the ballot to end Sunday “blue laws” – state laws that required most commercial establishments (shopping malls, grocery stores and other retail stores) to be closed on Sunday. There was little doubt it would pass.
A colleague and work and I were talking about the initiative. She was articulating all the key points in favor of the initiative. I shook my head. “I don’t support it, “ I said. “But it will pass, if not for the arguments in favor of it.”
“And why will it pass then?” she asked.
“Because so many women are in the 9-to-5 work force now,” I said. “And Saturday isn’t sufficient to get everything done. They need Sunday, too.”
Now you may think I was speaking as an anti-feminist Neanderthal. But what I was acknowledging was what had clearly become a reality – the women’s movement had brought women into the workplace, and especially the professional and managerial workplace, to a degree previously unknown; but it had not liberated them from shouldering the bulk of family (i.e., childrearing) responsibilities. Many, many women had two jobs – two full-time jobs.
The initiative passed. Retail stories could now open on Sundays, and they did. Sunday joined the other six days of the week as a day of commerce.
But it was, and still is, different. A change in the law is never sufficient to shake off decades if no centuries of cultural practice. It helps, of course, but hearts and minds have to change as well.
Sunday remains, for most of us, the quietest day of the week, the slowest, the day when even time seems to slow down. (I noticed this in Europe as well, when we were in London last September and some years before that in France and the Netherlands.)
So what is it about Sunday? It’s the question that Judith Shulevitz explores in The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time. Led by Laura Boggess, we’re starting a discussion of the book at The High Calling today.
Raised in the Lutheran church, Sunday was much the same for me growing up as it is today. We didn’t stop all activity on the Sabbath, but it was a quieter day, a slower day, often a day of more reflection than others. Certainly it was, as it still is, a day more devoted to rest (my wife can tell you about my Sunday naps).
This may sound off, if not absurd, to people who do not share faith in God, although they would likely acknowledge the cultural influence of Christianity. And, truth be told, it is odd.
“To become religious is to brave a leap into the absurd,” Shulevitz writes. “(Soren) Kierkegaard understood that to be a terrible leap. You have to bow to that which is commanded. You have to give up your ability to control your world. It’s a form of self-sacrifice. Kierkegaard compares it to Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac.”
The only thing I would change in that statement is that to become religious means you have to give up your belief in your ability to control your world.
But ask yourself, if Sunday seems different than other days of the week, then why is that? Is it only a remnant of post-Christian America? A cultural thing? Or is it – perhaps – something deeper, something built in to the way we and the world are created?
If you know your American history, you’ll know that the settling of the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the Puritans was partially inspired by what they believed Sundays in Anglican Britain had become. Beliefs about what this day means have had powerful effects.
And ask yourself another question Shulevitz asks – is there a “social morality” to time? We think of time as chronological and as a commodity (of which we never have enough). But is there a moral aspect to time we haven’t truly considered?
The book and the discussion at The High Calling promise to be provocative.
Photograph courtesy Wikimedia Commons: Baptist Church, Harland County, Kentucky.