The Nonbelievers are Talking about Sabbath These Days too...

from DenverPost.comby Electa Draper (The Denver Post)

Dina Berta of Frank's Kitchen at 26th and High St., puts up the chairs in the dining area Friday afternoon at 5 pm to close the restaurant. Frank and Dina Berta close their restaurant at 5 pm on Friday and are closed on Saturdays to observe the Sabbath, a day of rest. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)

The brain is a machine that needs downtime.

Americans have become so averse to being unproductive that many have trouble waiting in line, riding in an elevator or stopping at a traffic light without simultaneously reading, texting or talking into some device.

They don't want to waste a minute.

Technology holds out a promise of unlimited accomplishment and efficiency, but experts say it's a false promise that's encouraging us to drive ourselves crazy.

Psychologists, ministers, scientists and even politicians are urging revival of the ancient concept of Sabbath — a sanctuary in time. And it's not just for the religious.

Wayne Muller, therapist and minister, works with chronically stressed people who know they need to slow their pace — clergy, doctors, educators, social workers, parents and so — but they find it so difficult to step back from their good and necessary work that they desperately seek permission to rest.

Muller points out that no less an authority on people than God gave permission for an entire day of rest every week.

"It's not just permission, it's a commandment," Muller said.

It's the commandment people most frequently blow off, Muller said, but it's the one that scripture explicitly references more than the other nine commandments combined.

Religion aside, psychologists and neuro biologists are learning that, if the Sabbath didn't exist, it would be more necessary than ever to invent it.

A constant flow of information and a perpetually busy state interfere with our ability to think and make decisions, scientists say.

Angelika Dimoka, director of the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University, studies how the brain processes information. Her research has found that, as the flow of information increases, activity increases in the region of the brain responsible for decisions and control of emotions — but only up to a point.

Flood the brain with too much information, and activity in this region suddenly drops off. This center for smart thinking not only doesn't increase its performance, it checks out.

The September 2010 Associated Press-mtvU Poll of 2,200 college students found that while most consider indispensable the constant accessibility to information and other people provided by technology, it comes at a cost: A big majority said they felt pressured to instantly answer texts or voice messages and got nervous if their own didn't receive immediate responses.

Boulder psychologist and author Joan Borysenko works with busy executives who fear taking time off each day or week will break their stride in their high-achieving lives.

"A lot of people I know can't take a full day off. They are anxious the whole time. Their minds are racing," said Borysenko, author of "Fried: Why You Burn Out and How to Revive."

But when people take time to quiet down the left brain, to forget about to-do lists and to unplug from more input, she said, solutions often percolate up from the subconscious.

"The history of creativity is filled with stories like this," Borysenko said. "A few days of not thinking about a problem, then the answer simply appears."

She said some people need time and practice to get into what the Sabbath is: "a sweet state of being."

Saturdays and Sundays have become the days for "doing, doing, doing" all the stuff they don't have time to do all week — laundry, shopping, errands, housework. But if an activity isn't restorative to the spirit, she said, it doesn't belong to the Sabbath.

Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an Orthodox Jew, felt compelled to write about the value of a biblical law requiring him to free himself from his BlackBerry once a week. In his book released Aug. 16, "The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath," Lieberman writes that the day is "a gift from God to all people."

Dina and Frank Berta, owners of Frank's Kitchen at 2600 High St., open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays but start closing down at 5 p.m. every Friday and stay shuttered Saturday. Although Christian, the Bertas observe a Sabbath more closely aligned to Judaic tradition.

As new restaurateurs who had been working in other professions, the Bertas had a tough decision to make about continuing to honor the Sabbath, Dina Berta said, even though their business judgment said Fridays and Saturdays would be peak nights.

So far, they don't regret it.

"A day of rest really helps us refresh and get ourselves ready for the coming week," Dina Berta said. "You won't go to hell if you work on a Saturday, but if you never ever take a rest from work, you can create a hell for yourself right here on earth."

For those who make up strict requirements and restrictions for others about the Sabbath, Muller points out that Jesus, in Mark 2:27, says: "The Sabbath was made for you, not you for the Sabbath."

Muller, author of "A Life of Being, Having and Doing Enough," said the Sabbath is a day when we give our hearts and souls time to catch up to our brains.

Americans have busted thermostats, Muller said. They have forgotten what "enough" feels like. They take a perverse pride in being too busy.

"It's a curious accomplishment," Muller said. "It's really not an accomplishment. It's a disease. We aren't indispensable. A force larger than ourselves is running things. We can take a day off."

Electa Draper: 303-954-1276

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