Thursday, March 17, 2011

Godly Rest

An additional reflection for today.

In today’s New Testament lesson (Hebrews 4:1-10), the author of the Hebrews attempts to explain to his audience that God’s “promise of entering his rest still stands.” Around the nave of St. John’s, there are several memorial plaques that read, “…entered his rest in…” or “he ceased from his labors,” to describe the death of a beloved parishioner. I suppose that the author of the Hebrews and the donor of the memorial plaques share an understanding that, after the work on earth is done, one goes to heaven to rest. But that sounds awfully dull to me.

As a teenager, lazy, shiftless, good-for-nothing that I was, everlasting rest sounded frightfully appealing. “Burdened” by the chores of adolescence, I imagined heaven as that place where I could just rest. Since then, I’ve grown to love activity and now find sitting still for longer than 10 minutes a challenge. So…maybe there’s a part of heaven that is reserved for people like me—those who would rather be sweeping the golden streets than sitting around doing nothing.

Of course, that’s not the sort of “rest” that the scriptures have in mind. Earlier this week, I had my first crack at yoga. A friend and I shared some memories of our own limited yoga experiences, and both of us readily agreed that we felt very, very good at the savasana pose—the corpse pose. It’s the one where you lie down on your mat on your back and “just melt into the floor,” as my instructor put it. I loved it. We lay there for three or four minutes with our eyes closed, and it occurred to me that I can’t remember the last time I lay still for a length of time without trying to fall asleep. It was wonderful. It was life-giving. It was full.

Rest doesn’t have to be idle. I’ve convinced myself that my job as a Christian and as a priest is to be busy. But that’s not what God wants from me. He does want fullness and activity and energy, but he doesn’t want busyness and frenzy and pointless struggle. My inappropriate association of rest with indolence cheapens the scriptural understanding of rest, which has much more to do with godly peace and protection (see Moses, Israel, and the Promised Land). Today’s reading, therefore, is a tug on me—not to “slow down” or “do less” but to honor and appreciate the goodness of focused and intentional (distraction-free) relationship.

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