Rest: God Hallows the Way

Sermon preached October 28, 2018 – Creation VII
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME

Gen 2: 1-3
Psalm 46
IV and VI from Sabbaths 2001, by Wendell Berry
Matthew 11:25-29

Rest: God Hallows the Way

Yesterday the delegates and clergy from every parish of the diocese gathered at our diocesan convention. We began our morning, just as news of the tragedy at The Tree of Life Synagogue reached us; we prayed together for those who were killed, those wounded, and their families. Which we will do together this morning as well. Our collective heartache emphasizing our deep need for God’s love and healing in our broken world.

The theme of our convention was the Presiding Bishop’s Way of Love – practices for living a Jesus Centered life. So, in the day to day living of our lives we are shaped by this faith that we claim. To intentionally follow the way of Jesus.

Bishop Curry writes in his invitation:
In the first century Jesus of Nazareth inspired a movement. A community of people            whose lives were centered on Jesus Christ and committed to living the way of God’s            unconditional, unselfish, sacrificial, and redemptive love. Before they were called             “church” or “Christian,” this Jesus Movement was simply called “the way.” Today I              believe our vocation is to live as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.¹

He then invites us to join in what he is calling The Way of Love: Practices for Jesus-Centered Life. A framework of seven practices, in the tradition of the early Christian monastics, a rule of life to help us follow the way of Jesus. A rule of life is a framework that allows us to live with intention and purpose in the present moment. It helps us clarify our most important values, relationships, dreams and work.²

Bishop Curry concludes:
By entering into reflection, discernment and commitment around the practices of
Turn – Learn – Pray – Worship – Bless – Go – Rest, I pray we will grow as communities       following the loving, liberating, life-giving way of Jesus. His way has the power to               change each of our lives and to change this world.³

Those practices again: Turn – Learn – Pray – Worship – Bless – Go – Rest. Bishop Curry is quick to point out that the order in which we engage the practices doesn’t matter. Which is a very good thing for us, for here we are, at the intersection of this invitation to the practices of the Way of Love, and the last day of our Creation Season. With a single point of convergence – on the last practice in the list: Rest. As tempting as it is to rush toward “the doing” of other practices (we will focus on those in November) – today we are clearly meant to focus on REST.

On this, the seventh day of creation, God sees all that God has done, and then God rests. On purpose. Then God hallows this day, makes it special and separate and holy, of God. At the end of the sixth day, after God made the cattle and the creeping things, God made humankind in God’s image, God blessed us, and saw that it was very good. But this day, the day of rest, God hallows. God makes it holy.

Rest as valuable and holy is so beyond our cultural understanding and experience that we tend to dismiss it outright. Rest, Sabbath, that’s for other people, not for hard working, fiercely independent, hard scrabble people like Mainers.

And yet, this day of deliberate stillness is as valuable a part of God’s ongoing creativity as any other aspect of God’s self. A seventh of all that went into creation, a seventh of all that came forth from creation – is rest. Deliberate, intentional rest.

God actively chooses rest. God didn’t collapse because God could no longer muscle through another day. God didn’t work God’s self to the brink of illness, or become bitter and burned out. God decided to rest on purpose. And God wants that for us, and from us as well.

Our psalmist states it clearly: “Be still, then, and know that I am God;”

Which seems utterly impossible to many of us. This is one of those moments of wisdom that we recognize mostly in the negative; knowing better what it looks like because of its absence in our lives. We live in a culture that idolizes frenetic busyness. (People can’t even sit at a stoplight without checking their messages.) And honestly, life in a two-income household with kids often consists of constant superhuman feats of multi-tasking, life on the fly as the new normal. Somehow doing it all is now the expected minimum.

Yet life, being really alive, is an intentional way of being, of paying attention and living abundantly, which is not the same as living frantically or busily. Life is not meant to be an unending list of tasks. Abundant life is living a considered, deliberate life: a life that is attentive, appreciative, engaged. And rest is necessarily part of that rhythm. This rest is a Sabbath rest, a rest on purpose, not rest by default, when we’re simply so exhausted that we can’t function.

We know this in our core; we know that we need rest to provide for our own health and well-being, to allow the abundant gifts of our lives to thrive and spill forth for the world; yet this rest idea is often so foreign to us, that we don’t know where to begin.

The words in Genesis give us our first hint. “There was evening and there was morning, the first day.” In God’s rhythm, evening precedes morning, evening begins the day. Evening is the first part of the day’s cycle. It begins the cycle of rest and creativity, of rest and work. The day needs the night, the work needs the rest.

Phillip Newell, who writes on Celtic Spirituality, puts it this way:
The time of infolding is related to the period of unfolding. The fallowness of the                   ground is part of the earth’s cycle of fruitfulness and abundance. The one does not             occur without the other. Creation’s outward profusion of life is rooted in inner                    capacity for rest and renewal.⁴

We begin to find our Sabbath rest by honoring the sacred pattern established for us by God in creation – and by living into that rhythm with intention. By acknowledging that the dark of evening coming earlier is not a challenge to be conquered, but a gift to be taken in. Planning to rest more, to end our tasks earlier, to allow ourselves the time of autumn and winter’s “infolding.” As our bodies need rest to repair and restore our physical selves, our minds and our spirits need the room provided by rest to imagine and create, to store memories, to make connections, to weave the fabric of our lives from the warp and weft of our daily experience.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Sabbath isn’t just a way of catching up on our rest, though we need the rest as much as we need water and air; Sabbath is the intentional stillness that allows for new beginnings in our lives.

Phillip Newell continues:
To enter stillness, whether in sleep or in wakefulness, is to forget at one level in order       to remember at another. The Celtic tradition speaks of ‘the angeling of my rest.’ This         points to the time of rest as holy, and therefore as surrounded and protected by the           messengers of God, as well as to the grace of renewal and creativity that can emerge         out of stillness. (The gift of being renewed in such a way comes not only through                resting but through the dreams and imaginations of sleep and stillness. To be alert to         these is to be open to creative depths within ourselves, stirring us to fresh                             perspectives and new awareness.)⁵

The “angeling of our rest” is a beautiful image, but it’s difficult to imagine getting there from a place of constant exhaustion. How do we get to the “angeling of our rest,” and the subsequent creativity of new beginnings? How do we get back to our healthy, whole selves?

Another Celtic Spiritual guide, John O’Donohue, has written a meditation entitled, For One Who Is Exhausted. Toward the end of this meditation O’Donohue writes:
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself;
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.⁶

We begin to find our way: by slowing down, by paying attention to the small miracles around us, by gathering in the grace of creation, by allowing the calmness of stone, the rhythm of the ocean, to steady us, to support and sustain us. By spending time with those calming souls, who know that time is not an enemy to overpower, but a friend to be cherished and appreciated. And gradually, the emptiness of exhaustion will give way to the richness of true Sabbath rest, and we will return to ourselves, calmly and joyfully, ready for the new beginning that is born out of the letting go that rest and attentiveness make room for.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Or as Wendell Berry writes in our second lesson, “Sit and be still, until … you are where breathing is prayer.”⁷

The seventh day of creation asks us to be as intentional in our rest as we are in our work, or in our activity. To set aside the time and the space to be still, on purpose. To hallow it and make it our own. To honor the stillness of God within us. To teach our children and grandchildren the value of life lived intentionally, rather than reactively. Life lived in the sacred rhythm of God’s creation – where rest is honored and cherished.

“And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”
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[1] https://www.episcopalchurch.org/way-of-love-materials

[2] https://www.episcopalchurch.org/way-of-love-materials

[3] https://www.episcopalchurch.org/way-of-love-materials

[4] J. Philip Newell, The Book of Creation; An Introduction to Celtic Spirituality Ch, 7.

[5] J. Philip Newell, The Book of Creation; An Introduction to Celtic Spirituality, Ch, 7.

[6] John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us, p 125.

[7] Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997.