Before we really begin, take a moment to consider: what are the things that you find restful. Make a short list of the things you find most restful.
When was the last time you did any of these things?
We have settled into “ordinary times” in the Christian calendar. In many ways, we have settled back into “ordinary times” after a year of everything un-ordinary. The extra-ordinary times can take a lot out of us. The season full of holidays and happenings. A year of everything being unexpected and uncertain. Things have settled into more certainty, as much as we can ever really expect in a world where the only constant is change. We have grown and we have learned.
Ordinary times. It seems like a good time for ordinary things. Like…rest. And quiet. And space.
When God created the world, one of the first acts of creation was to create space. God separated space out of the void in which to create. In that space, all sorts of Good things were created. And it was Good. It’s good to keep coming back to that Original Goodness. We like to get stuck in that original sin, but it’s good to remember that truly, originally, all was Good. And we spread Good, when we focus on that. Hope grows. Despair destroys. Space and emptiness is like a big blank canvas for expression.
Space and emptiness. The blank canvas of creation. We, on the other hand, aren’t really comfortable with space. We equate it with emptiness and darkness. Sometimes even loss. There are scary things in the unknown. Scary things in the dark. Scary things in the silence.
In fact, we’ve found the perfect defense mechanism. Busy. We fill the space with busy, because we worry that if there is too much quiet, we’ll find we aren’t good enough. Or that we are selfish and stealing from the work that we are supposed to be doing. We feel like we should be working. We don’t deserve breaks. We have duties and obligations and things to do. We’re afraid that there isn’t enough time at the same time we fill our time in a self fulfilling prophecy.
We worry that if we pause, we won’t be able to untangle ourselves from the entanglements we’ve created. If we look too closely, we’ll realize that we’re not quite on the right path. We will have to change. Change ourselves. Change our way of living. Change is also scary.
We’re busy and we rush. Hurrying along our lives. Rushing to the next thing. The next weekend. The next vacation. The next outing with friends. The next when things will be better. Never really looking at what’s our actual now.
We don’t like now and we don’t like emptiness. All sorts of scary things come out in the emptiness. Like…our own thoughts. What might we have to face in the silence and the emptiness? We might have to confront our own poisons. The things we have seen and done and been through. Those are scary things and the thought of revisiting them is scary. We’re afraid, in too much silence, we won’t be able to escape.
In the emptiness that is the blank space for expression, we fear that we might have nothing to create or express. Creating and expressing is vulnerable. We don’t like to be vulnerable. We all know this. We’ve all made ourselves vulnerable and been hurt. We don’t like to be hurt. The emptiness, the space, creates openings for the memory of old hurts and the potential for new hurts. Why would we do that? And so we rush and fill our lives. Speeding our lives along…
Look back at your list. When was the last time you did any of those things that you find restful? The amount of time between now and the last time we did our restful things might be a sign of how fearful we are of rest and quiet and emptiness. How hard we find it to give ourselves permission to rest. When there is space in your life, do you fill it? Or do you let it be?
We might feel safe and useful, but perhaps we are malnourished.
Our souls are nourished with restfulness and quiet. We feed our bodies with nourishing food and sleep. We feed our minds with knowledge. We feed our skin with nourishing lotions. When was the last time we fed our souls with rest? True rest.
In the quiet, God comes.
As we enter ordinary times, we’ve come out of a strange and constricting cocoon. What is it that the butterfly does when it emerges from its safe, cozy cocoon? The butterfly rests and stretches her wings before flying off to work. We must find time to work and time to rest. This is the message of the Sabbath. A day of rest each week. To look closely, to live, to reflect, to be present in God’s gifts.
As we’ve come off of this past year, we are watching ourselves and friends and loved ones and colleagues rushing forward to “catch up”. To reestablish the norms that were established before (even if they weren’t working) and at the same time adding in all the things that were “missed” so that we can catch up and get ahead. At the same time, we’re weary to the bone. We’re rushing forward without stopping to rest or reflect. We’re still afraid of what might happen if we stop and listen/look/feel/be.
We aren’t meant to rush, rush, rush. We aren’t meant to live in a world full of words and activities and constant movement. We are meant to have spaces of emptiness and quiet. What is it that happens in the restful, slow moments?
Maybe your list give you insight. Prayer. Love. Kindness. Connection. Hugs. What are your quiet, soul-nourishing things?
In the stillness, God comes.
Close with a story. A familiar one, but I’d never heard it told this way. It’s the story of the woman who brings a jar of expensive perfume and anoints Jesus during his last days. We all know the story. The disciples are upset that the perfume was expensive and could have been sold and the money used to feed the poor. In some ways, it is a confusing passage.
The way I was told was that this woman is the person who is the giver. The massage therapist, the mother, the father, the school teacher, the nurse…the one who never rests, who is burning themselves at both ends to be of service to others.
Jesus’s message is not that the poor don’t matter, but that this woman matters too. That just because she has something to give, and is not in as obvious need as poor, does not mean that she isn’t worthy (or in need) of compassion. Why is our initial response to make trouble? That we must be kind not only to those who need, but to those who have and those who give.
It is also perhaps a message to take rest. That it is not a helpful message that we must always be giving, giving, giving and taking care of others. That sometimes, we must stop and nourish ourselves. Sometimes, we are the givers. Sometimes, it is our turn to receive.
May we give and receive with Grace.