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Well Rested

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.
Why should the nations say,
‘Where is their God?’
Our God is in the heavens;
and does whatever is pleasing.
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
they make no sound in their throats.
Those who make them are like them;
so are all who trust in them.

Psalm 115: 1-8

 

When was the last time you were well rested?

Yesterday I officiated at the memorial service for Maryevelyn Bartholomew, a woman who spent her life teaching children to read and was, for a considerable time, a part of our church community. Among other things, as I listened to the reflections of her sisters and talked with her daughter, I was impressed once again with the notion that, at the end of things, all the having and doing and accomplishing matters very little. While some of Maryevelyn’s accomplishments were lifted up as reference points, what sparkled, what shone, what meant something, had everything to do with her relationships with family and friends. That is really all we have. The God that took up so much of the Hebrew imagination, this God that proclaims rest as a mechanism of worship, does so knowing that covenant cannot be established in a meaningful way, nor deepened effectively, without this attitude of rest. We don’t develop these sustaining relationships without taking the time for them.

We may not wish to be, but we are pushed ever forward on the track of having more, doing more, and being more. The world in which we find ourselves is very much the world of the Pharaoh. As the ever prophetic Walter Brueggemann argues in his splendid little book, Sabbath as Resistance, the God of the Hebrew people is distinct from the gods of the Pharaohs largely because the Hebrew God engenders rest as an antidote to Pharaoh’s relentless culture of production and acquisition. When was the last time you were well rested? We talk a great deal about taking better care of ourselves, but doing so often comes down, once again, to having more, doing more, and being more. We are primed for pressuring ourselves into everything, or at least being able to justify only what ought to be good for us.

Folks who are deeply suspicious of the idea of a controlling god that demands obedience to some post-Puritan, post–Enlightenment, system of individual winners and losers are right to be so. The God that called the Hebrew people to a new life together, tried to instill in them the notion that being at rest was the key to understanding their lives. To be at rest is to gain a different perspective. To be at rest is to begin to trust that we are not responsible to, or for, every detail; that things will unfold anyway, and that we have the capacity for living into them as they do. To be at rest is not the same thing as to spend the day being entertained, but it does offer the opportunity for enjoyment. The idea of this Sabbath rest is at the absolute center of the Abrahamic conceptions of the divine. It isn’t an option, it’s a feature. Yet it may well be the most roundly ignored aspect of the divine in our culture.

So, when was the last time you were well rested?

 

“Sabbath observance invites us to stop. It invites us to rest. It asks us to notice that while we rest, the world continues without our help. It invites us to delight in the world’s beauty and abundance.”

Wendell Berry

 

“The Sabbath is a weekly cathedral raised up in my dining room, in my family, in my heart.”

Anita Diament