Now that it is over, really over, I can tell you the thing I hated most about the Christmas season: shopping Sundays. There were four of them in Massachusetts, and each one left me more sympathetic to those people who suffer through 52 of them.
Shopping Sundays are like a McDonald's golden arch at the North Pole. They are a huge For Sale sign blocking out the most endangered national resource of all day of relative rest, freedom from busy-ness and from business.
It's not a day of restriction but of freedoms. But in my own mind is freedom from lists, from commerce, from everything embodied in the word "shopping."
The inability to "run errands," I realize, helps me fill my own need to "sit." The inability to "do" helps us to "be."
Rest is something that is so easily eroded. The sense of repose and the stillness we need can go bit by bit. If we don't protect it like the endangered species, the limited resource it is, we can lose it - Sunday by Sunday.
Now, you must understand that I am the sort of person for whom they invented these shopping Sundays. Like most other working families, mine lives on the brink of chaos. Empty milk bottles and burnt-out light bulbs are major issues. I have considered it a hostile gesture when my daughter outgrows old shoes and needs new ones. At this very moment I have a rug that has been at one cleaners since Oct. 6 and a blouse that has needed to go to another cleaners since last summer.
I have a list of errands that a time-study man couldn't complete on a Saturday morning. And one of my recurrent fantasies is that I'll find a personal shopper who knows my size and taste and the birthdates of my friends and relatives.
So, the person who wrote those little signs in the doorways of the shopping malls ("For your convenience, this store will be open Sundays until Christmas") was writing for me. Surely I could "use" another shopping day. But what I discovered this year was that need a nonshopping day.
Sundays have always been the one day on which it was "impossible to get anything done" and, therefore, the only day in which it was possible to get nothing done. A day without stores open is a day without lists to fill or money to spend. It's a day to "be," rather than to "do." And not to feel guilty about it.
Now I am not a Sabbatarian. I don't cotton to folks like Cotton Mather, who blamed the 17th-century burning of Boston on the fact that people worked on the Sabbath. But I think there is something to be said for a day of non-commercialism and community-approved nothingness. For Shopless Sundays.
After all, the real day of rest in a consumer society like ours is a day when the pocketbook remains unopened and there are no "things" to buy.
Perhaps I feel this even more acutely because I spent this past Shopless Sunday reading Harvey Cox's latest book, "Turning East." In it, the theologian has again combined his insights about modern society with an understanding of traditional religion. He writes about the genuine and illusory attraction of Eastern religions to people, especially young people who were raised in the Western world.
In one passage, Cox compares the Sabbath of the West to the meditation of the East. The Sabbath comes from the root word that means "to desist." "One keeps it holy by doing nothing," he writes. The Zen patriarchs also taught how to do nothing, to "just sit," meditate. In a sense, the Sabbath was the Western meditations, and meditations was the Eastern Sabbath.
IN one way or another, as Cox notes, they were both dealing with the issues of productivity and contemplation, of action and response, of work and rest, of doing and being. In the West, at least one day av time set aside for affirming what is," writes Cox.
I am not personally in favor of laws that close everything on Sundays. That fights with my vision of the meaning of a rest day. The Sabbath, as Cox says, isn't a matter of law, but of consciousness.