Kyle Eller: How about reclaiming Sundays for Lent?

I recently wrote about the movie "Chariots of Fire," along with other great, award-winning movies bearing religious themes, not being on the shelves of a video store.

I recently wrote about the movie "Chariots of Fire," along with other great, award-winning movies bearing religious themes, not being on the shelves of a video store.

As I wrote that column, I had an odd thought. Maybe "Chariots of Fire," despite its popularity, its quality, the awards it won and the fact that it was the most recent of the movies I listed, is the most defensible of the omissions, simply because it is so alien to 2005.

That's a strange thing to say about a movie less than 25 years old, and one that bears considering in our fast-paced world.

Sometimes a society changes so much that what was once a powerful motivator fades to where it's hardly noticed. Such may be the case with Eric Liddel's decision not to run an Olympic race because it took place on a Sunday.

The thought came back with particular strength last weekend, on Super Bowl Sunday. It's quite a contrast, isn't it?


One wonders what Liddel, a real person, would think of professional athletes working on Sundays who thank God after touchdowns and make the sign of the cross before each at-bat.

I've softened on such displays generally. Athletes are often unfairly ridiculed and caricatured for simply asking God to help them perform their best or thanking God when that result is achieved. But there's an irony when it's done, at least arguably, as athletes are violating one of the Ten Commandments, to keep the Sabbath holy.

Then again, even in Liddel's day, staying out of the race was an unusually pious act, as is clear from the movie. In the 1980s, when the movie was released, it would have been even more remarkable.

But we could at least understand it. The idea lingered enough that the plot twist worked. It was bolstered by living memory -- and even a few living examples -- of towns in America where you couldn't buy a gallon of milk on a Sunday because everything for 20 miles was closed. You might have even read about taking Sundays off in the "Little House on the Prairie" books.

Researching another project, I recently read the papal encyclical letter Rerum Novarum, written by the great Pope Leo XIII at the close of the 19th century. Its topic is what we now call social justice, particularly economic justice, and one point that struck me was Leo's insistence on the moral obligation of employers to accommodate employees' religious observances.

I'm not positive, but I suspect it's a legacy of the labor movement nobly advancing the same principle that some union employers, well into the 1980s, still paid higher rates for Sundays, reflecting the sacrifice such work represents.

Maybe I'm wrong, but my impression is that none of this crosses our minds much anymore, be we employees, employers, union reps or elite athletes, with very few exceptions.

We live in an on-demand, always connected, 24/7 culture.


Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not griping about public policy, and I'm not intending here to wag my finger at those who have lost touch with the meaning of what Christians know as the Lord's Day.

Even many otherwise devoutly religious folks, right or wrong, are quite happy being able to get that gallon of milk Sunday. If this were to change, it would have to be because lots of individuals changed ingrained habits.

Those catechized in the lunatic asylum of the 1970s and 1980s may never have been taught there were Sunday obligations beyond maybe getting to church.

And it's true that there are many differences in Sabbath observance, between Jews and Christians and even between different varieties of Christians.

My real point is that we've lost a lot when we don't observe it at all. Those who know their scripture recall that the Sabbath was not only a commandment, it was a gift to us from God: a day of rest.

Isn't this what we're missing? If you want to write a best-selling book, picking the how-to category in the areas of stress management, time management, building a better family or finding peace of soul is a good way to start.

We also buy tapes and CDs, watch TV shows and attend classes trying to get a handle on all of these.

It's not working. If you took a survey of America's biggest complaints, surely lack of time to rest and to care for our spiritual lives, troubled relationships with family and friends, and excess stress would be found high on the list.


What a coincidence.

Even those who don't believe God actually ordered us to take a break to worship, spend time with our families and rest can surely see the wisdom in doing so every week. Our daily lives are like a giant billboard for the concept of the Sabbath.

So we should start reclaiming it. No, we're probably not going to give up the Super Bowl next year. (I watched part of it, too.) But we can start blocking Sunday off --turning off the TV, rescheduling the chores and clearing the calendar for the things that really matter, like faith, family and rest.

Now is a great time to give it a try. For Christians, Lent started just last week with Ash Wednesday. As traditionally observed, this involves fasting, penance, additional prayer and almsgiving. But Sundays, even in Lent, are like mini-Easters when we can relax on the penance a little.

This can't help but heighten our joy at going to church as a family, taking a walk with the kids, having a family meal or doing some spiritual reading.

It might be a worthwhile experiment. Do the best you can at it until Easter. If you don't like it -- if your days and weeks don't feel a little less fraught -- you can always go back to 24/7.

Kyle Eller, features editor of the Budgeteer, may be reached at 723-1207 or by e-mail at .

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