Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Marva Dawn in her recent book on a "sabbath way of life" writes:

Often we are not present to people because we are basically slothful. This is the opposite of what our culture thinks. Busyness seems in our society to be a badge of honor; that we are so busy proves how important we are. But Eugene Peterson calls it an "enemy of spirituality" and "essentially laziness," for "It is doing the easy thing instead of the hard thing. It is filling our time with our own actions instead of paying attention to God's actions. It is taking charge."

This is a rebuke that I constantly need. Do you? Do we realize that much of our busyness is not really godly activity? Peterson clarifies, "spirituality is not the absence of activity. You either enter into what God is doing or you don't." Busy people are lazy person "because they are not doing what they are supposed to do."

The Peterson quotes are from his Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work. I've been troubled lately by the fact that most people I know, including myself, when asked, "How are you?", answer, "It's been busy lately." This doesn't really address how we are. It's not sharing of ourselves. I'd add to Marva's insight that being busy shows how important we are. It is also a way of protecting ourselves, setting up a wall between us and others. We're busy = we're inaccessible, we don't really have time for all this chatter about how we are.

This is proved by the fact that when someone says, "I'm busy, how about you?" it is almost a challenge back. Their real question is, "Are you busy also?" Notice that no one ever says, "I've got lots of time on my hands. Really, not much going on lately." So busyness gets in the way of spirituality and relationship (two closely related things).


  1. I know I use "busyness" as an excuse to do much less with other people than I could do, esp. the things that serve people I don't know well. It is an excuse for my introverted nature; I'd rather just stay home.

    I was thinking recently about a book I read quite a while ago about a reporter who had the privelidge of staying with two different Amish families for awhile. The thing I remember the most is that instead of just getting through the daily chores so that the family members could get to the fun things to do, the chores were looked upon as a worthy part of each day. For example, doing the dishes was a time for fellowship with the female family members. Ditto barn chores for the boys.

    These daily tasks became ritual or ritualized, a kind of liturgy of the day.

    I haven't been able to keep that in mind much, but I sure think it is a worthy thing to be mindful and appreciative of each thing we can do.

  2. I was pondering the quote today with a friend, and we were remarking, "What if the busy that keeps you busy is the necessary details of caring for your children, cleaning the house, and other daily (and mostly unavoidable work)?" Your comments help reframe those in a different and more liturgical way. Also similar to the way the early Lutheran emphasis on vocation lifted up as holy the daily work (changing diapers, shoeing horses) of the common person, simultaneously de-emphasizing the special works of the monastic community.

    I regret that monasticism fell into disrepute. I think it is also an honorable vocation. Nevertheless, the reminder that our daily work together can be and is sanctified by God, is important. I'm reminded of Bonhoeffer's reflections on daily work in his Life Together.

  3. Society doesn't honor the lowly worker, but what hospital would keep a good reputation if the cleaning people were bad?

    We tend to push kids toward college, especially if they are bright. But don't we want bright people maintaining our cars and airplanes?

    See my posting on this in regard to Lutheran colleges

    If that link doesn't work, go to my blog and click on the label for Higher Education.

  4. Chip Frontz1:01 PM

    What does Marva say about the "busyness" that church/the Church requires?

  5. what do you mean, Chip? If you mean what is the "shape" of the Christian life or the life of the church, her focus is specifically on Sabbath in this book, but she has a ton of works on Christian ethics that relate to how the church can/should live... I'm not sure I could answer your question in a short form... Maybe you can clarify your question.

  6. Chip Frontz4:48 PM

    I just wondered if she had any comments or thoughts on church/the Church as contributing to the epidemic of "slothful busyness."

    Maybe it's a leading question, but I don't have time to give my own answer. :)