LIVING AS APPRENTICES
“Τhe theology of progress forces us to act before we are ready. We speak before we know what to say. We respond before we feel the truth of what we know. In the process, we inadvertently create suffering, heaping imprecision upon inaccuracy, until we are all buried under a mountain of misperception. But Sabbath says, Be still. Stop. There is no rush to get to the end, because we are never finished. Take time to rest, and eat, and drink, and be refreshed. And in the gentle rhythm of that refreshment, listen to the sound the heart makes as it speaks the quiet truth of what is needed.” By Wayne Muller in Sabbath, Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest.
This quote is from one of my favorite books by one of my favorite writers. I found both the writer and the book while I was researching and writing a booklet for my congregation on Why We We Need Sabbath. But I don’t remember reading this quote before. (You know it’s a good book when you can read it over and over again and find something new each time.)
I’m struck first by Muller’s concept of the “theology of progress.” Merriam-Webster defines theology as “the study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially the study of God and of God’s relation to the world.” I’m mighty afraid that our American work ethic, which is now becoming a global work ethic, has definitely re-made progress into a religious practice and perhaps even a stand-in for God. We cover a multitude of sins by describing them as necessary for progress. As I learn about the innovations in technology, especially in the fields of medicine and artificial intelligence, I think this new religion’s creed is: “If we can do it, we must – and as soon as possible.”
Next, I am convicted by how this new theology drives us to “act before we are ready” and “speak before we are prepared” and respond before we know the truth. As I enjoy my first weeks of retirement, I am already seeing the immense value of being able to take a deep breath before . . . . everything. The pressure to keep up, to decide now, to respond immediately, to choose before digesting, to meet before preparing is not only stressful but dangerous –and usually a big waste of time.
Finally, I am stunned by the recognition that we don’t need to hurry because we are “never finished.” Whatever is important can take as long as it needs to take. As a child I was terrified to think about my life having no end or God no beginning. Time was my friend, my boundary, my safety net, perhaps even my cocoon – and also my way of judging my value. What else is a “to do” list for but a proof of showing that we are accomplishing what we are supposed to be accomplishing. Which means, in the end, that somebody will approve. Taking the long view of eternity changes everything. It puts our drivenness and our rush to produce and/or succeed, as well as our interpretation of value, in perspective.
Let’s give ourselves the gifts of stopping and stillness. Let’s listen to our hearts instead of our heads. And let’s kick the theology of progress off the throne and put God back on.