A Spatial Theology of the Sabbath (Part 4) — A World of Living Things

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Published:
February 13, 2020

I’ve tried to describe, in the three previous articles of this series (1, 2 and 3), a conviction that Adventist Sabbath theology is stuck within a mechanistic and restrictive vision. Our Sabbath effectively tends to be too anthropocentric, ecclesiocentric, pragmatic and future oriented. All these various characteristics can be brought back to a single fundamental category: “History”. And this is the reason why we have privileged, up until now, an almost exclusively temporal understanding of the Sabbath – overvaluing the dimensions of change, movement, transformation, performativity and efficacy.

My main hypothesis has been that the life-affirming universalism of the Sabbath has been obscured and dismantled by the typical Western cultural view that unilaterally privileges Time over Space. This inflexible dictatorship of Time at the expense of Space is, even though not uniquely, seen in the radical ecological crisis we are facing today as a global humanity. And Christian theology in general and Adventism in particular, which should have re-oriented and corrected this cultural trend as it emerged, simply validated it with a biblical justification found in the pivotal category of “History”. The problem is that what we moderns understand by history is not what the Bible has in mind. History was in biblical times still very much linked to and balanced by a recurrent and consistent reference to Cosmos and Space as the indispensable and essential environment (Place) where human spiritual life is possible. All this has just disappeared in our modern understanding of history.

The result is that today we are efficient and productive, but also “Time-Alienated” persons. And the Sabbath, conceived only in temporal categories, not only fails to correct this trend but paradoxically achieves its radicalization. It has unfortunately become part of the problem. The Sabbath itself needs to be saved. And, in rearrangement, healing and reconstruction of the Sabbath is possible only by the re-introduction of the correcting and re-balancing category of Space. We urgently need a “re-spatialization” of the Sabbath, because since the very beginning it was a strong spatial category. Sabbath is the biblical way of saying – Nature, Cosmos and Ecosystem.

Only this “Spatial Sabbath” unveils God’s refreshing presence as a reality which precedes and gives ground (Space) to what we do and are. Through this “Spatial Sabbath” we become noble respondents to a word situated in space that is prior to us. We are in fact spatially-derived beings. We come after a founding place and intention which expresses a positive and affirming divine desire for life. Sabbath is the guarantee that we all are grounded children. In and through the Sabbath we are all well-born and well-placed beings, before and independently of what we can reach and achieve professionally, ethically or religiously.

How can we correct this diffuse temporal alienation and at the same time experience the benefits of a regained Space-recomposing-perspective? There are various ways – cultural and theological – of achieving this. I will mention one of them, as articulated by the German sociologist Hartmut Rosa, in his “Resonance Theory”.

Rosa says that the pace of modern life is undoubtedly speeding up, yet this acceleration does not seem to have made us any happier. Acceleration is the updated face of alienation. The quality of a human life cannot be measured simply in terms of resources, options, and moments of happiness. Instead we must consider our relationship to, or resonance with, the world. The dominant institutional mode of “dynamic stabilization”, which requires incessant growth and innovation in order to reproduce the social structure and the institutional status quo, inevitably implies the potential for systematic undermining. It forces us into a mode of “dispositional alienation” which produces an instrumental mode of relating to objects in order to increase and secure their resources, to speed up and to optimize results.

The pervasive logic of competition undermines the possibility of overcoming alienation. Alienation then has become our specific way of relating to the world of things, to people, and to one’s self in which there is no responsivity, i.e., no meaningful inner connection. It is a relationship without genuine relation. In this common and usual way of living today, there certainly are causal and instrumental connections and interactions. But the world cannot be appropriated by the subject, it cannot be made to “speak”. The world appears to be without sound and color. Alienation is thus a relationship which is marked by the absence of a true, vibrant exchange and connection. Between a silent, grey world and a “dry” subject there is no life. Both appear to be “frozen” and chaotic. Hence, in the state of alienation, self and world appear to be related in an utterly indifferent or even hostile way.

The best way to overcome alienation, says Rosa, is “Resonance”. Resonance is a mode of relating to the world in which the subject feels touched, moved, or addressed by the people, places and objects he or she encounters. Existentially speaking, we all know what it means to be touched by someone’s glance or voice, by a piece of music we listen to, by a book we read, or a place we visit. Thus, the capacity to feel affected by something, and in turn to develop intrinsic interest in the part of the world which affects us, is a core element of any positive way of relating to the world. Yet, affection is not enough to overcome alienation. What is additionally required is the capacity to “answer” the call.

Resonance, says Rosa, is defined by four crucial elements. First, by affection, in the sense of the experience of being truly touched or moved. Second, by emotion, as the experience of responsive (as opposed to purely instrumental) self-efficacy. Third, by its transformative quality; and fourth, by an intrinsic moment of unpredictability, i.e. of non-controllability. We can never simply establish resonance instrumentally or bring it about at will; it always remains elusive. Put differently, whether or not we “hear the call” is beyond our will and control. This in part is due to the fact that resonance is not an echo – it does not mean to hear oneself amplified or to simply feel re-assured. Instead it involves encounter with some real “other” that remains beyond our control, that speaks in its own voice or key different from ours, and therefore remains “alien” to us. Against acceleration, resonance is the answer, more than a formal “slow down” in itself. And there can be resonance only in a new understanding of our being grounded in Space.

A Spatial Theology of the Sabbath doesn’t aspire to approach things, persons and events by using Space as a kind of ordering and neutralizing instrument. On the contrary, Space becomes the place of freedom and interaction. Place makes the world grounded by bringing beings together without the dictatorship of time. And the first effect of this is a change in our approach to Things. We typically have incurred a Cartesian, reductive view of Things. Things to us moderns are by definition inanimate. This “depreciation of things” goes back to Descartes and his understanding of the whole non-rational world as simple “Res Extensa”. The cosmos, the body and things themselves are inanimate, unresponsive and necessarily disenchanted. They are mute and therefore not relational and incapable of resonance. But the “depreciation of things” goes parallel to the “depreciation of Space”. Space itself became mute and the object of pure scientific experimentation. The appreciation of Space has as first effect the appreciation of Things. Things are not objects, as Remo Bodei reminds us in his book “The Life of Things, The love of Things”. And Things are alive because they are meaningfully related to us and our world. Things are bundles of relations, meetings and memories in a Space that resists the temptation to run. This is what José Saramago’s book “The Lives of Things” pertinently reminds us of.

For this reason the rediscovery of Space, through the Sabbath, makes the world of things resound as living things. The first resonance we need to discover is the Resonance of Things. Things are not mute or unresponsive. They just speak another language we need to reappropriate and make our own. And this also implies the partial and responsible re-enchantment of our ecosystem. The acknowledgment of God the Creator can’t be built up on the disenchantment and manipulation of the Cosmos. In the book of Psalms the Cosmos sings and praises. It is responsive and resounding. (Psalms 19:1/ 98: 7, 8) In and through the Sabbath the Cosmos and the things within get back their voices. And things get back their voice by getting back their place. And the Sabbath is the guarantor and mediator of this recovery.  

 

Hanz Gutierrez is a Peruvian theologian, philosopher, and physician. Currently, he is Chair of the Systematic Theology Department at the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty of “Villa Aurora” and director of the CECSUR (Cultural Center for Human and Religious Sciences) in Florence, Italy.

Previous Spectrum columns by Hanz Gutierrez can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/author/hanz-gutierrez

Image Credit: Unsplash.com

 

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