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Unholy Racket

By Ray Waddle

Last Sunday morning, the neighborhood silence was shattered by a lawn-mowing crew working the small house across the street.

They pummeled the grass and clipped the hedges. They also mowed down an old taboo against making such a racket on the Sabbath.

The ruckus was jarring: it was 9 a.m. You aren't supposed to mow on Sunday morning! I thought about running out into the street to complain. But the work crew would likely just shrug and ignore me. They weren't breaking any laws... except the fourth commandment.

The annoying whir of the motors had the rumble of sacrilege. More precisely this was the sound of secularism, the modern understanding that no religion has the right to dominate public discussion or behavior anymore.

What do I propose instead? A return to a Christian golden age? For all my huffing and puffing, I'm no model Sabbath-keeper. If I refrain from e-mail that day, I'm ludicrously tempted to brag about it.

Still, the mowing was saddening. It felt like a violation of sacred space, or sacred memory, the memory of Sunday rhythms of churchgoing and stability and well-being of decades past.

But Sabbath-keeping is not supposed to be an exercise in nostalgia. It is an imaginative response to the Book of Genesis, the vivid belief that God created all this, then rested and beheld what he did. God's rest was like a punctuation mark, the end of the first paragraph in the story of divine creativity — and a moment of astonishment. On the day God rested, I imagine the newly minted universe stirred with brand-new wonder at existence itself, a sense of gratitude that surely did not end when that famously restful seventh day did.

Debate continues about how best to observe and respect Sabbath. Take the day off. Worship. Breathe. Read. Wonder. Weed. Walk. Give the body a rest from the grind of work. Then train for it: seek some of that Sabbath feeling the rest of the week. If this is the world God made, then a sense of astonishment, a hint of it, must be waiting at lunchtime on Tuesday and even at rush hour on Friday.

In biblical times, the Ark of the Covenant was the sanctified wooden chest where the 10 Commandment tablets were kept. Secularism requires a new sort of ark, an interior version that guards holiness and gives refreshment — despite every spiritual impoverishment and any unexpected lawnmower noise.

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