Notes From My Knapsack 12-29-16
Year's end, sound the alarm…
Each time we come to a New Year's Day in Granville, I think about Jacob Little, the feisty and persistent pastor of what's today First Presbyterian Church – he's honored with a window in the sanctuary there, the longest serving minister in that congregation's history.
But he saw himself as parson of a parish that included the whole village, and the surrounding area. His pastoral care, in a stern Puritan early 1800s fashion, was to watch and monitor and list the problems he saw in town.
For that austere Calvinist, this meant naming names and announcing his tallies of dances and who danced, of distilleries and who imbibed, or crimes and criminals known or unknown. Sabbath-breaking, of course, being a crime that to him was of great import.
Sabbath-keeping, of course, is the grand exception today. I have just enough of that spirit in me to feel uncomfortable mowing my lawn on a Sunday afternoon, even though demands of my own pastorate have kept me from it through the week, and the forecast ahead is rain. Jacob's reach (and my grandmother's influence) has kept me from such temptation on all but a mere handful of occasions.
The human frame does seem to be made with a need for Sabbaths of some sort. We have to sleep, a greater natural imperative than even food and drink; our routines work best if given a regular interruption. Scholars not of a religious bent have studied behavior, economic and otherwise, and found that we actually get more done in six days of work and a day of rest than if we try to work seven days a week without pause.
So I want to give Rev. Little his due. And this year ending has reminded me in some new ways what deserves tallying, no matter how hard to quantify, and to suggest some needed changes. This has been a year now for me with a fully functional smartphone, one with all the "bells and whistles." And the old steamboat term "bells and whistles" has a completely different meaning with a cell phone that is packed full of beeps and buzzes and alerts and tones, visual and aural alike.
As I've learned how to manage and mute these "helpful" tools on something that now accompanies me in and around my life 24/7, it has also made me more aware of how our world has become so filled with pings and chimes . . . and how we respond to them, with a jolt of alertness and presumably a parallel surge in adrenaline.
Other people's phones, microwave ovens, landlines in various office spaces where I have responsibilities that have an array of their own "rings" plus more lights and such; smoke detectors wanting new batteries on a distant staircase, computers with a vast panoply of audible cues. My oh my.
Jacob Little's parishioners had a bell. In the church. That the sexton rang if the bucket brigade was needed, or if a funeral was to start through the week, or of course church on Sunday. One bell, a few different ways to ring it. The pioneers before that had a trumpet kept over somebody's fireplace, and the ancient alert of coyotes howling or their own dogs barking. That was it.
Perhaps in this "age of anxiety" as Auden tagged it since 1947, what we need to keep growing anxiety at bay is to find some regular time away from alerts, chimes, pings and bongs. What must the regularly irregular tension of "checking" be doing to our endocrine system, our nerves, our souls? A Sabbath from sounds other than of nature, at regular intervals, might bless us all.
Even stern ol' Jacob would approve, I believe.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he keeps his phone on vibrate pretty much all the time. Tell him how you cope with constant alertness at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.