March 2011


Doctrine divides, Action unites

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Let Ourselves Take Rest, Let the Universe Take Rest

Kristi Thie

(This reflection is based on Gen. 1:28, 2:1–3; Exod. 20:8–11)

March 5, 2011, was Nyepi Day for Bali Aga Hindus, a variant of Hinduism which exists in Indonesia. It was a celebration of the Hindu or Çaka New Year in the country. During the celebration, for a whole day, the Bali Aga Hindu people in Indonesia do not go anywhere, do not work, do not turn on the fire and do not enjoy entertainment from sunrise to sunset. The day is celebrated by all Bali Aga Hindu people throughout Indonesia, and that day becomes a national holiday, for almost all religious celebrations are national holidays in Indonesia.

The special thing about Nyepi Day are the conditions on the island of Bali where the majority of people are Hindu. On Nyepi Day, all flights, ships, public transportation and public services (except hospitals) stop. We can imagine that Bali becomes a silent island for a whole day (nyepi is derived from the word sepi, which means silence).

I thought that Nyepi is celebrated by all Hindu people and that all of India and Nepal will be very silent for a whole day. However, when I asked friends from these two South Asian countries about Nyepi Day, they said that they do not celebrate this day. Then I realized that Nyepi Day is only for the Bali Aga Hindus in Indonesia.

Several days ago a writer published an op-ed article in a national newspaper about Nyepi Day. He connected Nyepi with the time for the universe to take a rest. When Nyepi is celebrated, not only the people take a rest from all their activity and meditate, but the universe also takes a rest—no soil ploughed, no air pollution, no sound that disturbs the silence of the universe. Nyepi thus becomes a day for the universe to take a very long breath and feel relaxed.

These insights made me reflect about the Creation story in the first chapter of Genesis. In this Biblical account, God created the world in six days. The last creature God created was human beings. After human beings were created, God gave them a command to fill the Earth and subdue it and to rule over all other creatures. This command has usually been understood as legitimacy to do anything to the Earth, to exploit the Earth according to the will of humans.

But now the understanding changes. It is useless if humans subdue the Earth by means like that. “When humans think that they win and the Earth loses, at the same time, they also lose.” (E. F. Schumacher, as quoted in an op-ed article in a national newspaper, Sept. 20, 2007).

If we read carefully what happened after the Creation was completed, we can see something very different. Gen. 2:1–3 says that, after finishing the creation process, God stopped and rested.

Wow! I imagine that the Earth felt very good at that time. After a period in which God did everything God wanted to do to create a good Earth, now everything stops. I imagine the Earth took a very long breath. There was silence, and everything rested. What a great time!

I think by the same spirit God gave the fourth commandment that is written in Exod. 20:8–11. God commanded Israel to remember the Sabbath and make it holy. What must they do to make the day holy? By not doing any work! But the greatest thing is that this commandment is not only for free, adult people. No, everyone and everything must not do any work: themselves, their sons and daughters, their manservants, their maidservants, their animals and aliens living at their gate. It means everything! We can imagine—one whole day every week—a whole kingdom becomes silent. No exploitative action—not to other human beings nor to other creatures nor to the Earth. Everything rests. This is the real worship of God. The silence from any exploitation is the holiness of the Sabbath.

Nowadays there is no more Sabbath. When some people stop their work because of a holiday, other people still work and are even exploited by other people. The boss gets a holiday every Saturday and Sunday, but the worker still works to reach the targets of their task and, of course, to increase the benefits enjoyed by their boss. When human beings do not take rest from their work, Mother Earth is exploited because of increasing pollution every holiday.

I thank God that our Bali Aga Hindu brothers and sisters still have at least one day to stop from every exploitative action. I think we need to start to think to revitalize the Sabbath in our life—not only to stop our work, not only to take a rest, but the most important thing is to stop the exploitation. We have time for ourselves to take a rest, time for the other creatures and the Earth to also take a rest. And maybe it is not enough for only one day. The Sabbath must be every day, meaning no more exploitation of other creatures and Mother Earth. What a holy day it will be!

* Kristi Thie was a participant of the three-week School of Peace (SOP) conducted by Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF) and the Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCAs (APAY) in October and November 2010 in Sri Lanka.