Fallowness: A Spiritual Alternative 

by Fr. John Rausch

          Three images help capture a daily part of our economic life. How many times do we see a car circling the mall parking lot looking for a place? How about a person using a cell phone in a store, on the street, or in a car? And what about those vibrations we feel from a car stopped beside us at a light rocking with the sound blasting from customized speakers? We are a buying people, a busy people and frequently a boisterous people. In the process our spirits become dulled by bargains, distracted by phone calls and deadened by noise.

      In the midst of this self-imposed perpetual motion one biblical theme especially helps us discover ourselves and find the path to peace. The theme points out a direction rather than a step by step formula. Yet, it contains the potential to change individuals and influence the way we do business.

"Rising very early before dawn, Jesus left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed" (Mk 1:35.) Evidently Jesus occasionally had to withdraw from the demanding crowds, from the stress of his enemies, even from his own inner circle. In silence Jesus entered the mystery of self and God. At rest Jesus could converse with His Father while he let his body-spirit lie fallow. Fallowness, the key biblical theme, represents a movement from distracting noise to peaceful solitude.

In Leviticus 25 fallowness applies to the land. The land must rest every so many years in order to remain fertile. Theologian Maria Harris reminds us we are "dust and breath" (Gn 2:7) and allowing our "human land" to lie fallow, brings balance and perspective to work and life.

In contrast, the business world continually bombards us with music in shops and restaurants and commercial announcements from in-store loud speakers. TV and radio have become so common they play as background noise even when people hold a conversation. Those watching prime time TV hear more than 20 commercials an hour telling them what to buy, invest and think.

The antidote to noise pollution comes with fallowness, allowing time for solitude and prayer.

In every day life it means making choices: less TV, fewer commercials, perhaps driving with the radio off. Biblical fallowness allows us to "waste time" with others building healthy relationships, encourages a day off and time for a hobby so our "dust and breath" can rest and our spirit can heal.

Since few can easily find the flexibility to take time for solitude, fallowness begs a communal effort. Mothers of young children might need a program like Mom's Day Off to structure their time for fallowness. Married couples might consider Marriage Encounter or periodic retreats. Families could designate the Sabbath as a special day together with few outside activities.

Fallowness demands some structural changes, as well, since the business world thrives on activity and noise.  mericans now work 163 hours more each year than they did 25 years ago.  They spend 10 to 12 hours fewer each week with their children. Estimates range between 8% to 17% of the work force work longer hours than they desire because of employer demands. Fallowness has a justice dimension. In order to have time for fallowness people need more flex time, less overtime, and above all a living wage so they can avoid a mandatory second job.

With the wheels of commerce moving ever faster by office electronics, fallowness represents a salutary way of refreshing the human spirit and keeping it connected with the divine.

Fr. John Rausch, a Glenmary priest, teaches at the Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Center, Berea, Ky. His column appears monthly in many Catholic journals and in ours beginning this month, courtesy of the Friends of the Good News. 
Read other articles of Spiritual Enlightenment in the May 2000 edition of The San Francisco Charismatics or return to the Main Menu by clicking on the blue.