Technology Shabbats are meant for individuals to unplug, regardless of the belief system. RNS photo illustration by Kit Doyle

The science of Sabbath: How people are rediscovering rest—and claiming its benefits

(RNS) — Tiffany Shlain built her career by being online almost all the time.

She founded the Webby Awards, which honor the best of the Web each year. She also runs a film studio and creates online conversations to use the internet in “its best way, which is to bring people together on issues that unite us,” she said.

And yet every Friday evening for nearly a decade, Shlain and her family have unplugged their devices and spent the next 24 hours offline in what she calls a “Technology Shabbat.”

“As our society becomes more oversaturated with technology, I feel like it's the thing we need right now," she said.

Tech Shabbat is a modern twist on an ancient religious practice, which is attracting the attention of burned-out millennials and others who are exhausted by trying to keep up in an increasingly connected and fast-paced world.

And there’s some science to support the idea that practicing a day of rest — including time away from social media and digital devices — benefits longevity and both mental and physical health.

Tiffany Shlain, filmmaker and founder of The Webby Awards, speaks at PromaxBDA The Conference 2014, on June 11, 2014, in New York. (John Minchillo/AP Images for PromaxBDA)


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

It's a practice that can benefit people of faith and those who don't believe, alike.

“This can be adapted for anyone, wherever you fall on the belief spectrum, and it will bring meaning and value to your life in unbelievable ways,” Shlain said.

Shabbat — also known as Sabbath — is the day of the week reserved for rest and worship in Judaism and Christianity.

Jews observe Shabbat on Saturdays, beginning Friday nights with lit candles and shared meals. In addition to resting from work at their jobs during that time, Orthodox Jews also refrain from a number of other activities that are considered work, such as driving and switching lights off or on.

Seventh-day Adventists also take Sabbath seriously, worshipping, avoiding work and spending time with other church members on Saturdays.

Most Christians worship on Sunday, and their observance of a day of rest varies from church to church and even from Christian to Christian. In the past, the regular practice of Sabbath has included so-called "blue laws" that once kept many stores closed on Sundays.

Now some are urging their fellow Christians to rediscover the practice of honoring the Sabbath.

J. Dana Trent. Courtesy photo


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

J. Dana Trent is one of them. The ordained Baptist minister began observing a Sabbath after a visit to the doctor's office.

The doctor told Trent she needed to "slow down." At the time, she was working four different adjunct jobs and commuting up to two hours per day. She had also recently been diagnosed with chronic migraine syndrome, though her visit to the doctor had been for a Q-Tip she had lodged in her ear while in a rush.

Observing the Sabbath means trusting that if she takes time off, the world won’t spin out of control, said Trent, author of “For Sabbath’s Sake: Embracing Your Need for Rest, Worship, and Community.” It's an act of humility that puts God at the center of her life, not herself.

Not everybody can take Saturday or Sunday or even a full 24 hours to rest — that’s a privilege for those who work 9-to-5 jobs on weekdays, she acknowledged.

“I think Sabbath can take lots of different shapes, but the idea is that we step out of what we're doing every day — like the normal routine stuff — in order to make meaning,” she said.

It also makes sense to many others who are looking at the health benefits of unplugging from the world — and from devices.

Research presented last year at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association suggests that constantly staring at screens may be making us more “distracted, distant and drained.” Other studies of social media use have linked it to everything from loneliness to disrupted sleep.

For Shlain and her family, lighting candles, inviting people over, sharing a meal and logging off together guards against those things. She laughs more on Shabbat than any other day, she said. And at the end of the day, she looks forward to checking in again online.

There may be benefits to more traditional observances of Sabbath, as well.

Candles are lit for Shabbat. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

In 2005, National Geographic published the findings of scientists, funded in part by the U.S. National Institute on Aging, who traveled around the globe to learn the secrets of longevity from populations that had high rates of centenarians, few deadly diseases and more healthy years of life. Among them were Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, Calif. Scientists pointed to Adventists’ practice of Sabbath as one of the reasons for their good health.

An earlier study found the average Adventist lived four to 10 years longer than the average Californian.

A more recent 2014 study coauthored by Professor Jerry Lee of the School of Public Health at Loma Linda University, an Adventist school in Southern California, looked at the correlation between Sabbath-keeping and mental health and well-being. According to their research, Lee said, "refraining from secular activities on Sabbath was associated with better mental health and better physical health."

The professor currently is working on another study measuring stress hormone levels before and after Sabbath. And most interesting to him, he said, is a study showing fewer deaths during Shabbat in Israel.

But, Lee said, more research would be "useful."

"There have been a number of books, but most of the books that I've seen don't really have a lot of empirical data," he said.

Judith Shulevitz, author of “The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time,” also cautions against practicing Sabbath for selfish reasons.

It’s not just a day of rest for individuals, she said. Instead, she said that it's meant to be a “day of rest which is synchronized with the rest of society.”

“It's not about you. It’s about us,” she said.

And the practice still is debated within some Christian circles.

Social media apps on a phone. Photo by Jason Howie/Creative Commons


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

A.J. Swoboda, pastor of Theophilus Church in Portland, Ore., said he decided to preach about Sabbath a few years ago when he noticed the people in his congregation were tired and in need of rest. So was he.

"Our souls and our bodies and our spirits absolutely need it," he said.

Because he pastors a church on weekends, Swoboda and his family take their day of rest to unplug, eat pancakes and get outside together on Tuesdays — a “distinctly Protestant view of the Sabbath,” he said.

It seems others increasingly are interested in doing the same: Swoboda's book, “Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World” recently was recognized in Christianity Today’s 2019 Book Awards. Taking a Sabbath reminds people that there's more to life than being busy and plugged in all the time, according to the pastor.

"It's a very threatening biblical concept because it completely undermines all of the assumptions of what we have come to believe being an American is all about, which is being productive," he said.

Shlain, whose book about Tech Sabbath is due later this year, believes everyone can benefit from a day of rest.

Her family is Jewish, but they only began to practice a Tech Shabbat together after her father Leonard Shlain — the bestselling author, inventor and surgeon — was diagnosed with brain cancer.

Sometimes he only had one good hour a day, she said. She would turn off her phone to spend that time with him.

To Shlain, that time spent unplugged felt like “the most beautiful solution to this urgent problem in our society right now, which is that screens are just on all the time and everywhere, and you're not being present with the people that you're with, and you're not really focused on any one thing.”

“I believe in this kind of modern take on it because I believe Judaism is all about reinterpreting based on the times we're living,” she said.

These stories are part of a series on science and religion, brought to you with support from the John Templeton Foundation. Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation. (RNS logo, John Templeton Foundation logo}

Comments

  1. Yes, let us show the Biblical version/standard of the Seventh-day Sabbath (Shabbat), as GOD did make it and gave it to all mankind, and then let us show it’s degradation by custom and tradition to accommodate the technical development (degrading) sins of our advanced age. If the Sabbath had been faithfully observed by mankind since it’s beginning (Creation week), we’d not be were we are today – disagreeing on and, in some situations, being disagreeable as to the validity and value of the Sabbath. As we would have kept the observing of the Sabbath, the Sabbath would have kept us by that observing.

  2. “Shabbat” is a time for honouring Christ not honouring how much work one is doing, or thinks they have done.
    A break from the internet is just that – a break from the internet.
    “It’s not about you. It’s about us,” she said.” No.It’s about Christ
    “a “distinctly Protestant view of the Sabbath,” A distinctly Protestant view is worshipping and honouring Christ.
    Christians find their rest in Christ –

    Matthew 11:28-30 ESV
    Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

    Exodus 33:14 ESV
    And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

    “It was to be a sacred pause in the ordinary labor which man earns his bread the curse the fall was to be suspended for one and, having spent that day in joyful remembrance of Gods mercies, man had a fresh start in his course of labor. A great snare, too, has always been hidden in the word work, as if the commandment forbade occupation and imposed idleness…..Thus the spirit of the Sabbath was joy, refreshment and mercy, arising from remembrance of Gods goodness as Creator and as the Deliverer from bondage. ”
    https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/smiths-bible-dictionary/sabbath.html

    The left is trying to rid themselves of Christ by taking Him out of the Sabbath now?

  3. The Sabbath is no longer for the 7th day.
    “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” Romans 14:5

  4. love to see your nonsense Rational – good to see you back under your old nick

  5. But — but – there are no gods…
    So your jesus myth has no importance….

  6. The Bible is a compendium of fire side tales and fables,

    recounted orally for generations by goat herders and primitive tribes from the stone age, until writing was invented,

    and then again many different sources, transliterations, and versions were copied and written down.

    There were no grand central universities to organise the many various versions of these origin/creation stories, stories common to most primitive cultures.
    They were for entertainment (as in all migratory camp tribes),
    and to answer the questions of the many fears and mysteries of our universe, like ‘thunder’ and earthquakes, since there was no science yet.

    This is the old Testament.

    The ‘new’ Testes is also hearsay since these letters, ‘gospels’ and stories were written by the loyal faithful, the camp followers,
    not by objective historians at that particular time,
    or by any contemporary writers,
    and these tales were written many years after the supposed events of this mythical Jesus.

    Thus, there is no verifiable evidence of a Jesus in real documented history.

    Then, many of these stories, but not all, as many were not chosen,
    [ There are more than just four Gospels but only these four were agreed on ],
    were compiled for one self-absorbed converted Roman Emperor in his Nicean Council,
    for his expressed purpose of conquest and
    control of the people of Europe for his Holy Roman Empire.
    He recognised that this was the perfect religion/mythology for the future domination of the populaces.

    Half of the stories were ignored by the Nicean Bishops and none have been proven to be based on fact.

    This ‘Bable’ book is backed up by absolutely no facts and no evidence.
    It is not proof for any god(s) ….(or of any jesus…)

    It is a historical novel…Only!

  7. You lack of acknowledgement for Him, does not negate His reality

  8. True but one day a week with no work and time to reflect is good for all of us.

  9. Oh how erudite!!!

    So – no gods here – obviously….

  10. The Bible is a compendium of fire side tales and fables,

    recounted orally for generations by goat herders and primitive tribes from the stone age, until writing was invented,

    and then again many different sources, transliterations, and versions were copied and written down.

    There were no grand central universities to organise the many various versions of these origin/creation stories, stories common to most primitive cultures.
    They were for entertainment (as in all migratory camp tribes),
    and to answer the questions of the many fears and mysteries of our universe, like ‘thunder’ and earthquakes, since there was no science yet.

    This is the old Testament.

    The ‘new’ Testes is also hearsay since these letters, ‘gospels’ and stories were written by the loyal faithful, the camp followers,
    not by objective historians at that particular time,
    or by any contemporary writers,
    and these tales were written many years after the supposed events of this mythical Jesus.

    Thus, there is no verifiable evidence of a Jesus in real documented history.

    Then, many of these stories, but not all, as many were not chosen,
    [ There are more than just four Gospels but only these four were agreed on ],
    were compiled for one self-absorbed converted Roman Emperor in his Nicean Council,
    for his expressed purpose of conquest and
    control of the people of Europe for his Holy Roman Empire.
    He recognised that this was the perfect religion/mythology for the future domination of the populaces.

    Half of the stories were ignored by the Nicean Bishops and none have been proven to be based on fact.

    This ‘Bable’ book is backed up by absolutely no facts and no evidence.
    It is not proof for any god(s) ….(or of any jesus…)

  11. Ha, imagine that! Thank you for your wisdom and knowledge you most great and marvelous wizard!! I’m so happy that we have people like you to set the example for how we should comport ourselves and decipher the annals of history. I find it most amazing that this “mythical Jesus” influenced so many people that they agreed to devise a means of accounting for time with the AD and BC system. Maybe you could regale us with your amazing and vast intellect and explain how so many people have been duped through the centuries to only now understand the truth after an enlightened person like yourself has been able to point us in the right direction?

  12. Another genius heard from….thanks for enlightening us with your wisdom. Shall I bow now or wait till Hell freezes over? Inquiring minds want to know. Are you sure your aren’t mythical?

  13. Tis the genius of 1.5 million Conservative Jews and their rabbis who concluded that after perusing all the texts and archeological information that Abraham, Moses and the Exodus were all myths.

  14. Funny, obviously you’ve been reading that rag, the NY Times. So you actually believe that a small moronic group of American Jews, probably Hollyweird worshipers, who don’t even believe in God or follow their ancient religious beliefs or practices can speak for all of Judaism? I think someone forgot to tell Israel about this joke, they’re still fighting for “The Land” which God promised them.

  15. Which of the Babylonian gods made that promise?

  16. Tis The Gate of the Gods. Big difference!

  17. From Professors Crossan and Watts’ book, Who is Jesus.

    “That Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, as the Creed states, is as certain as anything historical can ever be.

    “ The Jewish historian, Josephus and the pagan historian Tacitus both agree that Jesus was executed by order of the Roman governor of Judea. And is very hard to imagine that Jesus’ followers would have invented such a story unless it indeed happened.

    “While the brute fact that of Jesus’ death by crucifixion is historically certain, however, those detailed narratives in our present gospels are much more problematic. ”

    “My best historical reconstruction would be something like this. Jesus was arrested during the Passover festival, most likely in response to his action in the Temple. Those who were closest to him ran away for their own safety.
    I do not presume that there were any high-level confrontations between Caiaphas and Pilate and Herod Antipas either about Jesus or with Jesus. No doubt they would have agreed before the festival that fast action was to be taken against any disturbance and that a few examples by crucifixion might be especially useful at the outset. And I doubt very much if Jewish police or Roman soldiers needed to go too far up the chain of command in handling a Galilean peasant like Jesus. It is hard for us to imagine the casual brutality with which Jesus was probably taken and executed. All those “last week” details in our gospels, as distinct from the brute facts just mentioned, are prophecy turned into history, rather than history remembered.”

    See also Professor Crossan’s reviews of the existence of Jesus in his other books especially, The Historical Jesus and also Excavating Jesus (with Professor Jonathan Reed doing the archaeology discussion) .

    “Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth [Hardcover]
    Bart D. Ehrman (Author)

    Large numbers of atheists, humanists, and conspiracy theorists are raising one of the most pressing questions in the history of religion: “Did Jesus exist at all?” Was he invented out of whole cloth for nefarious purposes by those seeking to control the masses? Or was Jesus such a shadowy figure—far removed from any credible historical evidence—that he bears no meaningful resemblance to the person described in the Bible?

    In Did Jesus Exist? historian and Bible expert Bart Ehrman confronts these questions, vigorously defends the historicity of Jesus, and provides a compelling portrait of the man from Nazareth. The Jesus you discover here may not be the Jesus you had hoped to meet—but he did exist, whether we like it or not.

  18. And all hail the great RatCon, the mouth piece of the Holy Crossan!

    We are so lucky to be blessed with his deep wisdom as well!

  19. Great article. We hear way too little about Sabbath-keeping today but it is a critical part of any Bible-based faith, be it Christian or Jewish.

  20. Take a course in psychology and social anthropology instead of listening to silly fairy tales from the stone ages…..Yep – it is called education….

  21. So – obviously no one can prove their gods on this site….

  22. Smart-assed remarks are proof of a god.?… or continuing dumdum….

  23. I’ve come to the conclusion you’re neither rational or able to come to conclusions. Let me help you, Goodbye!

  24. I started getting “educated” before you were born. In fact I majored in psychology before it became a false science in its attempts at inclusion and political correctness. I was one of 10 chosen to start the first school of parapsychology in the US. In fact, I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know. That said, I’ve learned not to feed into the folly of fools.

    Good luck with your education, you’ll need it. Don’t look now but you’re headed in the wrong direction!

  25. Born b4 1950 were you??
    and ‘para -what’?? That makes sense….!

    1978 BSc Anthropology and Geology
    2014 Grad Dip Ed – Senior Sciences

    Want your god? Try showing some real evidence in proving this god of yours [we don’t need any gods in real life}

  26. Let us part ways with The Great Kibosh of All Religions:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  27. “Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth [Hardcover]
    Bart D. Ehrman (Author)

    Large numbers of atheists, humanists, and conspiracy theorists are raising one of the most pressing questions in the history of religion: “Did Jesus exist at all?” Was he invented out of whole cloth for nefarious purposes by those seeking to control the masses? Or was Jesus such a shadowy figure—far removed from any credible historical evidence—that he bears no meaningful resemblance to the person described in the Bible?
    In Did Jesus Exist? historian and Bible expert Bart Ehrman confronts these questions, vigorously defends the historicity of Jesus, and provides a compelling portrait of the man from Nazareth. The Jesus you discover here may not be the Jesus you had hoped to meet—but he did exist, whether we like it or not.”

  28. Words by a man, based on words from other men, does not prove a god. And certainly is not ‘compelling’ enough to prove a ‘jesus’!

    This jesus person may have existed but only as a cult leader – a cool dude – like many hippies….

    There certainly are no gods by any logic or evidence….

  29. Prove a god exists if you don’t like their readings – and all this just goes away…..

  30. The Apostles’ Creed 2019: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (references used are available upon request)

  31. Bible verses have about as much credibility as Trump’s Tweets.

  32. That’s a funny concept. God promises them some land which they were subsequently denied and now they have to fight to get it back.

  33. Hmm. You must be old. ESP and PK were studied in a lab at Stanford in 1911. Duke was the second institution to critically study similar phenomenon in 1930. Or did you mean you studied at Univ. of Virginia or Univ. of Arizona. in the 1980s.

  34. “Tech Shabbat is a modern twist on an ancient religious practice, which is attracting the attention of burned-out millennials and others who are exhausted by trying to keep up in an increasingly connected and fast-paced world.” – Tech Shabbat is definitely a good idea. Technology is killing us not just mentally, but physically also. There are people who are having brain cancers because of over use of cell phones, which create high energy radiation. People are getting headaches from WiFi radiation. Every house, every corporation, even some cities are infested with wifi radiation. To reduce its impact definitely plugging off is the best way.

    Bible says – “Be still”. This is called meditation. Calm down your physical and mental states slowly little by little. You will become connected to your soul. Bible also says – “If you have the ear, then you will hear”. This is a very high level yoga meditation procedure. This means learn to control all your physical sense organs including the third eye. But this is not one day Shabbat, it should be considered as a daily routine, preferably before you go to work. Time duration for yoga meditation can be from 5 minutes to 30 minutes daily.

    Notice that meditation is not about us, it is only about me. More you can isolate yourself from the environment better will become your mental peace and more will be your energy. Thus replacing tech Shabbat by humans, friends, and family, is better but definitely not for your end goal. You can become closer to your family and friends by performing meditation, it will increase your sensitivity to them, you will hear them better, at the level of souls. It appears very true that books of Judaism have lot more advanced level techniques for yogic powers and methods than simply Shabbat.

  35. The Jews had a number of ceremonial holy days that came on a yearly basis and it was not required for converts to Christianity, the new converts, to be circumcised or practice the ceremonial aspects of the Jewish law because they were shadows that pointed to Jesus. These are completely separate from the ten commandments; the Seventh-day Sabbath was a weekly commitment. The Sabbath was made by God and gifted to the human race in Eden – long before the ceremonial law was written. Paul is addressing the ceremonial laws and holidays.

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